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Paul: Pornified

So I have to admit that Pamela Paul’s 2005 book Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families [link] is not deep into the bulls-eye either of my normal reading nor of what’s typically appropriate for this blog, but this is a topic I’ve been interested in for a while and didn’t know how to become informed about.

I think my interest started a couple of years ago when I heard pornography and its impact on evangelical marriages discussed on the Family Life Radio morning show. The discussion was both earnest and vague: there was an element of the story that went something like “pornography (nearly) ruined my marriage” but it wasn’t entirely clear how; there was an element to the story that suggested that God’s redemptive work in somebody’s life had somehow been important; and finally the solution seemed to have involved the husband being accountable to his wife in a way that sounded foreign to me as someone who comes from a background where families are defined in terms of authority, in particular male headship, and the very idea of a man being accountable to his wife in any way shape or form is anathema.

And then stories surfaced about a family friend and how pornography helped ruin his marriage. He had a job that required a fair amount of driving, so he rented a post office box in a town on his route, subscribed to some magazines, and was able to keep his wife from finding out about them. However, he gradually drew distant from his wife, started asking her to do things in the bedroom that she had no interest in doing, eventually asked her to do things that were described to me as “immoral,” and finally left her because he felt he was missing out on something and didn’t want to be a grandfather.

So when I read Paul’s book (remember that? This is a post about that.) it turned out that the story above more or less fits in with the case studies she describes of men who are described as having a porn problem: secret habits, neglect and mistreatment of girlfriends or family members, and some sort of crisis leading to easily recognizable sexual sin (e.g. fornication or adultery).

This sort of case study serves as the backbone of Paul’s book, with some variations. I’ll cover more of these in a later post. The problem with this perspective is that it focuses entirely on hazards to the consumer and ignores the harm done by the production of pornography. I don’t think this is surprising: as conservatives we tend to focus primarily on individual responsibility to the exclusion of cultural or structural problems; and frankly we don’t have a social conscience that would give us a way to talk about e.g. human trafficking.

Paul’s method is appropriate for the social sciences: anecdotes, case studies, surveys of same, opinion polls, and the dreaded social sciences experiments. She revisits some of the arguments that will be familiar to students of Moral Majority era conservative Christian social activism: i.e. pornography causes violence. She doesn’t look much at the exploitation of women in the pornography industry; I am guessing this is because there’s not much existing data, acquiring good data would be difficult and expensive, and she’s able to make persuasive arguments using the methods she uses and focusing primarily on the demand side of the industry.

Next: a rundown of the book itself. Stay tuned.


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