This is the second article in a series on pornography and its impact on women.


It is hard to talk about pornography without being pornographic.

That's why when Jill C. Manning, a marriage and family therapist based in Colorado, talks about the seedy industry she refers to, of all things, Pong.

Released in 1972, Pong was a first generation video game based on the sport of table tennis. Players moved two lines up and down on a black and white video screen to intersect a dot (representing the ball) that moved from one side of the screen to the other.

People today who remember Pong probably have no desire to play it.

Why? Unlike Pong, the first video game to achieve widespread popularity in both the arcade and home markets, today's video games contain real-life imagery, sound and graphics.

Players can personalize the games for their moods and desires. They are not limited to competitors in the same room sharing the same screen but can, through the Internet, challenge opponents in different countries.

And so it is with pornography, said Manning.

Although pornography is nothing new, the proximity of the sex industry to the public is new, said Manning, who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 2005 on the harms of pornography and is author of the book, "What's the Big Deal about Pornography: A Guide for the Internet Generation."

In essence, she said, comparing many adults' mind-set about pornography to today's reality is similar to comparing Pong to video games of today. "There is a huge generation gap in understanding what today's generation are exposed to and have access to," she said. "The darkest stuff of yesteryear can be easily accessible to a child through a computer."

Many people who grew up in a pre-Internet era still have the mind-set of the '60s, '70s and '80s when it comes to pornography, she said. "They don't have a reference point for the dangers and risks we are talking about."

Internet pornography, for example, is not a still image seen on the page of a magazine. Instead, with the click of the mouse, people have the free access to a "seemingly infinite array of sexually explicit images," she said.

Pornography today is far more violent than ever before. It is also more consumer driven than in the past. With the touch of a button, any sexual fantasy, however deviant or cruel, can be obtained rapidly over the Internet, she said.

The reality, she added, is sad: Computer rooms of today have become extensions of peep show stalls of the past. "The centerfold is coming to life and is talking to you in real time," said Manning.

And people everywhere are beginning to see the impact.

People today who remember Pong probably have no desire to play it.

Why? Unlike Pong, the first video game to achieve widespread popularity in both the arcade and home markets, today's video games contain real-life imagery, sound and graphics.

Players can personalize the games for their moods and desires. They are not limited to competitors in the same room sharing the same screen but can, through the Internet, challenge opponents in different countries.

And so it is with pornography, said Manning.

Although pornography is nothing new, the proximity of the sex industry to the public is new, said Manning, who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 2005 on the harms of pornography and is author of the book, "What's the Big Deal about Pornography: A Guide for the Internet Generation."

In essence, she said, comparing many adults' mind-set about pornography to today's reality is similar to comparing Pong to video games of today. "There is a huge generation gap in understanding what today's generation are exposed to and have access to," she said. "The darkest stuff of yesteryear can be easily accessible to a child through a computer."

Many people who grew up in a pre-Internet era still have the mind-set of the '60s, '70s and '80s when it comes to pornography, she said. "They don't have a reference point for the dangers and risks we are talking about."

Internet pornography, for example, is not a still image seen on the page of a magazine. Instead, with the click of the mouse, people have the free access to a "seemingly infinite array of sexually explicit images," she said.

Pornography today is far more violent than ever before. It is also more consumer driven than in the past. With the touch of a button, any sexual fantasy, however deviant or cruel, can be obtained rapidly over the Internet, she said.

The reality, she added, is sad: Computer rooms of today have become extensions of peep show stalls of the past. "The centerfold is coming to life and is talking to you in real time," said Manning.

And people everywhere are beginning to see the impact.

Pamela Atkinson, director of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, has seen the impact of pornography.

"It causes such a disruption in people's lives. ... When you talk with people who have been addicted to pornography for a long time," they say, 'I thought it was just simple porn. I didn't know it was any way harmful.' ... They feel that everyone was doing it."

Dan Gray, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the LifeSTAR Network based in Salt Lake City, said 40 years ago when he was in high school, a person wanting to access pornography "really had to go looking for it."

Today the problem is compounded, he said, noting that there is "tremendous accessibility" to all the pornographic material out there.

Complicating the issue is the fact that youths today are constantly exposed, though music, television and other media, to sensual material and lurid behavior that leads to the normalization of pornography consumption, he said.

"People who come across pornographic material have already been sensitized to its use," he said. "Pornography doesn't seem so bad or different."

The result, he said, is that every year more and more people walk into his office looking for help.

"Business is really good, and I am so sorry," he said. "We have seen an increase of individuals and an increase of couples that are coming in that have struggles with this. We are seeing a very large increase in the number of adolescence and youth that are getting exposed at a young age."

Ten years ago, Gray and his partner Todd Olson, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the LifeSTAR network, predicted a pornography tsunami, brought on by content with increased violence and accessibility, internet cell phones and laptop computers.

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Kids who grew up with the Internet are now coming in with marital and intimacy problems, Olsen said.

Worse, he said, is the simple truth: It is not a matter of "if a child will be exposed to pornography, but when."

"The tsunami is here," Olson said.

e-mail: sarah@desnews.com