Pastor Craig Gross and porn star Nina Hartley met Thursday evening in the Student Center to debate the merits and demerits of pornography in front of 450 students.
The event, hosted by the Kennesaw Activities Board, was initially supposed to feature porn star Ron Jeremy, who is recovering from recent operations to correct an aneurysm near his heart.
Gross asked porn actress Nina Hartley to stand in. He and Hartley debated the event once before.
Gross is the founder of xxxchurch.com, a website dedicated to helping people overcome pornography addictions. He started the website after realizing that many of the people he knew struggled with porn in their personal lives.
He and Ron Jeremy started The Great Porn Debate about five years ago, and the two began touring the country speaking at churches and universities.
Nina Hartley, a legend in the porn industry, has starred in more than 800 films in her nearly 30-year career.
Students began lining up outside the Student Center University Rooms 45 minutes prior to the event start time. The debate was delayed nearly 30 minutes as more chairs were brought in to accommodate the crowd.
In his opening statements, Gross argued that the porn industry creates unrealistic expectations in people’s current or potential sex lives.
“These people are sexual athletes,” Gross said. “What they do on camera, you shouldn’t be able to do. Some of you shouldn’t even ask to do those things!”
“Exposure to porn can make men less inhibited sexually,” Gross continued. “They’ve seen it all. It can also make them more inhibited because they’ve never been involved with a real person who has needs and feelings. An Internet woman never says, ‘No.’”
He said that young men who grow up watching these images and seeing them as ideal will be disappointed with real women and real experiences.
“Just because they’re receiving a bigger paycheck doesn’t mean that they’re empowered,” Gross said of how the porn industry affects women. “Most of the stuff out there is not beneficial or empowering to women.”
He said most actresses who want to be successful in the industry have to start by doing stuff that is far from empowering.
Nina Hartley then took the stage.
“The first thing you should know about porn is that some of it really sucks.”
She described American culture as “erotophobic,” attributing it to America’s puritanical background, which believed that physical, erotic pleasure was “of the devil.”
She said the idea that sex might be a positive thing for women has only been around since the feminist movement.
“As recently as 1970 women could not get birth control without the consent of their husbands,” Hartley said. “We’ve come a long way in 45 years and we have a long way to go. It’s really important that we take ownership of our sexuality, sexual expression and our sexual beliefs.”
Hartley said it’s not pornography that degrades women but the greater culture of capitalism and patriarchy. “Degradation is a subjective experience,” she said, adding that she does not do things she considers degrading.
Hartley said that sex is sacred and should never be used to harm one’s self or others. She said it’s important to remember that pornography comes out of the entertainment industry.
“Of course porn is unrealistic,” she said. “It’s a fantasy! Your brain should have complete mental freedom.”
She said the cultural infatuation with naked bodies is nothing new, describing classical painters’ depictions of sexuality and the naked body and noting how humans have always been drawn to that.
Hartley said that at the age of 12 she was inspired by Ingres’ “Turkish Bath”, which depicts nude women in a harem.
She encouraged the audience to engage in an open and honest dialogue about sex with their potential partners, including setting boundaries and communicating desires.
The debaters then took questions from the audience. Gross said his biggest issue with pornography is that the “raunchy and dirty” aspects of the industry take away from the beauty of sex.
Hartley said she believes consensual prostitution should be decriminalized.
“Because prostitution is illegal, women cannot band together for safety,” Hartley said. “Police officers regularly abuse prostitutes because they have power over them.”
She said the profession is dangerous because it is illegal.
Matthew Withers, lecture coordinator for KAB said the event was a huge success. Withers, who organized the event, got the idea when he saw Gross discuss pornography at his church.
“I wanted to do something that was big, something that lots of people would come out to,” Withers said. “I thought there would be a big turnout because it is so controversial, you know? We’ve got a pastor and a porn star.”
Junior Lyndsey Thomas, a Junior studying Psychology, said before the debate that she was conflicted when it came to pornography.
“Porn is shameful and degrading, but it’s also a good money-making tool,” Thomas said. “It seems like women sacrifice their dignity when making porn.”
Junior Nursing student Bry Cressy said the debate was “eye-opening.” She said she liked that the debaters remained civil despite their opposing arguments.
Savannah Woods , a Sophomore studying Psychology, said she enjoyed the event and that she really liked Nina.
“I’m all for the porn industry because I watch it,” Woods said. “I think it’s good for girls to watch and enjoy sex.”