Fox News Sex Expert Yvonne K. Fulbright writes that "using porn, at least beyond a magazine like Playboy, is the equivalent of having an actual affair." Julian Sanchez says this is "obviously insane." Ross Douthat sides with Fulbright:
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.
I personally haven't done any of those things on that list. (Honest!) But I do know that my wife would be way, way more upset if I had an affair than if I used pornography. Ross, in his efforts to draw a step-by-step equivalent, is employing an uncharacteristically bizarre style of logic here. It reminds me of a classic Simpsons exchange:
Bart: Are you guys crooks?
Fat Tony: Bart.. uhm. Is it it wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family?
Fat Tony: Well suppose you got a large starving family. Is it wrong to steal a truckload of bread to feed them?
Fat Tony: And what if your family don't like bread. They like.. cigarettes.
Bart: I guess that's okay.
Fat Tony: Now, what if instead of giving them away.. you sold them at a price that was practically giving them away. Would that be a crime, Bart?
Bart: Hell no!
Ross goes on to concede that using porn may not be as "grave" as having an affair, but it is on a "moral continuum." Well, sure. And pocketing a quarter that Ross inadvertently left in the soda machine would be on a moral continuum with stealing his car. (For the record, I wouldn't do any of those things, either.) But Fulbright's saying the two acts are not on a moral continuum but "equivalent," and that's pretty crazy.