Book Review: Pornland

Image description: the book is set facing outward on a shelf of light colored wood. The cover is red with an image of an extremely high platform, high heeled patent leather book. The text is white and black.

To begin, this is not a positive review. I’ve done my best to outline exactly why I don’t like the book, but if you are looking for something positive, I just wanted to let you know now you won’t find it here.

I’ll be honest, my blog isn’t monetized and I typically only share books I really like and want to recommend to others. I want to bring attention to books that I think will help people have better relationships and will help people live authentic existences that include their sexualities. So, I was not going to put this review back up on my blog because I believe this book really does do the opposite: this book emphasizes divisiveness in relationships and encourages insecurity and shame around sexuality.

But I still do see this book pop up from time to time and see it used to back up various discussions. So my review still might be helpful to those out there reading and untangling various perspectives around porn and porn viewing.

When I first read this book, I was drawn in by the blurb on the front, part of which reads: [This book] “will now be the starting point for serious discussions about how porn shapes and distorts social and sexual norms.”

After reading the book, I don’t believe that the “serious discussion” bit is true. This book really isn’t as much of a serious discussion as it is a one-way view that preys on fears and insecurities of readers.

I used to be anti-porn. Getting over my hatred and fear of pornography was one of the more important steps in my overall journey regarding my sexuality. When I really started to dig deep, I realized that my anti-porn stance was rooted in my own insecurity around my body and my sexuality.

Fortunately I had untangled that shame and confronted those insecurities before I read this book.

To begin, I do believe that porn has greatly influenced the way we view and shape our world, relationships, and our sexualities. I see both positive and negative ways that this is the case. But this book only focuses on the negatives, and does so in ways that are often misleading.

Overall I was confused as to what the author was getting at with her book. Does she want to end porn? Does she want people to talk about how they “use” porn? While she goes on about the evils of porn “use” she never offers alternatives. She talks about guys who are “addicted” and feel guilty about porn viewing but doesn’t tell them what to do. She plays on women’s insecurities by saying things like (paraphrased) guys who use porn get used to huge boobs so yours look inadequate, page 91. Or, guys who use porn will leave you if you don’t act like a porn star… but they will leave you if you do act like a porn star because women in porn are interchangeable, and when men view porn their brains then think real women are porn women. So no matter what you do if he uses porn at all he will leave you – Preface xiii. But the author discusses nothing of how couples could communicate their needs, desires, or expectations in a healthy way. She says that the average age of viewing porn for the first time is 11 years but has no other statistical information about how much average men view porn, how many men view certain types of porn and never even discusses women who view porn. It actually feels like she speaks for all women in this book that none of us enjoy porn at all.

So, since the author’s goal is not to provide guidance or advice, she basically spends an entire book telling us that porn is everywhere, it makes a lot of money, and it is on the minds of a lot of men. (I think it’s on the minds of a lot of women too, but hey, that’s me.)

Basically, Dines just takes the most direct, emotional stance against porn and leaves room for nothing else. She plays on insecurities and manipulates readers just as much as she says evil “pornographers” do in order to get people (or, I guess, just men) hooked on porn. (She says in the introduction she is not anti-porn, just anti “gonzo” or very violent porn, yet she condemns even centerfold spreads.)

There were three main areas that, for me, made this book a badly written non-fiction book.

First: Lack of or completely irrelevant resources.

I’m a sucker for a good resources section and this book was lacking. Though she has some quotes from professionals in the fields of media and sociology, most of her quotes come from blogs, porn forum boards, and personal interviews. Most quotes from “pornographers” were accessed from online articles. I found few books and most of the resources might as well not been listed because I’m not going to be able to track down a student she interviewed. The quotes she used the most were pulled from online porn enthusiast forums. They’re just what random guys said on the internet. Most were misspelled (probably to make the forum users look like idiots and make what they are saying even more grating/violent thus making the author’s points look good or better) and some were taken out of context. I’m fine with showing real world examples but you have to back it up with psychological theories or studies. In this book the only thing the author has to back her up are her own opinions, sometimes held together with a quote about media or some other off topic argument. It’s like she just is going: “Here’s what some guy said on the internet and here’s what I think about that!” Which is fine if you’re writing a blog post, but Dines wrote a book. I expect a little more from a book written by a sociology professor.

Second: The use of emotional bait and switch.

