His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic With Honest Talk About Sex

hispornherpain
BY MARTY KLEIN
PRAEGER, 2016
208 PP.; $24.00

I WAS ONE of those teenagers who really did read the articles in Playboy, though not before carefully exploring and sometimes masturbating with the centerfold in full view. I mention this because masturbation is an integral part of Marty Klein’s comprehensive, insightful, and often entertaining book, His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic With Honest Talk About Sex. (But here’s a warning: to the disappointment of some, this book could have been titled Porn Without Pictures.)

Former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart is probably best known for his 1964 comment from the bench that he couldn’t clearly define pornography, “but I know it when I see it.” Klein doesn’t explicitly define pornography either, though for purposes of discussion he indicates that pornography is “sexually explicit material intended to arouse.” He also acknowledges that this definition is neither legal nor precise.

As the title suggests, Klein’s book primarily addresses porn-related problems in heterosexual relationships (in his work as a sex therapist, Klein says he rarely hears gay or lesbian couples quarrel about pornography) and so he doesn’t discuss couples who enjoy porn together. Common pornography complaints by women include their male partner’s secret life with porn, his addiction to porn, and her perceived sexual inadequacies compared with the talents of female porn stars. In response, men usually complain about the insecurities of their partners, and reject the validity of their wives’ (or partners’) complaints.

In his therapy practice Klein doesn’t tell couples porn is good, or even that watching it is okay. He focuses on how best to resolve difficulties in relationships. He tells couples not to focus only on orgasm, which comprises about five seconds of a twenty-minute activity. Sex (and whispering, kissing, talking, and laughing) is for people, while porn is for paid professionals. So you can watch a lot of porn and enjoy sex with a real person. You just have to know which is which. To riff off the old anti-war message, “Make love, not porn.”

Another concern Klein hears from women is whether a husband or partner is being unfaithful when he masturbates to porn. In therapy, Klein prefers to start with behaviors that cause pain and what to do about it. Sometimes they are porn related, but more often than not porn is a symptom rather than a cause of problems. With Klein’s guidance, the couple usually winds up working more productively on how better to communicate with each other and improve their
relationship.

He does stress that masturbation shouldn’t be seen as something people in a relationship eschew or something people outgrow. It isn’t only for the young, Klein notes, but that’s when it starts. “Masturbation gives young people a sense of ownership of their bodies, and it helps develop the sexual self-awareness that can make later partner sex more enjoyable.” Klein also mentions that kids often get inaccurate or no sex information from adults, and mistakenly assume that porn is what real sex should be.

The Internet has changed how porn is promoted, and authorities can no longer stop suppliers and users. Moreover, religious shaming is not as effective as it once was, so government, decency groups, and churches have switched from condemning porn as a moral threat to calling it a public health hazard. Klein describes how various “porn panics” have always been accompanied by misinformation.

Whatever the perceived ills of porn may be, Klein points to comparable societal issues. (One of the takeaways I got from this book is what I would call the banality of porn.) Every citizen should be concerned about any consumer product whose use inevitably leads to violence, mental illness, and community dysfunction—as anti-porn activists assert about pornography. Most media products depend on inaccurate ideas about human beings to sell their products. If it seems worse when sex is involved, that probably reflects our attitude about sexuality. There will always be people who misuse every technology. Klein adds that we’ve had radio for generations, and people still listen to Rush Limbaugh.

At the risk of being too tangential, I think of His Porn, Her Pain as a non-fiction heir to three novels by atheists:

1. Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) by Philip Roth dealt with masturbation in ways that many have found funny and disgusting, but one could say it’s pornography with redeeming social value. Roth wrote about uncomfortable but real thoughts and feelings people have, including those of an active fantasy life. The book ends with the psychoanalyst Dr. Spielvogel about to respond to Portnoy’s book-length monologue. My fantasy is to hear Klein’s response to Portnoy.

2. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert Heinlein is about a human born and raised on Mars. When the human Martian visits a strange Earth, he successfully challenges social mores and encourages humans to be open-minded and reevaluate such institutions as religion, monogamy, and fear of death. The controversial free love and communal living inspired many in his generation. Heinlein shows his distaste for religion and prudery in one sentence: “Of all the strange crimes that humanity has legislated out of nothing, blasphemy is the most amazing—with obscenity and indecent exposure fighting it out for second and third place.”

3. Fear of Flying (1973) by Erika Jong was controversial because of its feminist portrayal of female sexuality. In it, Jong coined the phrase “zipless fuck,” defining it as a sexual encounter between strangers free of all remorse and guilt and absent any power struggles or ulterior motives. Jong called the zipless fuck the purest thing there is, more rare than the unicorn. (I disagree, since the number of known unicorns is zero.) The book helped challenge sexual norms and taboos and showed that women can make and enjoy porn.

I’ll close with two interesting stories about porn, one is political, and the other evolutional. On September 29, 2016, the Daily Intelligencer ran a story with the headline: “Many Civic-Minded Masturbators Took a Break from Porn to Watch Monday’s Debate.” It seems that at the start of the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, viewership on Pornhub (one of the world’s largest porn sites) dropped 16 percent and didn’t return to its usual traffic until the debate ended. Who knew that delayed gratification could be patriotic? The following day Trump became the first presidential candidate in history to encourage Americans to watch porn. He asked his supporters to check out a (nonexistent) sex tape of the former Miss Universe who had criticized Trump’s fat-shaming and racist behavior.

And did you know that female pandas are choosy and male pandas have notoriously low libidos? They usually prefer eating to mating. A 2010 article in Scientific American gave the solution to help preserve the species: panda porn. I won’t go into any salacious details, but suffice it to say that more than 60 percent of the panda porn viewers are now capable of and interested in having sex—up from just 25 percent twenty years ago. Nothing to panic about there.