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Should We Worry Whether Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality?

Author Gail Dines says today's brutal pornography looks nothing like it did 15 years ago -- and it's damaged our ability to have intimate relationships.

A new book by scholar Gail Dines asserts that society's overconsumption of pornography and the ridiculous extremes of today's mainstream pornography have greatly undermined our ability to have meaningful sexual partnerships. In Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality, Dines traces the history of the porn industry from Playboy and Penthouse, to today's brutal fare that resembles nothing less than the videotaped sexual assault of women.

As an example, Dines quotes from the introductory text on a typical porn Web site:

Do you know what we say to things like romance and foreplay? We say fuck off! This is not another site with half-erect weenies trying to impress bold sluts. We take gorgeous young bitches and do what every man would REALLY like to do. We make them gag till their makeup starts running, and then they get all other holes sore -- vaginal, anal, double penetrations, anything brutal involving a cock and an orifice. And then we give them the sticky bath.

This is not the extreme end of a complex porn continuum -- it is typical of today's mainstream porn freely available online, often to boys as young as 11. Not only does Dines go to great lengths to research the depth of porn's standard fare, but she also details how the porn industry is consumed with profits, and the effect this has on its male viewers. Says Dines, "The pornographers did a kind of stealth attack on our culture, hijacking our sexuality and then selling it back to us, often in forms that look very little like sex but a lot like cruelty."

Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women's studies at Boston's Wheelock College, where she researches the hypersexualization of the culture. I interviewed her recently about her book.

Sonali Kolhatkar:I have to say it was very difficult to read your book, and I had to skip parts where you describe mainstream pornography. This is not your father's Playboy or Penthouse magazines and videos. What we're seeing in porn today, and mainstream porn, is completely bizarre. I mean, how do you handle it in your research?

Gail Dines: Well, what's interesting is that I, like the viewers, get desensitized over time. I mean, obviously I couldn't have the visceral reaction I had in the beginning to it. But I put those descriptions in because often people say to me, you know, why are you getting so upset by images of naked women? And what I want people to understand is that pornography now looks nothing like it did 10, 15 years ago -- that it is now brutal and cruel and is absolutely based on the degradation of women. So this is why I walk people through the porn industry. Also, often anti-porn feminists are accused of picking the worst of the pornography. What I wanted to do was go into the mainstream pornography that the average 11-year-old would get once he put "porn" into Google.

SK: Can you trace the history of the pornography industry, both in terms of who has run it, and its content?

GD: There's always been pornography floating around our culture, but I really put the pornography industry at 1953, starting then. Why? Because it was the first edition of Playboy, and this was the first time pornography really became industrialized, really became a product. Now, Hefner was very smart. He started in '53, post-Second World War America. And what this country needed to do was jump-start the economy. Now, women were taught how to buy through television. There was nowhere to teach men. And remember in the '50s you had to teach people how to be consumers. I know it sounds bizarre today, but then...

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