Larry Flynt says he doesn't believe his explicitly pornographic Hustler magazine has caused any of his 15 million readers to commit sexual assaults or other antisocial acts. He has pledged to cease publication if a blue-ribbon study commission he has proposed finds that Hustler does in fact trigger such behavior.

Flynt is probably right. Nothing in his magazine is likely to inspire some drooling hermit to dash from his lair and start violating little girls in the park.But that is beside the point.

The real point - and the point obscured by Flynt's recent conviction in Cincinnati on obscenity charges - is almost the opposite.

It is that magazines like Hustler are adding massive impetus to an already galloping commercial depersonalization and trivialization of sex in America - a national dysfunction far subtler and more insidious than any supposed epidemic of rape.

Flynt is a leading contributor to this entrepreneurial process of separating - indeed shielding - sex from emotional involvement or obligation of creating what psychoanalyst Rollo May calls the "new puritanism."

Traditional puritanism of Victorian American and Europe contained the contrary concept of love without sex, of love without public recognition of the integral role of biology. In contemporary America, Larry Flynt is principal promoter of the new puritanism of sex without love of sex deliberately separated from the unique human capacities of passion and commitment.

Evidence of the new puritanism abundant on the American landscape - not only in the massage parlors, porn shops and go-go joints, but in the harshly worded and gutturally sung pupular songs ("Do it, Do it, Do it, Baby" . . . "Shake Your Bootie"), the proliferation of swinging (read uninvolved) singles enterprises such as private clubs, charter travel and date-mating the pervasive escapism of alcohol and marijuana even sexually oriented board games complete with dice and cards.

And of course, magazines like Hustler and Playboy have made their contribution principally their heroic nudes, ample on flesh, but short on facial expression. They proffer portraits in which, as Rollo May says the editors have "shifted the fig leaf from the genitals to the face." They express the ultimate banalization of sex in which it is offered and taken without question with anyone anywhere on any occasion in ephemeral settings guaranteed to protect the partners from any risk of unhealthy permanence or God forbid, genuine attachment.

It is that alienation that isolation of the human from the sexual and the reduction of sex to a mechanistic function devoid of passion that so pervades the marketplace today and to which Larry Flynt is such an important contributor.

What Larry Flynt has done is foster this remoteness and drift, to encourage every red-blooded American man to use woman like so many Kleenexes and encourage every red-blooded American women to acquiesce.

Unlike the specific criminal acts of rape or molestation, his conduct is constitutionally protected. That's the hard part to acknowledge but we must: Even such repulsive commercial toads as Flynt himself must be assured that constitutional protection.