Image: The Porn Effect
The film’s opening exposed a deep wound. It needs healing.
Whatever happens to the book and film franchise, the real life toll of human torture it exposes has to stay prominent in public debate and social action. It’s been in the shadows for far too long, and done incalculable damage.
Dr. Peter Kleponis told me on radio that after spending nearly two decades in marriage counseling, something changed, and the reality of the scourge of pornography addiction started becoming more apparent and more urgent in the crises he found himself dealing with, though nobody would talk openly about it. That was eight years ago, and he’s been working on treatment for men and couples over those years.
Why the silence? Fear, shame, confusion, the mainstreaming of the porn culture. Which became more prominent with the release of this film. Look at this middle-school class project, worked into a crossword puzzle.
There’s the dismissive excuse that as long as people consent to what they’re doing, it’s nobody else’s business. But with cultural dysfunction, sometimes consent is not enough.
“As long as he or she is consenting, it’s OK.” No it’s not, because people consent all the time to practices that they know are destructive and this doesn’t make such practices right. First, people can be pressured by their culture or their peers into things that they know are harmful to them. The fear of being left out or laughed at can motivate the teenager to do drugs that are physiologically damaging to his body. He may know that they are harmful and that he will suffer consequences for doing them. But he doesn’t want his friends to think that he isn’t cool enough to do things that are physically risky. So he ‘consents’ in order to fit in. His ‘consent’ may seem voluntary but really he is being pressured by the people in his surroundings, and his fear of social rejection overcomes his better judgment. Women and men all the time are afraid of not fitting in or being part of the cool crowd. So they ‘consent’ to sexually exploitative practices that they know are damaging in order to be accepted. The sixteen-year-old girl ‘consents’ to sext pictures of her naked torso in order to fit in with the social climbers at school…
The point is that history is full of examples of mass cultural delusions. Just because large numbers of people think that something is right or intriguing or cool doesn’t make it in fact right or intriguing or cool. A democratic majority is a poor basis for a healthy sexual morality.
A lot of times my students these days tell me that they want to help stop the sexual trafficking industry. They are shocked by the idea of exploited women – girls, even – being made to do things that are predatory and damaging. Whenever they say this to me I always respond, “do you really want to do something to stop sex trafficking? Change yourself first before you try to change others. Don’t look at porn, don’t promote sexual practices that are exploitative of others, and don’t put money in the hands of people whose movies stir up a desire in the culture for the trafficked girls.” “Fifty Shades” is wrong because it is stirring up a desire in people for exploitative sexual practices. It makes people want to do things that enable predatory industries like sex trafficking to flourish.
This MSU study bears out the harm that comes from exposure to pop culture porn, like ‘Fifty Shades.’
Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher. Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster “Fifty Shades” erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.
All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in “Fifty Shades,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator…
Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.
Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink — or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month — and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.
Bonomi, who has a doctoral degree in health services and a master’s in public health, said she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life.
However, it’s important women understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship.
And they don’t end up the way Hollywood portrays in this film series.
“They’re making out as if this caught on all by itself, but it wasn’t organic growth. There’s been a juggernaut of media behind this, and it’s selling to women an image that somehow if you love a sadist out of his (abuse) you’ll have a great life,” (Dr. Gail Dines) said.
“When in reality, how ’50 Shades’ would end is that she’s running for her life to a battered women’s shelter, with children in tow, she’s got her front teeth knocked out, she’s got cigarette burns up and down her arm…she’s living off the grid without a bank account or a cell phone, cause these sadists never let go.”
The media celebration of the books and movies shows an irresponsibility and an ignorance about how violence against women is perpetuated, Dines added.
“You have a media who’s celebrating this violence against women,” she said. “No other group would be celebrated when they’re beaten and tortured like this, it would be considered an outrage. For any other minority group, if you had a film that would eroticize them being violated, people would absolutely be tearing down the cinemas in the streets. And what do we have here? We have a massive media juggernaut promoting it.”
Dines, who is also a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, said she believes “50 Shades of Grey” has also caught on because we live in a culture where pornography is considered acceptable.
“If you want to understand the popularity of this, you have to look at the way pornography has literally hijacked the way people think about sex and sexuality,” she said.
As a sociologist, Dines said she has seen a lot of research about the effects of pornography on the brains of boys and men. The younger someone becomes addicted to porn, the more difficult it is to break away, she said. Furthermore, regular viewing of pornography is re-shaping the way boys’ brains are forming.
“We’ve got 40 years of experimental psychology research which tells us that the more porn men look at, the more boys look at, the more they believe it,” she said. “The jury’s not out about that – that has been known in the science literature for years and years.”
There’s also plenty known by the international experts in human trafficking, like Elizabeth Yore, who tells me that the film ‘Fifty Shades’ portrays torture as romance, and helps predators groom their victims. Help stop this. Be alert to signals that it may be happening right around you.
If all of this helps just one person, it will have served its purpose. And if ‘Fifty Shades’ has any redeeming value, it’s in opening this critically needed public discussion, exchange and forum for help to protect and restore human dignity.