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.

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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.