You know what’s sexy? Virtue by persuasion

There are supply-side efforts to fight pornography like the Lighted Candle Society, which litigates pornographers and is attempting to prove medically that it causes addiction. Agree or disagree, I think most technologists and much of the world consider such supply-side efforts an affront to free speech, censorship of the Internet, etc.

I’m inspired to see demand-side efforts like Fight the New Drug (FTND), which teaches children at school assemblies why they may want to avoid pornography for natural, self-interested reasons. The idea is, to paraphrase Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, “Pornography isn’t sexy. You know what’s sexy? Sexual intimacy with your spouse, someone you love. That’s sexy.”

I think an approach like this can teach children that, yes, this stuff is alluring, but there are self-interested reasons you may want to avoid it and opt for a more authentic kind of intimacy. It’s an attitude of “Don’t just avoid it because I said so. Understand the reasons.”

Now that I live in Boulder, I’ve come to learn that the local ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky was behind The Truth campaign I previously wrote about: Can pornography be made unpopular? In that piece I quoted Mary Eberstadt of Stanford’s Hoover Institution who called pornography the “new tobacco”:

Yesterday, smoking was considered unremarkable in a moral sense, whereas pornography was widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by people who consumed it. Today, as a general rule, just the reverse is true. Now it is pornography that is widely (though not universally) said to be value-free, whereas smoking is widely considered disgusting and wrong — including even by many smokers.

This makes me curious to study the causes of the drop in tobacco consumption in the last decades. How much was caused by supply-side efforts (e.g. lawsuits against Big Tobacco, smoking bans, etc.) and how much was caused by demand-side efforts (e.g. The Truth campaign)? My bet is on the latter.

I’m very skeptical of the ability of government or law (prohibition) to produce virtue in a society. I very much approve of efforts to teach and promote virtue by persuasion and reason.