On Page 94-95 the author has been talking about regular male college students who use porn and the next paragraph abruptly turns to incarcerated sex offenders, some who have committed sexual assaults of minors. She talks about how these men who committed terrible sexual assaults used soft-core porn, like still images of centerfolds in Playboy, and then says “It would seem that contemporary porn, with its body-punishing sex, would have an even greater affect as it shows women actually enjoying being brutalized” (Page 95).

That statement simply has no foundation. It would “seem” like contemporary porn (the one your boyfriend uses!) is worse than soft-core porn that sex-offenders used, therefore, the author must be right in her assertion that porn is evil. She talks about rape and “rape-myths” but doesn’t tie in how porn plays a role in this, just that men who have raped have used porn, even soft-core porn like Playboy. No studies or stats.

Third: The author did not write a book to discuss porn viewing: She catered to a readership who doesn’t like porn.

Countless times the author alludes to the absolute power porn has over men and boys and consequently women. She uses big, scary absolutes and talks about how “unaware” women are of what actually takes place in porn. It’s completely insulting to anyone who has actually researched (or viewed) porn at all.

The idea that “pornographers” are orchestrating this big plan to manipulate these impressionable men into consumers is exactly what she’s doing to her readers. Early on, the author states that most women and older generations are unaware of how men use porn. The author also says that any vulgar or bad language in the book is used sparingly only because it is necessary to convey all the bad things in porn (that you don’t know about.) This tells me that Dines is not having a discussion based on research, rather she is talking to people who do not watch porn and are offended by dirty words. Not the basis for a serious discussion, but playing to the fears and emotions of certain groups. I believe Dines’ success relies on the idea that anyone who would read this book has already made up their mind – they hate porn – and they just want to read somebody ticked off about it.

At the end of the day, this book didn’t teach me anything. The author just stated what was happening: This guy feels guilty about viewing porn. A girlfriend is angry or upset he views porn. A character in a movie was reading Barely Legal. Magazines like Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler have so very many subscribers. “Pornographers” are running out of ideas. Things called RealDolls exist.

So? I knew that already. What’s the next step? Well, the book didn’t go to the next step.

Dines’ conclusion is a weird call to arms in which she promotes a group she helped found and tells readers how to get ahold of slideshows and presentations she co-authored with ways to show them in public. Which leads me to believe she doesn’t really want to stop porn, but she does want to exploit the fact that people are emotionally tied to it – to get her name out there and sell more books/get more speaking gigs.

This is not a serious discussion about porn, as the quote on the cover insists. This book exasperates fear and doesn’t help anyone, even people hurt by porn. Actually, the author alludes to the idea that once you are hurt by someone who views porn, you will never heal. The damage is done. FOREVER.

So, even if there are people the author is trying to help, this book only reinforces their pain and exploits it to get other people upset. Quite the… noble cause.

In the end, Pornland simply perpetuates stereotypes that keep the topic of porn viewing in a stagnation that does more harm than good.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Pornland

  1. Oh dear, how incomplete and irresponsible of this author. Definitely sounds like a ‘band-wagon’ book. There is so much good that can come from viewing porn. Especially for couples. I’m glad you’ve read this one through logically for us, LV. I do understand that in 2020 it’s still challenging for many to put aside those ‘absolute threat feelings’ of porn. Fortunately, we have (have had) Nina Hartley, Cindy Gallop, Ruth Westheimer, and Sue Johanson to help!
    You mention that she writes about “rape myths?”… I wonder, does the author mention the long-time booming commercialism of romance novels? Specifically, bodice rippers and how those tomes feature pornographic rape fantasies that are explicitly brutal in their treatment of female characters, and yet, so many women have ‘fallen in love’ with those burly players and desire (purchase) more of that reading content? His watching porn actors vs Hers reading porn characters…?

    1. Thanks for mentioning these other educators, they are great resources for more information and perspective regarding pornography viewing! The author might have briefly mentioned romance novels in the text, but I don’t remember for sure. Regardless, the author doesn’t spend very much time at all discussing agency of women or women’s sexual fantasies, just certain ways women are harmed. I reviewed the book Beyond Heaving Bosoms and though I didn’t do as deep of a dive with that review, the book is a great look at the history of romance novels and discusses the bodice-ripper matter you bring up here. Readers might like to take a look. Thanks for your comment!

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