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The media makes us do it: Dines and the pornography debate

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Tuesday, 31 May 2011

…we understand that media shapes the way we think. It shapes our reality, it shapes our perceptions of the world. Pornography is one more form of media. It’s a specific genre which, by the way, is very powerful because it delivers messages to men’s brains via the penis, which is an extremely powerful delivery system. Gail Dines

For a professor of sociology, Dines is curiously coy in conversation about the thirty years of studies she claims prove the devastating long-term effects of pornography on the sexual development of young boys, who, she also claims, start viewing so-called Gonzo porn (which Dines describes as hard core, brutally body punishing and degrading sex) from the age of 11. As a result of this exposure, boys go on to have “ruined lives,” and to ruin the lives of the girls with whom they attempt to form sexual relationships with their aggressive demands for “hate” sex.

It isn’t that I don’t believe some boys and men are sexually aggressive. I’m just not ready to accept that this behaviour is due to an epidemic of internet Gonzo porn.


Is Dines talking about all boys, for example, or just some? And if it isn’t all boys, then what are the predictors? Are all boys affected in the same way after exposure to pornography? What are the wider social conditions in which the subjects live their lives? How old are they now, and have follow-up studies been done on their sexual habits? What period of their lives do these studies cover, and what other influences have they experienced apart from early exposure to Gonzo porn?

Just asking.

Along with this cautious author I wonder just what Dines Googled to gain access in seconds to Gonzo porn, and how many 11-year-old boys would use the same combination of words resulting in the same access to hard core porn.

A further consideration is, can I trust the claims of a woman who describes men who view pornography as “amoral life support systems for erect penises?”

To adapt one of Dines’ analogies between food and fast food, sex and pornography, food isn’t only McDonald’s. You don’t stop people eating everything because there’s nasty fast food in the world.

These questions and more fed into matters that I’ve been debating with various people for some time now, that is, the assumption that human beings are passive and servile media consumers, incapable of exercising discrimination and choice, and that anything activists deem “pornographic” is dangerous and morally contemptible, and we must be protected from it by those who know best.


Dines claims that the media shapes our reality and perceptions of the world, apparently to the exclusion of other influences around us. These claims are without empirical evidence, are specious, and deserve to be challenged every time they are made. They are used to justify censorship, and the proliferation of a narrow worldview that is symptomatic of fundamentalism, and calculated to invoke reactive fear. Cynics might claim that the purpose of invoking this fear is to create a unique position from which to offer protection from it.

None of this is helpful to people concerned with creating a cultural climate in which children are kept safe, and adults are capable of taking responsibility for their own governance.

The central justification for portraying as dangerous media product such as pornographic internet content, is that it allegedly provokes violent sexual behaviour in consumers, particularly children and adolescents. Dines makes no distinction between Gonzo and mainstream porn in terms of predicting catastrophic effects. Viewing all porn allegedly leads to an increase in undesirable attitudes and behaviours, and creates a climate of hyper-violence and hyper-sexuality that wouldn’t exist without these negative stimulants. In research circles, proponents of this theory have long used what is known as the media effects model for its justification, and the alleged evidence from research based on this model is frequently used to invoke moral panic.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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