"[A Trump presidency] will have very dramatic consequences," said porn star and sex columnist Tasha Reign when we discussed what the next four years might mean for the adult industry. "In this situation, Trump and Mike Pence can pass whatever law they want since they have the majority [in Congress]. I am very concerned."
Reign has good reason to be wary of Trump, considering Republican administrations are traditionally bad for business. For example, under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department was far less aggressive than George Bush's in trying obscenity cases—Obama shut down Bush's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force and did not initiate any significant obscenity cases of its own, despite an outcry from anti-porn activists.
"The obscenity laws have not been enforced at all under the Obama administration," said Donna Rice Hughes, the president and CEO of Enough Is Enough (EIE), which is the country's leading anti-porn nonprofit. "One of the key things [we want Trump to do is appoint] an attorney general who will make the aggressive enforcement of all the laws that are currently on the books a priority."
After eight years of Obama, it looks as though anti-porn activists are finally going to get what they want from the federal government. Because although Trump is a bit of wildcard when it comes to his proposed policies and positions, he's been clear on where he stands with adult entertainment.
Back in July, Trump made a promise to start cracking down on porn. He was the only presidential candidate in the 2016 election to sign the Children's Internet Safety Presidential Pledge, which was developed by EIE. According to Hughes, by adding his signature, he has vowed to "give serious consideration to appointing a presidential commission to examine, first of all, the public health aspect of internet pornography, specifically internet obscenity. And also, to look at mechanisms to prevent the sexual exploitation of children in the digital age."
This pledge was one of the first acts by Trump that really put First Amendment advocates like Mike Stabile, director of communications at the Free Speech Coalition, on high alert. "We're facing a coming administration that has repeatedly said adult entertainment isn't protected speech under the First Amendment," said Stabile. "That's terrifying, and in direct opposition with over 40 years of Supreme Court decisions."
Photo courtesy of Tasha Reign
Of course, not everyone is freaking out. At the end of the day, Trump is a New Yorker who abhors "political correctness," has made a cameo in a softcore porno, and is married to a woman who's done her fair share of nude modeling. Joanna Angel, the porn star who co-founded the Burning Angel production company, told me that although she's scared of Trump as an American, when it comes to porn, she feels he's mostly posturing. "The things [Trump has] said about porn were just so farfetched, he was just saying them to get votes."
But even if Angel is right, and Trump has no intention of cracking down on adult media, stars like Tasha Reign are still worried about the people he's going to bring with him into the White House.
"When I bring up [Trump's plans] to people who voted for him in my industry, they just say that he is saying what he needs to say," said Reign. "But he is the one who is going to be nominating the next Supreme Court justice, he is the one who has Mike Pence as his vice president."
Photo of Joanna Angel. Film still from 'Love Is Dead'
Although Trump doesn't take office until January 20, his transition team picks and potential cabinet appointments are already overflowing with culture warriors. For example, Ken Blackwell, the leader of Trump's domestic transition team, is a senior fellow for the Family Research Council, a Christian organization that views pornography as "a plague in our nation." And Rudy Giuliani, who is reportedly one of Trump's top picks for secretary of state, is known for "cleaning up" New York City when he was mayor by shutting down X-rated stores and theaters and criminalizing sex work. Not to mention, his vice president, Mike Pence, is a born-again Catholic who tried to introduce numerous nutty laws regulating sexuality when he was in Congress, including one that would have required mainstream Hollywood films featuring simulated sex to follow the same strict regulations as hardcore pornography.
"There is concern in the porn industry that future laws may become aggressive, and possibly even draconian, even at the federal level," said writer and porn star Jesse Jackman, who works exclusively for the gay film studio Titan Media. "The proposed First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would allow American citizens to discriminate against gay couples based on their religious beliefs has already shown conservatives' willingness to shape the interpretation of the First Amendment on moralistic grounds."
Photo of Jesse Jackman via FlyFoto Images
Unlike a lot of things Trump does, his porn pledge was not some rogue stance that many mainstream members of his party opposed. This summer, the GOP agreed to add an anti-pornography amendment to its platform, claiming that adult entertainment presented a "public health crisis" that is "destroying the lives of millions." While previous GOP platform's may have targeted porn before, the fact that the party is framing adult media as a public health crisis marks a turning point in its tactics. And it's being pushed forth by groups like the Concerned Women for America, who recently penned an editorial for the Blaze that likens pornographers to antebellum slave owners.
"In the past decade, we've seen a lot of the conversation shift away from obscenity, which had become difficult to prosecute because of the internet, and toward this idea that porn was damaging, addictive, or inspired criminality," said Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition.
The biggest champion of this strategy on the right is the EIE. It views internet pornography as "a fueling factor in the sexual exploitation and abuse of children." According to Donna Rice Hughes of the EIE, "There's a tremendous amount of incestuous crossover in the sex industry whether it's trafficking, child pornography, or child predation."
Of course, Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition couldn't disagree with that notion more. "None of that is based in science, of course—access to adult material correlates pretty strongly with decreases in sexual assault, and increases with sexual knowledge, health, and even feminist attitudes," he said.
Stabile's take jives with the Justice Department's annual national victimization survey, which found the overall rate of rape and sexual assault dropped 57 percent between 2000 and 2009, a time when accessibility to porn was exploding thanks to the internet. And studies conducted in countries like the Czech Republic and China have found that stricter regulations on porn have caused an increase in sex crimes, including those against children.
The "public health crisis" arguments we're hearing right now on the right sounds similar to those made during the anti-porn crusade led under President Ronald Reagan during the so-called culture wars of the 1980s. Back then, sexually explicit material was framed as a threat to the traditional family and blamed for things like violence against women and gender discrimination.
"What we saw in the 80s was that crackdowns on pornography were an entree into broader censorship," said Stabile. "Once you set the precedent, it allows you to go after the artists and the educators—the obscenity bust of the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in Ohio, and the defunding of the NEA on pornography pretext, the banning of library books, and defunding of AIDS education... The pattern is pretty clear: Creating a moral panic about pornography allows you to suppress all sorts of other speech."
While the anti-porn efforts in the 70s and 80s were fended off in the name of the First Amendment, the argument that porn is a public health crisis is gaining traction. In Utah, Governor Gary Herbert signed off on an anti-porn resolution, citing public health as the justification. And anti-porn organizations like EIE feel confident they can replicate that across the nation.
Adult performer Jesse Jackman already sees the writing on the wall. "If pornography is reclassified as a public health menace, it's not hard to imagine a law similar to FADA that would classify pornographic material, which is currently afforded freedom of speech protections, as obscene and therefore no longer covered by the First Amendment."
If groups like the EIE and Concerned Women for America get their way and Trump's administration follows through on his pledge to crack down on porn, First Amendment advocates and porn stars like Reign and Angel are ready to push back.
"We are hopeful, but we don't know what the future will bring," said Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition. "What we can do, and what we have always done, is fight against intolerance and shame and bigotry, and for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of existence."
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