Ross Douthat, ranging deep into the well of absurdity, pulls up this absolute beaut:
Is there any similarity between “having an actual affair” and having sex with a prostitute while you’re married? I think most people would answer yes. Then consider: Is there any similarity between having sex with a prostitute while you’re married and paying to watch a prostitute perform sexual acts for your voyeuristic gratification? Again, I think a lot of people would say yes: There’s a distinction, obviously, but I don’t think all that many spouses would be inclined to forgive their husbands (or wives) if they explained that they only liked to watch the prostitute they’d hired. And hard-core porn, in turn, is nothing more than an indirect way of paying someone to fulfill the same sort of voyeuristic fantasies: It’s prostitution in all but name, filtered through middlemen, magazine editors, and high-speed internet connections. Is it as grave a betrayal as cheating on your spouse with a co-worker? Not at all. But is it on a moral continuum with adultery? I don’t think it’s insane to say yes.
But, Ross, why stop there? Is there a similarity between masturbating to hard-core porn and, say, having sex with your wife while thinking about something you saw in that hard-core porn you were watching last night? (Random aside: why do I always type ‘pron’ when trying to write ‘porn’? Discuss.) Obviously, yes, there is a similarity there.
And, going one step further, is there a similarity between thinking about hard-core porn while having sex with your wife and, say, thinking of your wife performing the same acts you saw in the porn while having sex with your wife? I would argue that they are nigh-indistiguishable.
Finally, is there any similarity between thinking about your wife performing said acts while having sex with her and, say, you know…thinking of your wife while having sex with her? Again, the step size is so incremental, I would argue much smaller than the rhetorical hops you took in the passage I quoted above, that the similarity is basically inarguable.
By your logic, then, Ross, I have proven that, at the least, it’s not insane to say that having sex with your wife is “on a moral continuum with adultery”.
Now, this little exercise in reductio ad absurdum doesn’t disprove that there are spouses who think of self-gratification via pornography as being a form of cheating. In fact, I’m quite confident that there are many such examples, and this fine fellow points out that even the greatest of all sexologists, Dan Savage, agrees that many people view porn-watching as being a form of cheating, albeit less serious than consummation of extramarital physical intimacy.
And that’s really the crux of it. Of course plenty of people in committed relationships would see their partner’s watching porn, especially if it was done surreptitiously and without the partner’s knowledge, as a form of emotional infidelity. And, you know what? If they see it that way, then they have that right.
But the original statement which kicked off this discussion, Fixed News’ “expert”‘s statement that “using porn, at least beyond a magazine like Playboy, is the equivalent of having an actual affair” is entirely insane, just like Julian said. Your choice not to see that makes you, well, no wronger than usual, but I assure you that’s not intended as a compliment.