The Pornography Wars: The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Obscene Obsession

Bloomsbury. Jul. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781635577365. $28. SOC SCI
Can pornography be ethically created? Is porn addiction a real thing? What effect does watching it have on the brain? Sociologist Burke’s (Christians Under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet) new book doesn’t aim to definitively answer these questions; instead it explores their role in American society. Beginning with a summary of the United States’ historical attempts to regulate so-called “obscene” material, Burke continues into explorations of anti-porn and porn-positive viewpoints, drawing on interviews with advocates on both sides, scientific studies, and her own visits to conferences, public events, and support groups. Burke is critical of anti-porn adherents who employ scaremongering to bolster their movement, but her book is a balanced presentation of pornography sympathizers and opponents and the valid aspects of their arguments; she even highlights common ground between them. Key to Burke’s discussion are her stances that a person’s view of pornography is inseparable from their individual experiences, and that pornography can’t ever be fully decoupled from wider societal issues of gender, race, morality, and bodily autonomy.
VERDICT A mature, thoughtful book about a complex and divisive topic. No matter their personal opinions, readers will likely find observations here to inform their thoughts about pornography’s creation and consumption.
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