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.Three comments:
(1) Each of the scenarios Douthat mentions is different from the others. These differences are cumulative. It's like saying that punching someone is similar to cutting them with a piece of glass, which is similar to stabbing them with a knife, which is similar to blowing their brains out. By the end, you've made a pretty big leap.
(2) Douthat apparently knows this, because he hedges his bets at the end by saying these things are on the same "moral continuum." But the original contention, which Julian Sanchez rightly labeled "obviously insane," was that porn and an affair are equivalent.
(3) Does Douthat's condemnation apply to cases where the spouse knows about the porn? What about if they look at it together -- is that equivalent to having group sex? Just asking!
UPDATE: I have another question: Is going to see a movie about a murder on the same "moral continuum" as murdering somebody?