The dark reality the porn industry doesn’t want you to see

Matt Fradd’s new book, The Porn Myth, while not for the faint of heart, is an important exposé of the lies upon which pornography is built.

Photo: CNS photo illustration/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

There was a time—long, long ago—when librarians believed that an important part of their role was to protect patrons from objectionable reading materials. Keeping books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ulysses, or Tropic of Cancer under lock and key was a common practice in most public libraries throughout the country. My first after-school job—nearly half a century ago—was as an assistant in a public library in Waterbury, Connecticut. Since I was a student at a local Catholic high school, I was viewed as being “responsible enough” to hold the key to unlock what the library called the “O-star” collection. The “O” stood for “obscene” and the collection contained dozens of titles. When a library patron asked for one of the “O-star” books, I was summoned to unlock the glass-doored cabinet located in the darkest recesses of the old Silas Bronson Library and bring the objectionable book to the somewhat embarrassed reader. There were not a lot of requests.

I was reminded of all of this when I read Matt Fradd’s new book, The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography. Although Fradd would not support a return to the paternalistic locked cabinet and the shame culture it engendered, The Porn Myth points out that erotica—such as the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey books—is not as innocent as some assume. In fact, Fradd provides evidence that in some cases, erotica can be as damaging to individuals and society as pornographic imagery. Drawing upon the expertise of neurologists, sociologists, and psychologists to demonstrate that pornography and some forms of erotica are destructive, Fradd argues convincingly that the warped perceptions of intimacy one finds in pornography and erotica is not harmless, to the individual or to society.

The Porn Myth is Fradd’s most recent book in a trilogy on the problem of pornography. While his previous books—Delivered: True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned from Porn to Purity and Restored: True Stories of Love and Trust After Porn—made the case against pornography and erotica from a religious perspective, the goal of The Porn Myth is to use science and research data to expose the myth that pornography can be good for individuals, romantic relationships, and marriages. A committed Catholic who experienced a profound religious conversion in 2000 at World Youth Day in Rome, Fradd’s message has always been a moral one, solidly based in Catholic teachings; although he has not dropped that moral message in this latest book, The Porn Myth points out that in an increasingly secular culture, we often need reasoned arguments based on scientific research to convince skeptical readers. Every page of his book reveals data on the damage done to individuals, families, and society by pornography.  Fradd also interviews current and former actors in the porn industry, whose accounts contain graphic descriptions of the psychic and physical costs they have endured; hopelessness is a common theme in these stories—along with a host of medical problems resulting from working in the porn industry. The book is not for the faint of heart.

Fradd argues that myths about pornography exist largely because the myths help to make pornography more acceptable—more “mainstream”—and thus easier to sell. His chapter titles articulate these myths, such as: “Porn Empowers Women,” or “Porn Producers Help to Make the Porn Industry Safe for the Performers.” The book is an education in the realities of the lucrative porn industry, which commodifies its actors in a multi-billion dollar business.

In addition to several chapters devoted to myths surrounding pornographic imagery, Fradd includes chapters on pornographic content in print media; an entire chapter is devoted to analyzing the problems of erotic fiction. Dispelling the myth that “erotica is a healthy alternative to hard-core porn,” Fradd focuses on the best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, citing a study which indicated that women who read Fifty Shades of Grey were more likely to accept behaviors found in abusive relationships. The study found that women who have read Fifty Shades of Grey were 25 percent more likely to have verbally abusive partners.

Of course, Fradd cannot claim causality—he acknowledges that those tendencies may have existed before the women read Fifty Shades of Grey. Even so, the erotic book reinforces the mentality that undergirds abusive relationships, which can fuel an existing cycle of abuse. Fradd cites a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health which found that emotional abuse—including “stalking, intimidation, isolation, and the use of alcohol to compromise consent”—was present in nearly every interaction between the main characters in Fifty Shades of Grey. Fradd concludes: “It turns out that words can be just as effective as pictures and movies when it comes to normalizing abusive behavior.” Yet this form of erotica—now identified as “mommy porn”—has been celebrated as liberating for women.

The goal of The Porn Myth is to try and change attitudes about pornography and erotica in a culture that celebrates such transgression as harmless or even empowering. No one is suggesting that it is time again for the locked cabinet in the library or for putting To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on banned-books lists. But the question must be asked: have we gone too far? Booksellers and libraries throughout the country hold annual celebrations of “Banned Books Week,” going beyond reasonable objections to authoritarian attitudes and openly mocking the very idea that some books and media are genuinely objectionable. In a culture that sneers at the days of the “O-star” collection, anyone who suggests, for example, that teachers should use discernment in choosing books for their students to read risks being viewed as an agent of repression. In a society that has defined pornography down, it becomes even more crucial that we educate ourselves about the harmful effects of pornography and remain vigilant around those who seek to downplay its toxicity for individuals and for communities.

About Anne Hendershott 75 Articles
Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Church (Encounter Books).

3 Comments

  1. Am culture has long been conditioned by academia, lit, psychologists to accept as a natural good what is perverse. The onslaught of pornography has had as most Catholics know its devastating effect on youth, adults, and presently is a major factor in marriage breakups. Family is the bedrock of the Church. As Card Caffarra says in a recent lecture it is under severe attack by the godless. Fradd is a needed countermeasure to the world of sexual virtual reality, a dangerous infectious deviation from the moral order. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body needs a greater audience. Along with that we need an opus on the aesthetic value, the beauty and good of male female relationship in the real world with its divinely ordained direction toward family.

  2. How demeaning pornography is to the human person, especially to women. Dad’s and Mom’s exploit their own daughters by the way they allow them to dress starting at a very young age. They need to teach and show these young women that true beauty comes from within first!

  3. About twenty years ago, the high IQ society MENSA, featured one of its members in its magazine who happened to be a porn star. I suppose this was to demonstrate that her choice of occupations should not reflect negatively on her intelligence. I thought it more accurately reflected on the judgement of the magazine editor and the society and not in a positive way. A decade later, another publication sought to interview her but she declined though she appeared briefly in a documentary to say that the porn life was a far from positive experience and she was glad to be out of it. By most standards, she would be considered fortunate as a number of stars have ended up with severe medical problems and literally dependent on charity to live. If virtue has its own reward, the opposite seem quite effective at destroying a human personality.

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