The Porning of America: The Rise of Porn Culture, What It Means, and Where Do We Go From Here isn’t the kind of book that I would ordinarily pull off the shelf and read. The whole idea of reading about pornography doesn’t seem like a very helpful way to keep one’s heart pure. But it was referenced on a reputable blog that I read regularly (though I can’t recall which blog at this time), and I found myself intrigued by the premise of the book for multiple reasons.

First, in regards to sex and sexuality, I don’t believe that sex is the problem; lust is, and pornography exploits sex to feed lust.

Second, as a heterosexual male created by God as a sexual being, living in a fallen world , the temptation to lust hovers all around me because of how our culture pervasively uses sex in the marketplace.

Third, I am a father. I am raising three children (2 daughters and 1 son) within a culture that is salivating at the opportunity to to define them by and exploit their sexuality.  I want to know how to protect them, how to fight, and what weapons my enemy would use to destroy the children entrusted to Emily and I by God.

Fourth, in today’s culture, nearly everyone is seen in sexual terms (sadly). I was reminded of this during the 2008 Presidential election as the mainstream media began to showcase Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in sexual terms (there was a pretty contested media debate about a photograph of Gov. Palin’s legs during one of her speeches). There was a rigorous running debate about how Palin was being exploited sexually in ways that male candidates rarely (if ever) have been.

By the authors own admission, this book isn’t an anti-porn or pro-porn book. It is a pro-sex book. They attempt to be as unbiased as possible about the pornography industry in general. The authors are not confessing evangelical Christians. Carmine Sarracino (professor of English at Elizabethtown College) and Kevin M. Scott (director of Elizabethtown’s English education program) write from a decidely secular point of view. It is for this reason that their insight is penetrating,provocative, offensive, amoral and helpful. It is a secular critique and they see things differently than I do because we do not share a biblical worldview.  This proves, on occasion, to be challenging and fruitful, while at other times, frustrating and unsatisfying.

I do not recommend that any believer consider reading this book unless they: a) deliberately read it under the careful watch of prayer and b) carefully examine his or her motives for reading. If you are interested in this book to fuel some kind of base sexual fantasy cloaked in an attempt to sharpen your spiritual discernment, don’t read it. I prayed often when I read this book, asking that God remove profane language and descriptions from my memory and wipe my hard drive clean. I intentionally talked openly about reading this book to give opportunity for godly friends to check in on any potential harmful impact on my own heart. Someone who is struggling with sexual lust will find this book to be a stumbling block to both faith and purity of heart. At times the book is sexually explicit in its language. While there are no pictures, the pictures painted by words have the potential to stain one’s purity. There are very few photographs within the book (none of an explicit nature), but those included are, at the very least, sexually suggestive.

The thesis of the book is as follows: “Porn[ography] has so thoroughly been absorbed into every aspect of our everyday lives – language, fashion, advertisements, movies, the Internet, music, magazines, televison, video games – that it has almost ceased to exist as something separate from the mainstream culture, something ‘out there’. That is, we no longer have to go to porn in order to get it. It is filtered to us, in some form, regardless of whether we want it or are even aware of it.” Perhaps one of the best word images the authors used to describe this is to say that “porn is hunting our daughters” (and us all). The result is that porn is having a transformative effect on us all.

Pornography and porn  (according to Sarracino and Scott) are not the same thing. Pornography is reserved almost exclusively to visual images, either still photos or movies, and only occasionally writing. Porn, on the other hand, is the grandchild of pornography. It is much more casual and mainstream. Pornography was what one might find in the shadows of the back alley. It is understood to be “bad”, “seedy” or “nasty”. It is heavily stigmatized (though that stigma is declining). Porn is what you find on the billboards of Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch. Porn is not one thing. It isn’t a single color, but a whole spectrum. It may be a visual or moving image, but it just as easily takes the form of fashion, toys (such as the Bratz doll line for kids), and more.

The result of the porning of America is that our sons and daughters (specifically our daughters) are undergoing sexualization. This is the process of turning individuals into sexual objects. This causes a person to feel that their only value comes from his or her sexual appearance or behavior to the exclusion of other characteristics. What is at stake in the sexualization taking place through universal sexualitzation? The worth of the individual gets bound up in their sexuality. Read that sentence again. What is at stake is that one’s identity is encapsulated in the expression of one;s sexuality or how others perceive and receive one’s sexuality.

The book does a good job of detailing the development of the pornography industry within the United States. There is a helpful expose on how porn has become mainstream in American culture. For example, the mainstreaming of pornography was helped along by Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine. Hefner did this by using his magazine to create a world that everyday people would want to inhabit. Playboy is filled with articles about technology, sports, cars and more, while at the same time displaying beautiful women. Hefner’s magazine exploded with popularity when he introduced the “Girl Next Door”. He showed America beautiful women who liked to take walks on the beach, watch football and play poker. In other words, he found a clever way to detach the negative associations with pornography.  This same kind of disassociation has been happening through other media forms such as music, advertising and cinema. In fact, Hollywood has been the single greatest agent in mainstreaming porn.

