Comments: Week of February 14, 2011

1. The February 7 cover package “Drowning in Porn” elicited unusually strong responses from many readers, as perhaps you’d expect. Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory was especially drawn to a theme “rarely talked about explicitly” she saw running through the issue: “the female desire to be an object of lust.” “The irony is that when women do perform this charade of male fantasy” that they learn from porn, “the response can be intensely negative. The cynical take is that this is a sign that even the porn generation isn’t ready to leave behind the whole wife-whore dichotomy. More charitably, though, I think it might just be that fantasies are sexy because they aren’t real.” The porn blog Fleshbot was quite taken with the issue, noting that “though we don’t agree with each and every point that’s made, it’s nice to see adult entertainment treated respectfully.” The subject matter left reader Ann Hickey cold, however. “I can’t adequately express the disappointment and total disgust I feel after seeing your latest issue. Of course you present it as some newsworthy informational piece and expect us to be impressed with the intellectual aspects of your probing articles. In truth it is simply a vulgar, sensational, exploitative piece.”

2. Many readers found Alex Morris’s story “They Know What Boys Want” (February 7), about how the sexual socialization of preteen women is now mediated by technology, alarming. “While it has been clear for some time that the Internet is capable of warping minds and wreaking havoc, reading firsthand accounts of its effects on children is scary,” wrote one commenter on An admitted member of the high-school sexting scene was dismayed that it’s trickled down to middle-schoolers. “No longer does carnal knowledge have to be attained through experience or listening in on your big sis,” she wrote. “Girls are being told what standards to live up to sexually before they can even have any.” Another commenter, however, tried to see the upside to the pervasiveness of smut, writing, “I think the most important point in it is the fact that the Internet has allowed women (and girls) to have an equal access to images and allowed them to participate from the privacy of their own homes. This freedom of expression, this boldness, is not altogether a bad thing. We are not facing a scourge of children growing up too fast. Just a scourge of children growing up.” Evan Baden’s photographs, in which of-legal-age models re-created scenes originally found on the Internet, shocked some readers, however. One reader called them “quasi child porn” and added: “Do you really give a crap about lives ruined by the porn epidemic, or did you just want a big-selling issue?” Another commenter countered: “They highlight the weird, multi-age personas tweens adopt online. They’re unsettling, but that’s the whole point.”

3. Davy Rothbart’s story about how porn consumption distorts sexual relationships with real-life women (“He’s Just Not That Into Anyone,” February 7) annoyed many real-life women. “I’m personally horrified, because I’ve never taken issue with a boyfriend masturbating or looking at porn; however, I do have issues with a boyfriend not wanting to have sex with me,” wrote Meghan Pleticha at the Faster Times. “It mostly makes me want to vomit to think someone would prefer to invest in a sexual bond with anything unable to respond intelligently.” Noting all the pressures already on women “to be successful in a career, juggling a relationship and children,” one commenter lamented that “when we reach for our lover, we’re knocked back in favor of a silicone-enhanced replicant we’re supposed to emulate. If you’re so sure it’s better than an authentic, sometimes challenging, unpredictable, and satisfying relationship, then please, marry your computer.” And in fact, one commenter more or less declared himself contentedly betrothed to his laptop. “The male libido is not disappearing, it is just focusing in a different direction than live women,” he wrote. “The reason is that online women seem to want to have sex and seem to always enjoy it. That is what turns men on. Most live women do not know or cannot express what turns them on or are dissatisfied with how it is delivered.”

4. Benjamin Wallace’s “The Geek-Kings of Smut” (February 7), about the rise of free amateur and pirated porn, didn’t elicit much consumer sympathy for the pros. “I hardly think the decrease in revenue for porn sites is because of pirating,” wrote one commenter. “It’s due to the massive amount of free stuff that people prefer over the horrible, stereotypical crap that pay sites produce.” Steven Hirsch, president of Vivid Entertainment, clarified that his company’s online revenue projections are off 50 percent, not revenue itself. Another commenter, who provides amateur content on xTube, defended his (or her) uploads as the “artistic expression of my sexuality.”

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Comments: Week of February 14, 2011