Pornified, by Pamela Paul (2005)

By Laura Clark

Laura Clark is a freelance writer based in Front Royal, Virginia.

Pamela Paul opted to put a rather startling picture on her book, Pornified:  a picture of a man and woman, obviously naked, embracing.  Considering Paul’s premise that pornography is bad, and the fact that neither pornography nor the picture on Pornified, is very imaginative, I would have liked to have seen something a whole lot more original and less offensive.  Perhaps, however, the cover’s lack of imagination is part of her point.  Paul does succeed in making a very powerful case against pornography, as she also does in showing how permeated our culture has become with it.  She is sensitive and intelligent in documenting how damaging pornography is to men, women, and children, and the relationships which they have with one another.  She did much valuable research to prove her point.  She questions some of our prevailing assumptions about free speech and freedom of the press.

Paul makes many strong philosophical arguments against pornography and in the final pages of her book she has some biting criticisms for much of the cultural commentary that is in vogue.  In this, she touches on Levy’s theme.  “Terrified of being labeled ‘anti-sex,’ ‘humorless’ or [the wrong kind of] ‘feminist,’ many women have neglected to stand up to pornography,” she writes.  She ferociously takes on the pro-porn feminists:  “Why insist that it is okay for women to exploit other women, but when men do so, it is harm, harassment, or sexual crime?”  Paul asks.  She terms such thinking “hypocrisy.”  Paul is fearless in many of her assessments.

But after wading through page after page of tragedy backed by statistics, we still have many of the same tired conclusions. While pornography is bad, that does not mean that men and women should have a strict moral code about sex.  We must understand, for example, that pornography is not the same thing as “looking at pretty pictures with [and?] masturbating.”  Whew! I am so relieved.  People who confuse the two “have an agenda” or “something to prove” Paul tells us, although she does not specify what.  She assures her readers over and over that it is not only religious people, concerned about what God thinks, who oppose pornography.  Very, very true.  It is clear that Paul considers the thoughts religious folks have on pornography to be little more than knee-jerk reactions. Unappreciated are two things.  The first is that religious thinkers never merely began and ended their arguments with the fact that God doesn’t approve pornography.   They had many of the same thoughts against it that Paul does now, years before she ever considered them.   Second, they predicted that society would one day find itself in the mess that it is today:  the mess that Paul doesn’t like, and who can blame her?  Paul has very obviously not read very much of the Judeo-Christian criticism of pornography, because if she had she would know it makes many of the same disconcerting observations which she does.

Paul states that more sex education would be helpful.  Paul thinks that if people just understand how destructive pornography can be (and sex education would teach them this!) then they will decide not to use it.  This is no doubt true:  some will. But Paul fails, just as Stepp and Levy, to ascribe an underlying nature to sexual relations, a nature which is violated by GGW, hook-ups, and pornography.  Until society acknowledges that the meaning of sex is not what a particular individual thinks it is, we will continue to have a deeply conflicted sexualized society, and also continue to have lots of people who can partially analyze the problem, write well about it, but who still cannot get to the root of what is wrong and, therefore, who also cannot offer true solutions in solving the evils which haunt them.  In the next, and last, section, we will hear from someone who is much more realistic about the nature of the problem, and who also sees some signs for optimism that it is beginning to be partially solved.

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