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Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality

Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality

4.4 7
by Gail Dines

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Professor Gail Dines has written about and researched the porn industry for over two decades. She attends industry conferences, interviews producers and performers, and speaks to hundreds of men and women each year about their experience with porn. Students and educators describe her work as "life changing."

In Pornland—the culmination of her life's


Professor Gail Dines has written about and researched the porn industry for over two decades. She attends industry conferences, interviews producers and performers, and speaks to hundreds of men and women each year about their experience with porn. Students and educators describe her work as "life changing."

In Pornland—the culmination of her life's work—Dines takes an unflinching look at porn and its affect on our lives. Astonishingly, the average age of first viewing porn is now 11.5 years for boys, and with the advent of the Internet, it's no surprise that young people are consuming more porn than ever. But, as Dines shows, today's porn is strikingly different from yesterday's Playboy. As porn culture has become absorbed into pop culture, a new wave of entrepreneurs are creating porn that is even more hard-core, violent, sexist, and racist. To differentiate their products in a glutted market, producers have created profitable niche products—like teen sex, torture porn, and gonzo—in order to entice a generation of desensitized users.

Going from the backstreets to Wall Street, Dines traces the extensive money trail behind this multibillion-dollar industry—one that reaps more profits than the film and music industries combined. Like Big Tobacco—with its powerful lobbying groups and sophisticated business practices—porn companies don't simply sell products. Rather they influence legislators, partner with mainstream media, and develop new technologies like streaming video for cell phones. Proving that this assembly line of content is actually limiting our sexual freedom, Dines argues that porn's omnipresence has become a public health concern we can no longer ignore.

Going from the backstreets to Wall Street, Dines reveals how porn is affecting our lives and why its omnipresence is detrimental to our sexual freedom.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As pornography has become both more extreme and more commercial, antiporn activist Dines argues, it has dehumanized our sexual relationships. The radical objectification and often brutal denigration of women in porn, she holds, “leaks” into other aspects of our lives. Dines's argument rests on a compelling, close reading of the imagery and narrative content of magazines, videos, and marketing materials; what is missing, however, is a similarly compelling body of research on how these images are used by viewers, aside from Dines's own anecdotal evidence. The author's appropriation of addiction terminology—viewers are called “users,” habitual viewing is an “addiction,” and pornography featuring teenagers is called “Pseudo-Child Pornography” or “PCP”—is distracting and suggests that rhetorical tricks are needed because solid argumentation is lacking. Likewise, Dines's opponents are unlikely to be swayed by her speculation tying porn viewing to rape and child molestation, nor by the selective sources she draws on to support her point (convicted sex offenders). The book does raise important questions about the commoditization of sexual desires and the extent to which pornography has become part of our economy (with hotel chains and cable and satellite companies among the largest distributors). (July)
From the Publisher
Bravo to Gail Dines! She exposes a huge problem of our time that few people are willing to confront. Dines follows the extensive money trail, uncovering the role of corporate duplicity and greed, while showing how steadily pornography has infiltrated into everyday life from almost cradle to grave.—Diane Levin, coauthor of So Sexy, So Soon

"We're now so pornography-saturated that our capacity for sexual delight is being brutalized. Gail Dines brilliantly exposes porn's economics, pervasiveness, and impact with scholarship as impeccable as her tone is reasonable. This book will change your life. Ignore it at your peril."—Robin Morgan

"Thoroughly researched and forcefully argued, Pornland is a must-read. From the intricate linking of the porn industry with Fortune 500 companies to behind the scenes of Girls Gone Wild, Dines makes eye-opening connections and breaks new ground with every chapter."—Chyng Sun, associate professor of media studies, New York University, director of The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality, and Relationships

"Pornland takes a quantum leap beyond the tired pro-porn vs. anti-porn debates of recent decades. It will now be the starting point for serious discussions about how porn shapes and distorts social and sexual norms. Gail Dines understands both the economics and cultural power of the pornography industry perhaps better than anyone ever has. This is accessible and grounded social analysis at its finest."—Jackson Katz, Ph.D., creator of the video Tough Guise and author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

"An eyes-wide-open look at the way the porn industry exploits and damages the gift of our sexuality to fuel itself. Pornland is well researched, well written, and heartfelt. I highly recommend it."—Wendy Maltz, LCSW, DST, coauthor of The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography

