How Porn Destroys Lives
Pamela Paul was shocked by what she found while researching how pornography is changing our culture: everyone is doing it.
BY: Interview by Rebecca Phillips
"Porn is for everyone," says author Pamela Paul, whose new book, "
," details how the widespread use of pornography is changing American culture and relationships. Paul expected to find pornography use mainly in the realm of "losers who couldn't get a date" when she started researching the book. Instead, she found that it was mainstream, bridging religious, ethnic, educational, and socio-economic barriers. She was even more surprised, however, by how often pornography use ruins relationships, increases sexual dysfunction, and changes what men expect from women. Paul spoke with Beliefnet recently about pornography addiction, how the internet has changed porn consumption, and what secular culture can learn from the way religious groups confront pornography use. Paul will also lead a
three-week dialogue group
to answer questions and discuss with readers how pornography has transformed their own lives.
What surprised you the most about the use of pornography in America?
Honestly, I didn't think pornography was that huge an issue before I wrote this book. I started writing this book before the Janet Jackson fiasco, before the Paris Hilton tapes. I knew there was a lot of pornography out there, but I didn't think it was anything that affected my life or the lives of anyone I knew. The question I wanted to ask was, "With all this pornography out there, does it have any effect?"
I was absolutely shocked by what I found. I talked to people whose lives were really destroyed by pornography. Even the people who didn't bottom out--total porn addiction, marriages breaking up, people losing their jobs, which did happen--even the people who didn't go to that extreme were profoundly affected by porn. Sometimes they realized they were, but often they didn't realize the effects pornography had on them.
Can you share an example?
There was one woman who said to me, "I'm totally fine with porn. I think it's fun, I look at it, my boyfriend looks at it." Half an hour into our phone conversation, she tells me that her boyfriend and she do not have good sex, that this is the first time she's had a bad sexual relationship, that he looks at porn all the time, and that now she's considering getting breast implants. This is someone who seemed very bright and cheery about pornography, but if you scratch beneath the surface, you find out that's not at all the case.
To answer your original question, given that everything was shocking to me--and I don't consider myself a naïve person--I was shocked by the fact that so many men and women say that porn can help people sexually, that it helps them open up, that it's fun and harmless, but at the same time men who were fans of pornography were reporting that their sex lives were damaged. They had trouble maintaining erections, they were having trouble having intercourse with their wives, they simply couldn't enjoy real human sexuality any more. These men had programmed themselves to only sexually cue to computerized, commercialized pornography.
You mentioned that not everyone takes pornography to the extreme, but your book catalogs the stories of many people who do. How do people go from being a casual consumer of an occasional pornographic magazine to someone who is addicted?
I wrote a chapter about how pornography affects men and I went through the steps for how it affects casual users: it desensitizes them, then it escalates into more extreme and excessive interest. And then I did a chapter on men who had completely bottomed out and were addicted to pornography. And I went through the same steps. It's scary--the casual user was showing the same effects, just to a lesser degree than the addict was.
I expected pornography fans to be very defensive about their use of pornography, and to a certain extent they were, but they were often happy about it and proud of it. But when I asked them, "Do you think you could ever become addicted to porn?" two-thirds of the men who didn't think they were addicted said, "Yeah, I could see that happening." Before the internet, I don't think we would have had this problem.
So the internet has really changed things?
There's a chicken-and-egg conundrum of asking if the internet created this problem or if porn helped spread use of the internet. It's probably a combination. We have internet pornography and satellite television pornography and DVD pornography, and it's all over the place and always available. Fifteen years ago, someone might have picked up Playboy now and then, might have rented a videocassette--these people have now become daily users. The casual user has gone from someone who looks at a magazine on occasion or rents a video when he travels for business to someone who now spends half an hour or 45 minutes online a day.