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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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There's nobody else who's getting any voice who's coming up and saying, "Look. This is a particular type of sex that pornography's representing. It is brutality, it is based on the debasement of women. There are alternative ways of being sexual in our society that are not based on the debasement of women." But where do you hear this in the media? Because the media is increasingly becoming pornified, and you have the pornographers and their hacks in the media defining what our sexuality should be.

SK: And the effects on young girls and boys -- you mentioned that the average age of a boy who views porn on the Internet today is 11, which, as the mother of a boy, is just heartbreaking to me. So the effects on young children, both boys and then girls who see these pornified images on billboards and in magazines...what are we doing to our children?

GD: We're distorting their sexuality. We're forcing them into early sexuality this way, and we're turning their sexuality into a commodity so we can sell it -- commodify it and sell it back to them. I think one of the interesting things about how girls and young women are affected by the porn culture is they date these men who themselves have been shaped by pornography. What I found in my interviews with young women was that many of these men wanted to play out porn sex on their bodies. They wanted anal sex, they wanted all sorts of other things that they'd seen in pornography.

And a lot of the women, they don't want to do it, but they don't have the vocabulary to express why they don't want to do it because everywhere they go in this society they're told, "If you don't do it, you're a prude." And what teenager or adolescent do you know wants to be defined as a prude? So the boys are pushing, nagging, cajoling girls into performing porn sex.

SK:Gail, let's talk about the feminist debate, and where it stands over pornography. This is a long-standing debate, this battle within feminist circles over pornography. On the one hand, there are feminists who point out that pornography is degrading to women and should be an issue taken up by feminists; then on the other hand, are those who say women in the pornography industry are empowered, or they're sex workers who ought to be respected like any other workers and we shouldn't be prudes or man-haters or 'feminazis,' which is a common term I'm sure you've been called -- I've been called that. Do you see that conversation changing given that the landscape of mainstream pornography has become so brutal? Or are we still blind to its brutality?

GD: This is a great question because as pornography becomes more brutal, you would think that the conversation would get around to brutality and what happens to the women. It's amazing, I think, those feminists who support the porn industry–they don't look at it as an industry, they look at it as a collection of women being empowered by the industry. Now, I'm not saying there aren't some women who can't make this work for them. However, what I'm interested in is the macro-social and systematic effects of an industry, not of individuals working within it. What I study is the mainstream industry where women are not empowered. Women come and go, they enter the industry thinking they're going to be Jenna Jameson, they leave scarred, they leave emotionally affected by what's happened to them. And I think as feminists we need to start looking at the effects on women both in the industry and outside the industry because, as I said, these women are dating the men.

I think also there's areas in feminism where no one really sees the reality of women's victim status, that we say women are no longer victims. Well, if you look at the level of violence against women in this society, you look at women struggling to feed their children, you look at women living in poverty, you know, we need to have feminism with politics. And what's happened, I think, is that politics have been bled out of feminism, so now you get this idea that we got what we wanted, or at least we can be empowered as individuals. I'm sorry, but you cannot be empowered as individuals when women as a group are systematically discriminated against. And even if I'm OK. My feminism was saying, "You know what? I walked that distance for you because you're not OK." That's what sisterhood was about. Not about looking at individuals and saying, "You're OK, so that's a sign that women are empowered."

SK: Finally, where is the good news in all of this? Where's the activism and what are some avenues by which people can take action?

GD: There are a few places they can go where we've got resources online. My Web site,, also, which is an organization that I co-founded, has a list of resources. You can also download a 50-minute slideshow with a script and images that you can give in your communities, you can give in your schools. It's been given across the country, in lots of different other countries as well. And you can join on, and we have conferences, and we actually train people how to give the slideshow as a way to start building a grassroots activist movement. I often get letters from women all over the country telling me this has happened to me, thank you for doing this work, I'm now joining your organization because my husband, my boyfriend, or whatever has been using pornography and I've been affected by it.

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