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Pornography 'grips you with claws'

Published: Monday, Sept. 20 2010 10:00 p.m. MDT

This is the third article in a series on pornography and its impact on families.

William's wife didn't have a chance.

It didn't matter how attractive she was. William wanted her blonder, taller, thinner and to have a larger bust. He wanted her to resemble the kind of women he had become used to since his elementary school days, when he first discovered his parents' stash of pornography.

The child may have struggled to understand his fourth-grade geometry, but he had memorized intimate angles of a woman's body.

It didn't matter that the porn he was perusing was old-school — pages of conservatively posed Playmates. He didn't need the high-definition sex videos that would saturate the Web decades later.

A few glossy pages on occasion were enough to hook him — for the next 40-plus years of his life.

"It grips you with claws like you can't imagine," said William, now a 50-year-old Salt Lake City man who spoke about his sex addiction on the condition of partial anonymity.

For the next 15 years of his adolescent life, his "occasional" exposure to pornography programmed in him a particular understanding of what sex is, as well as a clear impression about its perceived roles: Her role is passive, ever ready and always wanting more. His role is to show up.

Such modern pornographic conditioning is leaving women to wonder if they can ever satisfy the kind of sexual appetite millions of men are learning to anticipate during days, months and years of pornographic education, often while they're young.

If you ask American feminist Naomi Wolf, "They can't compete, and they know it. For how can a real women — with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own ... — possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who (is) utterly submissive and tailored to the customer's least specification?" she wrote in a 2003 New York magazine essay.

Wolf claims the onslaught of porn "is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women and leading men to see fewer women as 'porn worthy.' " The power and allure of modern pornography, she suggests, has actually superseded real-life nudity: "Today, real naked women are just bad porn."

Although research disagrees — a majority of surveyed men still say they prefer sex to pornography — only a third of college students consider it a "poor substitute" for sex, according to research by Leland Elliott and Cynthia Brantley.

If the survey defined sex to include intimate foreplay, considered a "given" by most women but often a "give-in" for many men, psychotherapist Phillip Hodson isn't so sure a greater part of men would still choose reality over a "no-hassle" solution to such a biological impulse.

Porn is making "sex-lazy men even sex-lazier," he told a British newspaper, the Independent, in 2006.

And when Jennifer Schneider, an internal doctor based in Tucson, Ariz., studied a group of 94 women whose partners and husbands were involved in pornography, more than half reported that their partners were no longer sexually interested in them; one-third of the women lost interest in their partners after discovering their addiction.

It's a terrifying thought for soon-to-be brides like Kristi, a 24-year-old college student from southeastern Idaho, who requested anonymity.

"It's always in the back of my mind," she said.

She said she hasn't talked to her fiancé about pornography because it would be "way too awkward," even "accusatory."

However, a different young woman had that kind of chat with her fiancé.

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