"For more than a decade, Gail Dines has been at the forefront of the study of the contemporary pornography industry and its effects. Many have been eagerly awaiting Pornland, in which she synthesizes all that work-and it has been worth the wait. It is, without question, the definitive book on pornography and pop culture in the twenty-first century. Dines has achieved something rare: she looks at an increasingly pornographic society without backing away from the ugly truth, and without giving up hope for a better world."
—Robert Jensen, University of Texas at Austin, author of Getting Off:Pornography and the End of Masculinity

Library Journal
This book is nothing short of a scathing critique of modern pornography. Dines (sociology & women's studies, Wheelock Coll.; Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality) convincingly argues that the porn industry has distorted, commercialized, and repackaged sexuality for both men and women. As a prosex, antiporn feminist, Dines is disturbed by the mainstreaming of porn into popular culture and the increasing brutality of hard-core pornography. Although her cause is honorable and her argument sound, Dines's sexually explicit descriptions of pornographic web sites (often with text quoted verbatim) and movies render this an extremely uncomfortable read. Owing to the fine line between exposing exploitation and re-exploiting victims by exposing their stories, Dines makes a valiant effort at truth telling. Yet Pornland often feels like the same slideshow of violence and sexual abuse it is trying to prevent. It's clear that Dines intends to jolt her readers out of complacency by showing the violent extremes of hard-core pornography, but this tactic is a miss. More compelling is her thoughtful analysis of pornography's infiltration into the American economy, its detrimental effects on the sexual and emotional health of women and men, and its ability to perpetuate both sexism and racism. VERDICT Although intended for a popular audience, this will appeal only to other scholars interested in the social issues surrounding pornography.—Veronica Arellano, Lexington Park, MD

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Beacon Press
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Six, "Growing Up Female in a Porn Culture"

In her excellent book on body image and food, feminist philosopher Susan Bordo looks at the ways the culture helps shape women’s ideas about what constitutes the perfect body. The bodies of the women we see in magazines and on television are actually very unusual in their measurements and proportions, with long necks, broad shoulders, and high waists. Yet because these are more or less the only images we see, we take them to be the norm rather than the exception and as­sume that the problem lies with us and not the fashion and media indus­tries that insist on using a very specific body type. This is what the media do: they take the abnormal body and make it normal by virtue of its vis­ibility, while making the normal bodies of real women look abnormal by virtue of their invisibility. The result is a massive image disorder on the part of society. Since we all develop notions of ourselves from cultural messages and images, it would seem that a truly disordered female is one who actually likes her body.

Bordo’s discussion of the way culture shapes notions of the body asks us to rethink the idea that women with eating disorders are somehow deviants. Women who starve themselves are actually overconforming to the societal message about what constitutes female perfection. They have taken in the messages and come to what looks like a very reasonable conclusion: thin women are prized in this culture, I want to be prized, and therefore I need to be thin, which means that I can’t eat. How can it be any different in a world where anorexic-looking women such as Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, Mary Kate Olsen, and Lindsay Lohan are praised by the celebrity magazines for their “look”? I do not mean to be glib here about the devastating effects of starving one’s body. I have seen many students with a long list of health problems due to long-term starvation. But somewhere in this discussion, we need to see the society as pathological rather than the adolescent girl in the hospital ward who is being diagnosed with multiple disorders.

Many of the young women I have spoken to who have been hos­pitalized for eating disorders talk about all the new tricks they learned from fellow patients for losing weight even faster. Not many talk about their hospitalizations in terms of recovery. While many of these young women end up hospitalized for complex reasons, the cultural obsession with female thinness has to figure in somewhere for most of them. Yet these recovery programs do not have classes on media literacy and cul­tural constructions of gender or rap sessions on resisting sexist imagery. Instead the focus is squarely on the individual female and her assumed psychological problems, which somehow dropped from the sky. One story that demonstrates the cultural components of this so-called indi­vidual disorder is writer Abra Chernik’s experience of having a day out from the hospital, where she is being treated for anorexia.13 Close to death, Chernik goes to the mall and takes a “fat test” at a sporting goods store. She learns she is this week’s winner, with the lowest percentage of body fat, and everyone in the store breaks into applause. Chernik then returns to the hospital, where she is meant to recover with intense therapy that explores her personal problems. Meanwhile, the culture is left intact.

