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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.

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So, you've got a whole host of issues that women have to deal with in the porn industry, and what's interesting is nobody seems to be interested in these women. Instead we get some ridiculous documentary saying women like it, they choose it. Absolutely not. You know, you're looking at working-class women who think they know what pornography is, who see Jenna Jameson and think they're going to be the next Jenna Jameson, when Jenna Jameson is one in 10,000. And really, Jenna Jameson has been an important recruitment tool because she suggests this is what you can do if you go into pornography. And what do you know? You're 18, you think you know what you're gonna get into, and then you get on the set and everything shifts and changes.

SK: What are the long-term effects on our sexuality as a result of this new era of brutal sexual assault that masquerades as pornography both on men and women? Have there been studies?

GD: There's been studies for 30 years -- on men, mainly -- and what they find, and what I found in my interviews, is that the more pornography men watch, the less able they are to develop intimate relationships. Also what's interesting is they lose interest in real women because the pornography is so hardcore -- it's industrial-strength sex -- anything less looks bland and boring. Also, the men think they should be performing like the men in pornography, they think their penises should look like that, they think they should be able to sexually perform for hours like the men do. What they don't realize is a lot of the men in pornography are on Viagra, that's why it's so possible... And they begin to really see women in terms of objects. Not as somebody to have relationships with, but as somebody to do something to. Sex becomes something like making hate to a woman's body. They don't make love in pornography, they make hate.

SK: Now, this is an aspect that gets debated over and over again. The pro-pornography viewpoint is that what you see on your video screen is a fantasy, and that we are human beings who are capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and we don't carry over what's in our fantasy to our real lives.

GD:Well, it's very interesting we say that because, you know, as somebody who studies media, and as somebody who's progressive, when we study right-wing media we don't say it's fantasy. We don't say, "You know what, don't worry about Glenn Beck, don't worry about Rush Limbaugh -- people can distinguish." No, we understand that media shapes the way we think. It shapes our reality, it shapes our perceptions of the world. Pornography is one more form of media. It's a specific genre which, by the way, is very powerful because it delivers messages to men's brains via the penis, which is an extremely powerful delivery system. So I think the idea that it's fantasy just isn't borne out given the studies that we know about how porn, and how images in general, affect people's view of the world.

What about the profit motive here, and how has that changed? Because, of course, in the early days of Playboy and Penthouse, profit was the motive, and profit is a motive today as well, but how has the industry become so fiercely capitalistic that, in a way, it's almost a victim of itself?

GD: Well, it's always been a capitalist industry. I mean, this is another thing that we don't want to think about -- that pornography, in reality, is profit-driven. It's not about fantasy, it's not about play, it's not about fun. It's about money.

When I went to the [annual porn] expo in Las Vegas, I interviewed a lot of pornographers. What was amazing is what interested them is money. They don't talk sex, they talk money. They talk bulk mailing, they talk mass advertising. What we forget when we talk about pornography is that these are not fantasies created from nowhere that drop from the sky, these are fantasies created within a typical capitalist market. What you see in pornography is a need to keep addressing that. Now what's happened is that as more and more men are using pornography, they're becoming more bored and desensitized with it, which means that they want harder and harder stuff. And the pornography, because it's profit-driven, has to meet their needs. What's interesting is that pornography is actually in a mess because they don't know what else to do, the pornographers. They've gone about as hardcore and as cruel as they can. They've done everything to women's bodies short of killing her. So the question is what can they do next to keep an increasingly desensitized audience interested?

SK:In an interesting way, pornography seems to almost be a metaphor for capitalism in general, right? Basically unchecked some point there's a limit, at some point you hit a wall, and you can't grow any more, you can't go any further because you've gone as far as you can.

GD:That's the whole issue of capitalism in our society as well. It's how much more can we continue given what's happening to the environment. But I would say that there's still room for the niche markets in pornography, and in my book I talk about specific niche markets. One of them is called interracial porn, which is black men and white women. Another one is what I call pseudo-child pornography, which is women who are 18 -- I'm pretty sure of that -- but they look younger, and they behave in a younger way. So what you have are men who are bored with adult women looking out for these pseudo-child porn sites. And I've interviewed child rapists, and some of them actually started looking... They didn't want to go to illegal child pornography, so they started with the legal so-called child pornography, and then basically matured into child pornography. And for some of them, the distance between looking at child pornography and raping a child was six months.

SK: Wow. What are the long-term effects on our society in general? Not necessarily just effects on the men who consume it, but how has pornography 'pornified,' to use Pamela Paul's term, our culture?

GD: Well, I think when we talk about a porn culture, we talk about the images and the messages and the ideologies of porn filtering down into mainstream media. I mean, you just have to turn on the television, flip through a magazine, go to the movies, and what you see is a pornographized version of the world. Now I think this is true for women as well. If you go to Cosmopolitan, the places where women read, you'll often see articles about why you should have pornography to spice up your sex life. So what we're seeing is, the pornographers have really taken control of the discourse around sexuality.

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