February 13, 2011 / Praxis
An interview between TOJ Editor-in-Chief Chris Keller and the author of GENERATION EX-CHRISTIAN, Drew Dyck.
April 2, 2006
TOJ: What initially compelled you to explore the main question you begin with in your book, Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming our Lives, our Relationships, and our Families?
PP: The book started off as an article for Time Magazine, really an issue exploring sex and emotional health and I think that like a lot of Americans, I’ve noticed that pornography seemed to become more ubiquitous and acceptable. This was back before the whole Janet Jackson incident or Paris Hilton’s internet sex thing. But I think you know that even then it was undeniable that in the past 10 years we’ve really seen pornography go mainstream. My question was, “Well, if there is more porn out there how is that affecting the people who are using it? What does this do to people’s minds, to their relationships?” And I felt that when you looked at media stories they were often stories about the industry, the profit of the industry, or about characters or people taking part in it. But there was very little about the consumer side, about the demand. That’s why I wanted to find out about that.
TOJ: This is kind of a personal question. You spent a great deal of time with men and women who themselves spend a great deal of time looking at pornography. I was wondering if you could say a bit about what this was like for you. I’m assuming you spent face to face time with them.
PP: The book interviews were done by phone.
TOJ: They were?
PP: That was deliberate because you know it is a private subject and I think people tend to be more open when they feel somewhat anonymous. So I think that really allows people to unleash their own thoughts in an open way. Still, hearing some of the things was incredibly disturbing. But, you know, eventually I got to the point where I said, “This is really hard but it’s important that people know about it. So it’s good that I’m hearing this so I can get this information out there.”
TOJ: I have a quote from your book. You say, “Today, the pornography industry has convinced women that wearing a thong is a form of emancipation, learning to pole dance means embracing your sexuality, and taking your boyfriend for a lap dance is what every sexy and supportive girlfriend should do.” Assuming this is true, and I believe it is, how has the porn industry managed to accomplish this?
PP: Well I think that they send out this message that women should get in on the game, and that pornography is something that is interesting. When Playboy used to launch a new issue, was very much “guys only”, “men only.” The introductory letter to Playboy said, “Ladies, if you picked up this magazine by accident, put it down and go back to the kitchen.” That’s not the message that’s sent out now. The message that’s sent out now is well if you’re cool you’re going to Hefner’s birthday party at the Playboy mansion with your boyfriend and you’re going to go to the strip club and maybe you’ll even get it on for fun and give lap dances to your boyfriend at home. And you know it’s a smart financial move for the pornographers because they have a 50% open market share and so it makes sense. And it also makes sense for them to have women that are supportive of their men’s pornography and to send a message that if you are not supportive, then something is wrong with you. Because again, that takes away a barrier to men using their product.
TOJ: So it sounds like they have really expanded their attempts to make this everybody’s issue and really involve both men and women, both sexes. And they’ve changed their marketing ploy I guess.
PP: Pornography as it becomes more ubiquitous needs to maintain interest among consumers and so it has to change like any other kind of product. You don’t just have water after a while. You have water with vitamins; water with anti-oxidants added to it; you have water with flavors in it. The same thing goes for pornography. You have to have more extreme forms. You have to have forms for different types of people. They keep tweaking the product in order to get as many people to use as much of it as possible.
TOJ: There’s a more casual sense of sexuality and it’s more popular than ever. From Girls Gone Wild, to Paris Hilton, to even the popularity of the show Sex and the City, who would you say is to blame and how does the rise of “consumerism” fit into the new world of pornography?
PP: Well I think that pornography is sort of an ideal – it’s a consumerization, the commodification of sex. And sex is supposed to be an intimate act between two people that is not just physical, but is also emotional, and interpersonal, and fundamentally very human. Pornography is really the opposite of that. It’s sex void of interconnection. It’s sex void of emotional connectedness. It’s sex without another person. And it’s sex that is defined by an industry in order to make money. So it’s about as far away from the way that most people perceive to be natural human sexuality. Part of the reason I called the book Pornified is that the culture has become pornified, in that in the standards, in the aesthetics, and in the values, pornography has trickled down into the main stream culture. It’s not just about being sexually explicit. It’s about openly emulating the commercialization of sex. It’s about openly imitating pornography and its values. It’s not just about a woman wearing a sexy outfit. It’s about a woman TRYING to look like a porn star.
TOJ: I’m sure you’re familiar with the “My Space” phenomenon that’s going on right now, especially with younger people. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on the way ‘My Space” has transformed the internet into a very accessible place for anyone, especially children, adolescents, and young adults, to engage in sexually explicit acts and conversation without the “inconvenience” of face to face contact. What is your take on how this phenomena and how it is transforming the way we live our lives and our relationships?
PP: I think that clearly kids at younger and younger ages are seeing pornography on the internet, and they can’t help but be influenced by that, and by a culture that so promotes the idea of sexualizing yourself in a pornographic way, it doesn’t surprise me that it infiltrates into other areas of the internet.
