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Paul: Pornified

Here’s a quick breakdown of Pamela Paul’s 2005 book Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Familes by chapter:

  1. Why Men Look at Porn
  2. Pornography Market Segments, etc.
  3. How Pornography Affects Men
  4. How Women See Pornography
  5. How Porn Affects Relationships
  6. Pornography and Children
  7. Pornography Compulsion
  8. The Way Forward: Censorship, etc.

Those are a mix of chapter subtitles and summaries of chapters; I found Paul’s word choices a bit cutesy sometimes and not especially helpful.

There is a basic narrative here that goes like this: men who look at pornography on a regular basis or as a matter of habit tend to think and behave a particular way. There’s of course a spectrum of behavior, and on one end there’s substantial dysfunction and criminal behavior; elsewhere are men who go to strip clubs, etc. This latter group may be at one end of the spectrum or they may be in the middle. All of Paul’s case studies of men who look at pornography were men who showed obvious signs of arrested development or worse. She doesn’t really address the question of whether there are men who occasionally look at pornography but are otherwise healthy contributing members of society, or whatever.

She offers results from a couple of studies showing that people who look at pornography have substantially different opinions regarding what is acceptable or typical sexual behavior when compared to a control group, and studies showing that people who look at particularly violent pornography are more likely to be lenient toward people who commit sex crimes. I think some of this affirms or confirms the talking points that were current in the late Eighties circa the Moral Majority Southland Corporation boycott; just in different language. It’s no longer “pornography causes violence” but rather “people who look at violent pornography tend to have a more lenient attitude toward violent sexual behavior” or words to that effect. Not exactly the basis for a change in public policy, but more useful for affirming conventional wisdom.

Paul notes that the idea that pornography constitutes some sort of advance guard for free speech is still current among middle class liberals; and she takes pains to note men with pornography habits who are self-identifying feminists or religious types. I don’t know what to make of this; all of these things are hard to quantify, tend to have soft numbers when quantified, etc.

Likewise her characterization of pornography as a whole as becoming more extreme (more violent; more degrading; more criminal) over time. I really have no idea how one would go about quantifying something like this. I guess you’d have to pick a particular act or scene and look for its incidence in commercially-available pornography over time. And who wants to do that?

To be frank I found this book difficult and unpleasant reading. On more than a handful of occasions it turned my stomach, and I wished I could “un-read” what I’d just read. I feel like I’m more informed about the social impact of pornography, at least on men who consume pornography and the people who love and trust them, but I don’t know that the information is going to do me any good.

Paul closes the book with a chapter on social responses to pornography; I found most of them unrealistic to unworkable. I don’t think pornography is going to lose its appeal any time soon, and the government controls that would be necessary to rein in Web distribution of pornography would be heavy-handed and open to administrative abuse. And of course as I’ve suggested before any solution that doesn’t ask serious questions about the exploitation implicit in the production of pornography is more likely to just tweak the economics of pornography rather than changing its culture fundamentally.

This is another topic that I have to admit is important, but where I don’t see anything resembling an effective response from conservative Christians. It seems like it’s just not on our radar, and we either don’t know what to do or just flat don’t care.


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