Much of the book chronicles how the mainstreaming of porn has become a normal part of everyday life. This aspect of the book was quite informative and helpful, and by far the most valuable contribution of the book. As the book exposes the dark underbelly of porn and its impact on culture, some of the biggest critics of modern porn are those who championed the industry just 20-30 years ago. This, of course, provides great ammunition for an anti-porn crusade.

The authors chronicle individuals who have advanced the frontline of porn in culture such as Russ Meyer, Al Goldstein, Madonna, Snoop Dogg, Jenna Jamison and Paris Hilton. The authors write about Snoop Dog, “He has taken on porn as a lifestyle, and, with the help of corporate America, he had made it cute.” While true, this statement breaks my heart. All of these figures are entertainers, and on the most fundamental level entertainment must keep exceeding itself to remain captivating; it must constantly outdo its previous performance. So the question becomes, as it relates to this issue in America, where will it lead?

The most eye-opening element of Sarracino and Scott’s work is chapter 5’s “Would You Like Porn With That Burger?” Here the author’s detail not simply how porn has influenced marketing strategies, but how porn is being used in  marketing strategies and how consumers are buying it. One of the questions that I came up with in response to this chapter was this: When viewing an advertisement, does it make sense if I don’t view it through a sexual lens? We’ve all seen commericials with a barely clothed actor or actress selling a product using dialogue that has nothing to do with the product being sold. One commercial that immediately comes to mind is the Cadillac commercial that asks, “When you turn your car on, does it turn you on?” Advertisers have found a way to make even inanimate objects sexual. The tragedy is that we find humor in it.

As helpful as parts of the book are, there are other parts, such as the chapter titled “The Nexus of Porn and Violence” , that are downright disturbing and offensive. Quite honestly, I wanted to vomit on several occasions as the authors unnecessarily chronicled explicit details of the dark side of porn as they tried to tie them to the despicable events that unfolded at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. I say the “dark side” because the authors contend that while some pornography is clearly destructive, violent and condemnable, other forms are redeemable expressions of sex and sexuality (such as amatuer porn between two consenting adults). Unfortunately, the authors fail to make any attempt to describe what elements of  porn are redeemable or profitable for the soul of man.

The authors also fail to take into account the impact that exposure to pornography has on the viewer. This isn’t an excusable mishap because they do mention that there is an impact on the view, or else the porning of America would not be having a tranformative impact on culture. But, again, the authors are not speaking from a moral core rooted in objective truth (other than secular humanism). They are pro-sex because we have been created as sexual beings, but they fail to appropriately explore the ramifications or meaning of our sexuality.

While there may be no compelling statistical evidence to support that “normal” men (those with no history of sexual aggression or other aggressive personality traits) who have exposure to pornography are more likely to commit sexual aggression because of exposure to voilent or nonviolent pornography, it clearly plays a role in the lives of men predisposed to sexual violence. There is a clear correlation between sexual aggression and pornography. Furthermore, the American Psychological Association has documented that the sexualiztion of females (ranging from 7 to college aged) leads to psychological problems ranging from eating disorders to cognitive impairment. Girls, age 12-14, with a high consumption of media with sexual content are 2.2 more likely to have sexual intercourse ove rthe next 2 years than those with a low diet of the same material. All of this (and more) gives us a clear indication that pornography poisons the human soul.

Of course, since the book was written from a secular point of view, the authors fail to take into account the reality that, at its heart, pornography seeks to exploit humanity’s propensity to bend towards sexual lust. Sexual lust is driven by a selfish impulse that never takes into account the good of the object it desires. Lust is fundamentally a moral problem that needs rescue and redemption only found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But to be fair to the authors, this wasn’t their focus. Overall, the book takes a  hedonistic approach to sexuality that values the expression of sexuality (both heterosexual and homosexual) as long as it takes place between two consenting, committed partners. I appreciated the hardline condemnation by the authors against hooking up, which involves two people, often strangers, making eye contact at a party – or in a club, a school dance, or even at a mall – and then slipping into a hallway or room for a no-strings attached sexual encounter. This kind of deviant sexual behavior perfectly mirrors a porn movie. This recent development within Western culture is rampant on middle and high school campuses, as well as college and university campuses.

Overall, Sarracino and Scott’s book was an interesting and sobering social commentary about the influence of pornography on mainstream America. As the author’s noted, the normalizing of porn within our culture isn’t going to stop anytime soon. If anything the poison will continue to be poured into the bloodlines of America until the heart is full of lust and we will no longer be able to distinguish between sexual exploitation and sexual affirmation because they will both look like one in the same. At this prospect we can only say, “Rescue us, Jesus, from our lusts and from ourselves.”

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