TOJ: I think it is fair to say that faith-based arguments against the proliferation of porn hold little weight with the porn industry and are hopelessly stereotyped. How might faith-based groups do a better job of re-gaining a credible and relevant voice in an increasingly pornified world?
PP: I think that there seemed to be among the religious people that I interviewed almost two very polar opposite approaches. Some churches didn’t want to talk about it at all, wouldn’t address it, you know, didn’t want that subject matter entering their churches. Others were very open about it and very supportive. I always think the latter approach is the better one because this is a problem and it’s one that needs to be discussed and it’s interesting that recently, for example, there was a lot of headlines about churches taking on environmental causes that they previously didn’t talk about. And I think that that’s exciting and it brings about change in an area that people didn’t think of the church as having something to say. And I think that the same thing could happen with pornography. I mean, really, there’s been very little discussion about it. The other thing is that for religious people it helps them to talk about it in terms of morality and religion but in secular America, I think it’s more of a psychological issue, and it’s a psychological issue for anyone whether religious or not. So one way to perhaps have more common ground is to, in addition to addressing that religious and moral component, also be talking about the psychological component. The fact is, whether or not one considers pornography a sin, many men and women find their lives emotionally devastated by it, find themselves psychologically damaged by it. And that’s something that anyone, whether they are religious or not, has in common.
TOJ: After having spoken with so many people, men and women, what would you say is the real danger of pornography? Why should people be concerned?
PP: I really do think that it’s damaging people’s lives, it’s damaging them as individuals, it’s damaging their relationships. For young people we don’t even know the damage yet. We haven’t seen what the consequences are of eight year-old children seeing very graphic, extreme violent kinds of pornography on the internet. It certainly damages family life and so I think that that’s a pretty big impact and it’s one that isn’t really discussed.
TOJ: And it’s hard to see at this point the full consequences…
PP: Right, because a lot of people don’t want to talk about it, and really, I feel like that was what I tried to do with the book and what I hoped was successful in that these people that I did talk to were very open, I did record their stories and hopefully people who aren’t talking about this will read the book and see what people are saying who have experienced damage and are willing to talk about it.
TOJ: Again I want to quote something you wrote in Pornified. “The attraction of pornography is that it is disassociated from real-life pressures, emotional entanglements, and commitments.” Could you say a bit more about why you believe this to be one of, if not the fundamental attraction that pornography offers to men?
PP: I think it certainly is an attraction because, and a lot of men will say it in so many terms, but in the abstract, “Of course real sex is better than masturbating to pornography.” At the end of the day, after a busy day of work, they come home and they have a choice. They can go online, in five minutes find exactly the type of women they want to look at, doing exactly the type of sexual act they want her to be doing and, you know, have sexual release from those images and be done with it. Or, they can go and talk to their wife, but first they have to make sure that they’ve done everything they were supposed to do around the house. Then they’ve got to have a forty-five minute conversation with her about her day. Then they have to make sure that the kids are taken care of. Then they have to go to the bedroom with their wife and have forty-five minutes of foreplay and then they get sexual release. And they have to overlook the fact that, well, maybe their wife could lose weight and maybe she didn’t wash her hair that day and maybe she isn’t looking her best and maybe she doesn’t want to do exactly, sexually what he wants her to do, maybe she’s not in the best mood. Frankly, a lot of men say, you know what, given that choice, it’s a lot easier to just go online.
TOJ: What role has the rise of pornography played in helping men and women detach themselves from the reality of related issues like human sex trafficking, sexual crimes against children and other acts of depravity against humanity?
PP: Well, it’s basically looking again at sex as a product, as sex as something that you can buy and use up and throw away. I had men who openly compared using pornography to drinking a soda can and crushing it or to picking out whatever flavor of ice cream they wanted to have that night. You know, if you hire a prostitute and you pay her, or you pay the pimp, that’s a pretty direct transaction. You’re paying her to have sex. In pornography, this person is being paid to have sex by a producer. And then, you know, there’s a bunch of in-betweens, the video company, the distributor, the internet firm, whatever it might be. But the truth is, you’re paying a woman to have sex, it’s just a few steps removed and so it feels better.
TOJ: In what ways do you see this phenomenon continuing to evolve in the next twenty years?
PP: In the hopeful sense, I hope that there will be a turn-a-round, that my book and other people talking about this issue will raise awareness. You know, we have seen mind-set shifts occur. In the book I compare it to cigarette smoking and the fact that cigarette smoking was glamorized and idealized, even by the medical professions, and it wasn’t until the clear cut harm was shown that people began to realize that it wasn’t such a good idea to smoke. Then we began to see public education campaigns against smoking and this produced a turn-a-round with usage. I really hope that happens with pornography.
Sean is a psychotherapist and an avid film watcher. He lives in Seattle with his wife Laura and their newly born daughter Emma.