Best Defense

The Marine scandal confirms the need to address the U.S. military’s porn addiction

How can the men of the Marines United Facebook group, who all pledged an oath to serve and protect their country and their fellow Marines, violate their own female comrades by illegally consuming and sharing nude photos and videos of them?

Peep_Show_by_David_Shankbone

 

By Laura Westley
Best Defense guest columnist

How can the men of the Marines United Facebook group, who all pledged an oath to serve and protect their country and their fellow Marines, violate their own female comrades by illegally consuming and sharing nude photos and videos of them?

As a former Army officer, Iraq War veteran, West Point graduate, and published author who publicly speaks about sexual harassment and assault, I’ve been asked for my opinions surrounding this scandal and also what can be done to remedy it. Many agree that systemic cultural changes need to occur across all branches of the military, in order to provide for the safer integration of women, and allow them to live out their fullest potential. But what exactly does that look like?

I believe the fault is not just with the military and its macho culture. I blame pornography and America’s addiction to porn. It’s at an epidemic level that has negatively impacted my own life in many ways and threatens to destroy any attempts at women’s equality and safety.

In our culture, men often learn about sex from pornography and are conditioned by it prior to being of age for military service. I served alongside many people who were obsessed with porn. I felt most of them wanted to do right by their God, Country, and military. Unfortunately, the paltry lessons on Army values did nothing to mitigate their need for salacious, sexual, masturbatory content. During the Iraq invasion, when porn wasn’t readily accessible (and technically banned), I became the object — object being the proverbial word — of their addiction. These instances of sexual harassment and unwanted contact are detailed in my memoir, War Virgin.

I first learned about the pervasive and commonplace use of pornography as a West Point cadet, when friends would provide a fascinating compare and contrast of what they “beat off to” the previous evening. Despite having been a Christian at the time, I laughed, wanting so badly to fit in with the boys. Never did I imagine that my own sexual grooming was transpiring, and coming of age in machoism and war would change how I allowed my comrades, friends, and future lovers to relate to me.

Porn flourished in the Army. Its aggressive, visually stimulating, testosterone-inducing nature complimented the violent fantasies many friends harbored in Iraq, yearning to “kill the bad guys, come home, and fuck their women.”

I denounced Christianity during the war for many reasons, mainly for its treatment of women, and in thinking that I was becoming a more liberated woman who could finally control her own sexuality, I opened myself up to men who were staunch promoters of porn. Reluctantly, I accepted it as the norm in my future relationships and allowed it to influence the way I had sex. I didn’t want to be a prude. I even sent dirty magazines to friends who returned to Iraq for subsequent deployments. I had no idea I was perpetuating the disastrous deterioration of how men relate to women, thus endangering not only their own personal relationships, but my own as well.

Only after ending a long-term relationship was I able to realize how porn ruined any chances of true intimacy, and I finally felt empowered to renounce it altogether. It helped that I was a civilian and far from any semblance of military culture. Fortunately, I then had opportunities to romantically engage with people from other countries, which allowed me to ask about their respective sexual cultures, specifically with pornography. Interestingly, there was an absence of porn and also a lack of gun violence, war, rape, and the men were more respectful of me.

It’s taken years for me to realize that many of my war buddies were suffering from an addiction on par with alcoholism or drug abuse. So if substantial and comprehensive rehabilitation are used to combat alcohol and drug abuse, then the same measures should also be used to address pornography.

Given that porn is a billion-dollar industry that has spawned revolutionary technological innovations, I don’t think it’s feasible to fight America’s porn epidemic. The only effective method that worked for me was simply boycotting people who consume porn. I encourage others to do the same. However, the men who are willing to sacrifice their lives for our country deserve a better shot at learning how to relate to women, and it’s imperative for women that they completely change their behavior.

The military needs good, old-fashioned sex education to reverse how society has polluted the concepts of sexual attraction, intimacy, and how to treat women. We need to start from scratch. As much time as is devoted to training in weapons and tactics must also be used for cultivating human relationships. If we can show these men a healthier way to enjoy their sexuality, then they have a chance of being less inclined to objectify women.

Women and their contribution to the military need to be praised instead of merely tolerated because of congressional mandates requiring their inclusion. Even though many women in the military merely want to blend in, feeling like they need to apologize for their gender and disappear into the ranks only propagates their absence from our nation’s historical narrative. Pop culture can step up to the plate and help. Books and movies can showcase women and their heroism. The general public has essentially no idea about these brave women, because only violent, masculine epics are featured in Hollywood.

While banning pornography makes it the forbidden fruit, and people should be allowed to have their own personal expression, this must be in private only. A zero tolerance policy of publicly sharing pornography must be enforced and punished accordingly. And if any images or videos are even viewed without consent of the owner, then it should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

For those men who don’t consume pornography or objectify women, they need to stand up for women and fight alongside them, instead of remaining complicity ignorant in the longstanding battle for gender equality. The more Marines (and other servicemen) police their own ranks with respect to discrimination, the less it will be tolerated, with the goal of eradication by peer pressure.

Besides pornography, our nation also faces an obesity epidemic, and a significant percentage of young men aren’t qualified to enter the military. Women are more needed than ever to fill the ranks. Let’s give them the best possible opportunity to honorably serve their God, Country, and Corps.

Laura Westley is a combat veteran, West Point graduate and former Army officer. She’s also a published author, playwright, speaker, and performer whose memoir, War Virgin, is available on Amazon.com.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola