Congressman Cracks Down on Soft Porn at the PX

You know something's wrong when the word areola appears in a bill circulating on Capitol Hill.

Republican Congressman Paul Broun, the representative from Georgia's 10th District, wants to stop the sale of Playboy and Penthouse at military bases around the world, invoking an argument that at the very least is scientifically questionable: that consuming even soft pornography makes men more prone to committing sex crimes. A doctor by profession, Broun says he began drafting the bill after a constituent described her distress at having watched, along with her young children, an officer buy a nudie magazine at a military exchange store. "The military teaches to respect officers, and her little kids were seeing this military officer … there in uniform, buying pornography at the PX," Broun told NEWSWEEK.

Congress already has a law from 1996 banning the sale of "sexually explicit" material on military bases. But deciding what qualifies as sexually explicit was left to a Department of Defense review board, which gathers periodically to examine a range of magazines and DVDs. In its review two years ago the board banned such titles as Bootylicious and Juggs but decided that Penthouse has enough nonsexual content to be acceptable (Playboy had already been allowed). Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, a Pentagon spokesman, said the board members are kept anonymous in order not to expose them to outside pressure but have included active, reserve and retired members of the military, military spouses, members of dual-military couples and DoD civilians. "The board is very disciplined in adhering to the definitions described in the Instruction [from Congress], and has access to legal counsel to assist members in interpreting the law and the Instruction," Melnyk said in an e-mail.

Broun, who is 61, wants to take away the board's discretion by inserting into the old law some new language delineating terms like "sexually explicit." His bill gets (readers be warned) blush-inducingly specific. It defines nudity, for instance, as the display of "human genitals, pubic area, anus, anal cleft, or any part of the female breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola."

Even for people who support the congressman from Georgia (he has attracted 16 co-sponsors since introducing the bill April 16), it must be hard not to conclude that he's fighting yesterday's war. Judd Anstey, the public relations manager for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), says the combined sales of Playboy and Penthouse at bases around the world last year amounted to less than 3 percent of AAFES's total magazine sales. (Magazines generally make up only a small part of sales by AAFES stores, which stock everything from candy bars to plasma TVs.) For Broun's generation the pictures in Playboy and Penthouse were probably the dirtiest things around. In the Internet age GIs with laptops are never more than a couple of clicks away from much raunchier porn.

Broun says the point is pornography shouldn't be subsidized by taxpayers. And he insists nudie magazines have taken a toll on the armed services. "Sexual assault is going up within the military, and I certainly think there's a very high likelihood the pornography being sold in military PXs is contributing to that," he says. Both points are off the mark. Anstey says 98 percent of AAFES's budget comes from income generated at its stores—not from the government. And most studies have shown no link between the kind of pictures featured in Playboy and sexual violence.

Where a link does often exist is between a politician's rising rhetoric and his quest for re-election. Broun has been in Congress since last year, when he was elected to replace the 10th District representative, who died of cancer. This July he faces a primary vote against a conservative member of the state's House of Representatives, Barry Fleming, in a district Broun describes as very Republican. But Broun denies the bill is linked to the election. "The purpose is just to get DoD to uphold the law," he says.

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