From Publishers Weekly
Having already carved out a major niche among 20-to-30-somethings with The Starter Marriage, Paul takes on another bane of postfeminism: the Internet-enabled "all pornography, all the time" mentality of many younger men and its ripple effect on the culture. For this pornograph, Paul interviewed more than 100 people—80 of them young, straight men. Some findings are predictable: porn allows men "to enjoy the fantasy of endless variety," but can distract men from their partners, detract from their sexual skills and harm relationships. More valuably, Paul finds women caught under new forms of social pressure—from men and women—not to disdain porn: to do so, now, is (among other things) to be seen as limiting women's sexual self-expression. Paul also sees porn seeping ever sooner into preteen life and sensibly observes that there's no reason for porn to be limitless on the Net when it's regulated elsewhere. Still, a critique that aims to avoid religious conservatism's invocation of sin and radical feminism's emphasis on civil rights violations can get fuzzy. Like Potter Stewart ("I know it when I see it"), Paul can't always distinguish sex-related art from pornography other than on a case-by-case basis; things get especially thorny regarding the torture and pain that, she asserts, "many, perhaps most men, find alluring." She ends up arguing that pornography, like alcohol or cigarettes, should be "discouraged," and proposes an effort by the government and private sector to quell consumer demand. Paul's outlines and analyses can seem simplistic, and her prose rarely rises above the level of the Time magazine feature on which the book is based. But she covers a lot of territory, and there's plenty to unnerve the knee-jerk "free speech" crowd. This will be a major watercooler book this season.
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It's beyond argument that pornography in America today has achieved a certain respectability: think of porn star Ron Jeremy's reputation in the 1980s and his reputation today. Paul details how the ubiquity of pornography impacts our personal lives. She discusses studies on the subject--in one, 77 percent of respondents said they had looked at pornography at least once in a 30-day period--and shares interviews with many who watch it regularly. Paul's analysis is wide-ranging: why men look at porn and how porn affects them, how women see pornography, how porn affects sexual relationships, the effects of porn on children. If Paul is far less polemical than, say, Andrea Dworkin, her book reveals a sadness about it all, reflected in one user's comment: "I don't see how any male who likes porn can think actual sex is better, at least if it involves all the crap that comes with having a real live female in your life." Certain to generate discussion, as did Paul's previous book, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony (2002). Alan Moores
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