Of all the motivators driving humanity, lust is easiest to manipulate; from the way products are advertised to the selection of political candidates, sex dominates American culture. It used to be that the porn industry marked a clear line in the sand between a mainstream that couched sex in metaphor and innuendo, and explicit depiction of the act. That line is still there, but it's getting harder to see; porn stars can become cultural icons and vice versa, with an ease that would've been unthinkable a few decades ago. Freedom is good, but it brings consequences; women are becoming sexualized at younger and younger ages, while violence in entertainment and real-world contexts shows a disturbing tendency toward sexual degradation.

The Porning Of America: The Rise Of Porn Culture, What It Means, And Where We Go From Here attempts to address both the positive and negative influences of porn as even-handedly as possible. Carmine Sarracino and Kevin M. Scott, college professors who acknowledge their positions as fathers and middle-aged men, maintain a calm, common-sense approach. They start with a sketch on the origins of porn in America, then move on to a scattershot examination of the ways in which porn can express male fears and insecurities. There's a chapter on six public figures who are in some way responsible for bringing porn culture to the mainstream—unsurprisingly, Madonna makes the cut—as well as a chapter on the disturbing implications of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and how it connects to modern's society's willingness to sexualize, and thus homogenize, the individual.


Throughout, Sarracino and Scott take great pains to be as sex-positive and porn-neutral as possible. To their credit, they largely succeed; there's something refreshing about the questions being raised without the answer (i.e., censorship) already firmly in place. The issues in Porning are important, and the book deals with them with in a laudably straightforward fashion. But that approach often reads as simplistic; the section on public figures is frustratingly brief, and chapters which stand on their own fail to combine into a meaningful whole. It's a start, but Porning is as forgettable as it is initially intriguing—a one-night stand that promises more, but only 'til the cab arrives.