Feeble Assault Backfires- Let Fans of Porn Rejoice

What kind of person is arrogant enough to believe that, for the good of society, our sexual fantasies should be policed? In Pornified, Pamela Paul jumps on that tired old horse named Pornography Is Eroding Our Moral Fiber, and winds up proving only that one nag deserves another.

There isn’t room here to annotate the misinformation, contradictions, logical fallacies and prejudices passed off as established truth that stream from every page of this book. In one instance, Ms. Paul offers as evidence a Web site that—she admits in a footnote—cannot be proven to have ever existed.

Ms. Paul’s modus operandi combines the rhetoric of moral prohibitionists like Anthony Comstock and Carrie Nation with the fantasies of insidious infiltration so beloved of 1950’s anti-communist propaganda. Over and over, Pornified tells us that one peek at porn is all it takes to start the innocent on the road to ruin and degradation.

Though Ms. Paul boasts of the wide number of respondents to the Harris poll conducted for the book, the scenarios are almost all the same: Porn consumes more and more of the user’s time, numbing him erotically so that he needs to seek more graphic and deviant material, rendering him unable to separate porn from reality and alienating him from the women in his life. Assuming there are any women in his life. According to Ms. Paul, indulging in porn-inspired fantasies—where a woman willingly satisfies a man’s sexual desires—reveals “a lack of confidence in one’s manhood and insecurity in one’s sexuality.” Ms. Paul offers not a shred of proof for any of this. Instead, she cites studies that “show,” a verb she employs as if it were a synonym for “prove.”

There’s a strong element of wish-fulfillment to Pornified. Straight-faced, Ms. Paul puts forth any scenario that supports her suspicions. You don’t have to be a cynic to detect something much too perfect in this account of a wife who discovers her husband’s porn use: “Was this the man she married? Marc had been an exemplary stepfather. A respected man in their hometown. He sang in the church gospel choir. He worked for the state government. Most of his friends were people he had met through church and he was greatly admired by his peers.”

Her examples continually backfire, like a 35-year-old man presented as the picture of healthy sexual normalcy. He goes on to reveal that he doesn’t like porn because he’s uncomfortable looking at other men’s genitals, and “squeamish” looking at a woman’s genitals. This is her idea of sexual maturity?

Ms. Paul goes well beyond the bluenosiness of a Wendy Shalit. She doesn’t just disapprove of carefree sex; she thinks fantasies of carefree sex are dangerous. “Most porn-centric fantasies,” she writes, “are far from matrimony-oriented …. Pornography is the fantasy of permanent and unfettered bachelorhood.” Stop the presses. And while Ms. Paul allows that fantasy may actually help keep marriages intact, she claims a distinction between the “dictates” of pornography and the “prerogative” of what she calls “free-flow” fantasy. But if porn dictates fantasy, how can Ms. Paul also claim that it’s so abundant and varied it allows the user to discover what turns him on?

As Ms. Paul tells it, the struggle over porn is the war between irresponsible men and betrayed women. Significantly, she avoids gay porn, in which men make sex objects of other men—and hash of her thesis.

No male author could get away with writing about female sexuality in the hypocritical and insulting manner Ms. Paul writes of male sexuality. She’s appalled by men who criticize women’s bodies but writes of one porn user, “Granted he hasn’t been looking his best lately … and could stand to lose twenty pounds or so.” And while I doubt Ms. Paul would dare condemn a woman who couldn’t reach orgasm during intercourse, men who cannot are all porn-damaged Onanists. This passage gives away the game:

“A man has only so much sexual energy. Especially once he’s past his peak and easing into his thirties, it’s not easy to reach orgasm two or three times a day …. Yet pornography further drains him of sexual and emotional energy.”

Block the Internet, girls, because past 30 they’re all useless, limp dicks.

Like all would-be censors, Ms. Paul insists she’s not a censor. But she falls back on their language, claiming porn opponents have “been silenced” and that “rather than fight for people’s right to speak out against pornography, Americans have instead fought for the right of pornographers to distribute their product without regulation and for consumers to lap it up unhindered.” This is flat-out false. The right to speak against pornography has never been restricted, and there have always been restrictions regulating the sale and production of pornography.

There would be more if Ms. Paul had her way. “More than a form of speech, pornography is a commercial product,” she says and advocates its regulation in the manner of alcohol or cigarettes. That newspapers, books, movies, music could all be deemed commercial products and regulated in the same way either doesn’t occur to her or doesn’t alarm her.

Ignorant of the consequences of the obscenity laws she touts, Ms. Paul praises the 1973 Supreme Court decision Miller v. California, which (sensibly, she thinks) allowed each community to define indecency for itself, and mourns the two failed Internet-restriction bills, the Child Online Protection Act and the Child Pornography Prevention Act. “To pretend,” she writes, “that the line between an R-rated film with depictions of sexuality and a XXX movie … is anywhere close to being blurred is willfully obtuse and plays into the worst fears of those who might otherwise naturally oppose pornography.” But Georgia prosecuted Carnal Knowledge under Miller v. California. And in 1997, under an Oklahoma child-porn statute, The Tin Drum was prosecuted as child pornography.

Inevitably, Ms. Paul gets around to complaining of porn opponents being labeled “anti-sex.” But when she acknowledges that there’s a world of difference between Maxim and meatholes.com, she neglects to acknowledge the world of difference between meatholes.com and the average Jenna Jameson movie. Ms. Paul chides men for using fantasy to escape the pressures of relationships, and yet she sees nothing wrong with women spying on their partners or censoring what they’re allowed to watch or read. She makes specious and misleading claims to “prove” the destructiveness of porn while dismissing actual proof as “that old saw ‘causation.’” So of course she’s going to be labeled “anti-sex.”

Pornified isn’t just the work of a scold and a prude, but an emotional fascist and an intellectual midget. Porn aficionados should bless the name of Pamela Paul: Her vision of what constitutes humane and mature sexuality is the best argument for porn that anyone has come up with.

Charles Taylor has written for Salon, The New York Times, The New Yorker and other publications.