Understanding culture as a socializing agent requires exploring how and why some girls and young women conform and others resist. For all the visual onslaught, not every young woman looks or acts like she take her cues from Cosmopolitan or Maxim. One reason for this is that conforming to a dominant image is not an all-or-nothing act but rather a series of acts that place women and girls at different points on the continuum of conformity to nonconformity. Where any individual sits at any given time on this continuum depends on her past and present experiences as well as family relationships, media consumption, peer group affiliations and sexual, racial, and class identity. We are not, after all, blank slates onto which images are projected.
Given the complex ways that we form our sexual and gender iden­tities, it is almost impossible to predict, with precision, how any one individual will act at any one time. This does not mean, though, that we can’t make predictions on a macro level. What we can say is that the more one way of being female is elevated above and beyond others, the more a substantial proportion of the population will gravitate toward that which is most socially accepted, condoned, and rewarded. The more the hypersexualized image crowds out other images of women and girls, the fewer options females have of resisting what cul­tural critic Neil Postman called “the seduction of the eloquence of the image.”

Conforming to the image is seductive as it not only offers women an identity that is in keeping with the majority but also confers a whole host of pleasures, since looking hot does garner the kind of male at­tention that can sometimes feel empowering. Indeed, getting people to consent to any system, even if it’s inherently oppressive, is made easier if conformity brings with it psychological, social, and/or material gains. Many women know what it’s like to be sexually wanted by a man: the way he holds you in his gaze, the way he finds everything you say worthy of attention, the way you suddenly become the most compelling person in the world. This is the kind of attention we don’t normally get from men when we are giving a presentation, having a political conversation, or telling them to do the dishes. No, this is an attention men shower on women they want sexually, and it feels like real power, but it is ephem­eral because it is being given to women by men who increasingly, thanks to the porn culture, see women as interchangeable hookup partners. To feel that sense of power, women need to keep sexing themselves up so they can become visible to the next man who is going to, for a short time, hold her in his lustful gaze.

Those girls and young women who resist the wages of sexual objec­tification have to form an identity that is in opposition to mainstream culture. What I find is that these young women and girls tend to have someone in their life—be it a mother, an older woman mentor, or a coach—who provides some form of immunization to the cultural mes­sages. But often this immunization is short-lived. Every summer I co­teach an institute in media literacy, and many of the participants are parents or teachers. Year after year we hear the same story: they are working hard to provide their daughters or students with ways to resist the culture, and in their early years the girls seem to be internalizing the counter-ideology. However, at some point, usually around puberty but increasingly earlier, the girls begin to adopt more conventional fem­inine behavior as their peer group becomes the most salient socializ­ing force. This makes sense because adolescence is the developmental stage that is all about fitting in. Indeed, in a strange way, one becomes visible in adolescence by looking like everyone else, and to look and act differently is to be rendered invisible.

What many of these young women and girls need to be able to continue resisting the dominant culture is clearly a peer group of like-minded people as well as an ideology that reveals the fabricated, exploit­ative, and consumerist nature of contemporary femininity. Alternative ideologies such as feminism that critique dominant conceptions of femi­ninity are either caricatured or ignored in mainstream media. Absent such a worldview and a community of like-minded people, many young women speak about feeling isolated and alone in their refusal to con­form to the porn culture. The stories are the same: they have a lot of difficulty in negotiating the outsider status that they have been forced to take on. They not only refuse to sex themselves up, they also re­fuse to have hookup sex, which means that they have a difficult time finding men who are interested in them.

Meet the Author

Gail Dines is professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College. The author of two previous books and a regular commentator on TV and radio, Dines has been covered in Newsweek, Time, USA Today, the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
IneffableInexorable More than 1 year ago
I would not call this book "enjoyable," as it was rather difficult to read an many points, but it certainly was informative.  Dines provides citations for all of her statements and thoughtful commentary to follow it up.  I think this should be required for anyone wondering how the sudden widespread availability for a controversial industry is affecting us.  I would like to make note that she only discusses the straight, for mainstream-straight-mostly-white men porn, not gay porn or for-women porn, but seeing as that is the biggest market, it is the most appropriate to discuss in-depth.
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