No more porn in Hilton hotels: The conservative sex-shaming lobby claims a major victory

The group that called for Cosmo to be covered up pressured the international hotel chain to dump pay per view porn

Published August 24, 2015 5:10PM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>Justin Horrocks</a> via <a href=''>iStock</a>)
(Justin Horrocks via iStock)

Staying at a Hilton hotel and want to spice up your stay with some porn? You only have until July 1, 2016 to watch it through them; after that, pay-per-view porn will disappear from the worldwide chain’s television screens, a decision that’s being hailed as a major victory by conservative group National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). You may remember them as the same group that recently launched a successful campaign to get Cosmopolitan magazine covered up in stores like Rite Aid because it, too, was tagged with the dreaded “porn” title by the group.

So what’s the problem? Can’t you just watch porn on your laptop or phone when you’re staying at a Hilton? Yes, you can, but the issue isn’t just about travelers being able to stream a skin flick while on vacation. It’s about how NCOSE’s framing of porn turns it from a form of entertainment enjoyed by millions into something that’s inherently harmful.

To them, any pornography, no matter how it was produced or what its content, is contributing to the downfall of society. While Hilton framed their decision in a statement by stating, “…we have listened carefully to our customers and have determined that adult video-on-demand entertainment is not in keeping with our company’s vision and goals moving forward,” NCOSE called the chain’s policy change a step toward ending “sexual exploitation.” Specifically, Dawn Hakins, Executive Director of NCOSE, said in the group’s press release posted on their website, “We want to publicly thank Hilton for its decision to create a safe and positive environment for all of its customers. Hilton has taken a stand against sexual exploitation. Pornography not only contributes to the demand for sex trafficking, which is a serious concern in hotels, but it also contributes to child exploitation, sexual violence, and lifelong porn addictions.”

If Hilton as a company makes no further statement on the topic, they are tacitly agreeing with NCOSE’s dangerous, disturbing conflation of consensual porn acting and viewing with the major social problems listed above. If statements like those are allowed to stand, it’s easy enough for the average person to assume that there is an actual link between porn and violence, when in fact scientific studies have not actually proven this.

It’s been suggested that Hilton is far more motivated by their bottom line than making any grand pronouncements of the effects of porn on viewers. Travel writer Anne van Dyke is quoted in New Zealand’s 3 News from a radio appearance saying, “They are a huge part of the profit-making machine in the hotel industry, and if you come out and say you're not affiliated with porn anymore, I think that's something that many females would be impressed with.”

Perhaps anti-porn lobbyists like NCOSE and social media users are simply more active and publicly outspoken on this issue, making it appear to a company like Hilton that this is the smarter business move. At press time, I counted 18 Tweets in support of Hilton’s decision, but none arguing against it. This is perfectly in line with NCOSE’s strategy; rather than pornography being a product millions of people around the world access every day without any negative repercussions, the mere specter of porn becomes a scapegoat for a host of social ills that are easy to rally around with simplistic sound bites that sound reasonable but don’t hold up under scrutiny.

As The Huffington Post News Editor Hilary Hanson wrote in response to NCOSE’s Cosmopolitan campaign, “The National Center on Sexual Exploitation changed its name from Morality in Media this year. The new name lends itself to empathy: Who wouldn’t want to fight sexual exploitation? Nobody, until perhaps finding out that to the center, ‘exploitation’ really means ‘any sexual behavior it doesn't like.’”

I asked Lynn Comella, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and co-editor of "New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law," for her take on Hilton’s decision. Comella told Salon, “Describing pornography as a ‘mind-altering drug’ that's responsible for a public health crisis is pure hyperbole. It's a sensationalistic claim, not a scientifically accurate one. Groups like NCOSE make it easy for people to forget that pornography is legal. There's nothing illegal about Hilton offering On Demand adult content to its adult guests, nor is it illegal for adult guests to watch this content. This group has already gone after Cosmopolitan magazine. Who's next on their list? The American Library Association?”

Comella’s suggestion is not far-fetched at all. Why? Because The American Library Association (ALA) appears on NCOSE’s 2015 Dirty Dozen List of companies and organizations that are “enablers of our country’s pornography pandemic,” joining the Department of Justice, Facebook, YouTube and Verizon. What’s the ALA done? According to NCOSE, “For years, American Library Association (ALA) has encouraged public libraries to keep all computers unfiltered and to allow patrons, including children, access to pornography. As a result, child sexual abuse, sexual assault, exhibitionism, stalking and other lewd behavior takes place in libraries across the country.” This is the kind of hyperbolic, outrageous kind of language being used to demonize porn users and any company remotely associated with porn.

For many conservatives, it’s a simple mental leap from their attempts to eradicate pornography in any form (whether that’s heaving breasts on the cover of a women’s magazine or people having sex on camera) to claiming this will help strengthen relationships. In thanking Hilton on Twitter, one woman wrote, “Marriages, families, & society benefit.” According to a screenshot on NCOSE’s site, pastor Josh Howerton Tweeted, “Seriously, THANK YOU for standing against the objectification of women & destruction of marriages!!”

New Zealand conservative lobbying group Family First also made this link, with their National Director Bob McCroskie quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying, “Society is finally being woken up to the fact that pornography is harmful and leads to addictions, broken marriages, increased sexual violence, child sexual abuse, sex trafficking and prostitution.” That pornography might actually help couples explore their sexuality and bond by watching porn together is never mentioned by groups like these. For them, all porn is bad, and therefore something to be eliminated however they can. In their statements, women are only victims, never porn viewers themselves.

The continued equation of pornography as the culprit in failed marriages, rather than those who may be using it in a destructive manner, is a way of bypassing responsibility, which is exactly what Josh Duggar attempted to do in the first iteration of his apology after his name was found in the Ashley Madison leak. In his initial posting, he wrote, “While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.” In this way of thinking, pornography is the problem—not his behavior, which is somehow a natural result of porn viewing, a perfect circle that lulls us into thinking that if we get rid of porn, we will automatically strengthen marriages that would otherwise be threatened. Assuming marriages end because of the availability of porn, rather than whatever is motivating someone to look at porn compulsively (or, in Duggar’s case, also look for partners outside a supposedly monogamous marriage), misrepresents porn’s power.

Whether or not you like to watch porn in hotels (or at home), you should be concerned about NCOSE’s increasingly successful attempts to lump all pornography together and their assumption that legally made pornography is de facto a drain on and danger to society. Their targets are broad and vast; who knows what media they might target next?

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 70 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms" and the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series. She teaches erotica writing workshops online and in-person, writes widely about books, culture, sex, dating and herself, and Tweets @raquelita.

MORE FROM Rachel Kramer Bussel

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Hilton Hotels Josh Duggar National Center On Sexual Exploitation Pornography Sex