Before Pamela Paul wrote about starter marriages and the baby industrial complex, she wrote about porn. Specifically, she wrote that porn is pretty bad for us. She hasn't changed her mind, if her Washington Post column is any indication.
Paul is responding to a preliminary study from the University of Montreal that the media trumped up as evidence that her thesis — that pornography can have deleterious effects on relationships — is wrong. Of course, the article she's upset about is a pretty shitty look at the study and feminism.
Radical feminists and religious groups have long propagated the myth that pornography turns men into animals, degrades women and corrodes the underpinnings of a healthy society.
There's no proof that viewing porn causes harm or changes people's attitudes and yet anti-porn zealots continue to maintain that porn is everything from a sin to the slippery slope to addiction and divorce.
I'm far from an anti-porn advocate, but I'd hardly say there's no proof that relationships can be harmed by one partner's over-reliance on or preferences for pornography — in fact, my own past is littered with them, from the college boyfriend who expressed displeasure upon seeing my breasts for the first time by saying "Those don't look like the ones in the magazines," to the ex with the no-longer-secret stash of POV blowjob porn that he preferred to wank to rather than touch me. I don't, however, blame those on the existence porn per se — I place the blame squarely on the dudes who are unable to separate fantasy from reality, silicone from natural breast tissue or themselves from the joys of self-pleasure to engage in something more mutual.
The Canadian author, Mindelle Jacobs, nonetheless goes on, as there's no need to be swayed by reality! In the University of Montreal study of 20 dudes who agreed to talk about their porn habits, the dudes all knew the difference between fantasy and reality, didn't like that their girlfriends were opposed to it, and weren't particularly voracious porn consumers.
On average, the single men he interviewed watch porn three times a week for 40 minutes and those in relationships view it 1.7 times a week for 20 minutes. (They rarely watch it with their partners.)
Basically, he interviewed 20 hetero guys who masturbated to porn three times a week if they had girlfriends and once if they didn't, none of whom expressed a preference for anything but heteronormative, relatively vanilla porn. These aren't exactly the men of Paul's study — and she isn't buying their existence at all.
I have to agree with Pamela Paul on this point: 20 hetero Canadian guys who don't need their girlfriends to look like porn stars is hardly an indictment of her work.
[The] findings, such as they exist, were based on interviews with 20 undergraduate males who detailed their views on sex, gender and pornography in one to two lickety-split hours.
Granted, it's qualitative, not quantitative, research, but the brevity of the interviews is concerning. While reporting "Pornified," I felt the need for more than four hours with many of my 100 interviewees. Of course, my guys could talk anonymously to a disembodied voice on the phone; the poor fellows in Montreal had to sit down and look a male social worker in the eye before confessing a penchant for three-ways. Lajeunesse asked 2,000 men before he found 20 willing subjects. Most of them, he said, were referred by women in their lives.
In this, Paul and I agree. In the rest of it, in which she suggests that porn is bad for most men, we do not.
One critique of both Paul's article and Jacobs is obviously: they both set up the dichotomy that men watch porn, and women catch men watching porn and don't like it. The research Jacobs cites says none of the men watch porn with their partners; the research Paul cites is about women as observers of their partners' behavior.
Or as one 27-year-old female lawyer noted recently: "All of my girlfriends and I expect to find histories of pornographic Web sites on our computers after our boyfriends use it. They don't bother erasing the history if you don't give them a lot of hell." The implications troubled her.
Pornography outside of a hetero context isn't addressed; women's use of porn is not contemplated.
Paul's subjects read like they are all addicts: unable to stop, unable to understand why, unable to use porn in a limited fashion (3 times a week, say) for a specific purpose, the reader gets a vision of a group of men constantly fapping to rotating cycles of pornography.
As one young man explained, after mentioning that "porn may have destroyed my relationship with my girlfriend" in an e-mail: "I always feel that I'm over porn, but I find myself keep coming back to it. There seems to be an infinite number of porn sites with limitless variations, one never becomes bored with it. . . . It's a very difficult habit to break."
I'm reminded of an episode of Intervention in which Aaron literally masturbates to porn in front of a camera crew for an entire day (he seems much better in this video) — that's not a normal relationship to porn or masturbation. It seems disordered, to say the least.
Yes, there is porn out there that is unhealthy — Paul cites a study from 1979 that quantifies it, at least in some fashion.
Back in 1979, Jennings Bryant, a professor of communications at the University of Alabama, conducted one of the most powerful peer-reviewed lab studies of the effects of porn viewing on men. Summary of results: not good. Men who consumed large amounts of pornography were less likely to want daughters, less likely to support women's equality and more forgiving of criminal rape. They also grossly overestimated Americans' likelihood to engage in group sex and bestiality.
Of course, as Paul notes herself, the consumption of pornography and the kinds of pornography available for consumption has since exploded — it now includes female-centric porn, amateur porn, serious same-sex porn (as opposed to heteronormative girl-on-girl porn), and a variety of other things that men and women can choose from. In porn, the range of sexuality and sexual choices has expanded since the study even as the audience has.
Yes, some porn can give men and women a distorted sense of what the naked human form looks like; it can give men and women a distorted sense of what sex acts their fellow humans engage in regularly; its availability can contribute to a person's sexual addictions. But not all porn does that to all people. For some, it can be a way to, say, understand more about your own sexual urges; amateur porn can make regular people even sexier; female-centric porn can give voice to female desires that male-centric porn does not. Not all porn is bad, not all porn is good, just like not all men are bad or all women are good. If your partner has a problem with porn, the problem is not the porn, it's your partner — and its his or her responsibility to resolve it, or your prerogative to leave to find someone whose values about porn are more in line with your own.
shakakahnevan on Flickr" />