"The only language [men] were given to describe our experience of porn was denial or confession: We hid or expressed shame. In the past, we were cowed by the stated morality of our mothers and fathers, the community, and our religions. Now the fierce disapproval of anti-pornography feminism has been added to the mix."

So writes local author David Loftus in his new book, Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography, a collection of testimonies from anonymous males regarding their relationships with porn. For the book, Loftus interviewed a diverse sampling of nearly 150 men from around the world and claims, "The answers might surprise you."

According to Loftus' interview subjects, many of the classic negative effects that porn has been accused of causing are either overwrought, or simply not true. Among other things his survey showed that in general, men would like to see more romance in pornography, as opposed to just mechanical fucking; that men don't find violence in pornography sexy; and that men do not like the way other men are portrayed in pornography (personally, I think Ron Jeremy is as studly as it gets, but go figure). Loftus compiles an enormous number of anecdotes in his book to back up these startling revelations, rotating it all around a rather vague thesis that goes something like, "Hey, militant feminists: porn is no big deal."

Watching Sex works best during its opening chapters, when Loftus simply allows his men to talk about porn, layering one confessional over another with little intrusion from his own voice outside of an occasional transitional sentence. The men--who range from married to single, from young to old, from black to white, and gay to straight--are surprisingly articulate, and many of the stories are funny, and even poignant.

"There was an incredibly huge separation between the outside world of 'reality' and this new, sick, twisted, mysterious dark world of pornography," writes one man about his discovery of porn novels as a 10-year-old boy. "Other kids were holding hands and going on dates with girls and 'trying to get to first/second/third base,' while I was reading graphic descriptions of bondage/S&M, etc. Somehow I probably grew to view real live girls as being more sacred or something...I went for years, until age 23, before actually having intercourseThe last thing on earth I wanted was to be accused of forcing anyone to do anything!"

Another man, a 42-year-old professor, writes on the issue of porn causing an unrealistic expectation of sexual performance in men: "Sure, I wanted a larger cock, but I'm not sure it was just the porn that influenced it--but rather the attitudes found in many gay men. The attraction for youth has also been very pronounced in the gay community, so as I aged I found that I rather envied the younger men in the porn."

And so on, and so on. Loftus has compiled an enormous array of such anecdotes, organizing them into chapters touching on everything from why men are obsessed with lesbian porn, to the trials and tribulations of sharing porn with your partner. In theory, Loftus has a good thing going here: an unbiased forum for men to discuss a topic they don't often get to discuss.

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?

In the pornography section in his recent expose of underground business, Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser reports that ever since Denmark rescinded its obscenity laws, the market for pornography there has been in steady decline. The information points to an obvious trend: demystify something, and its appeal quickly diminishes. Remove its stigma and it instantly becomes less sexy. If Eminem ever stops offending everybody, his sales will drop like a rock. The openness and candidness of Watching Sex is a step in the right direction toward indeed making pornography "no big deal."

An old friend recently told me he frowns on pornography because it creates a feeling of sexual gratification devoid of emotional content. He's right; his analysis is probably the best way to define pornography. Entire books have been written about exactly what constitutes pornography (hardcore films? Playboy? Cosmopolitan covers?), but at the very least we can safely say that pornography is any form of expression devoted purely to eliciting sexual arousal. It is this sacrificing of emotional connection in favor of pure pleasure, this objectification, that infuriates my friend and anti-porn feminists everywhere.

All the resistance in the world, however, can't change the fact that porn isn't going anywhere. The advent of the internet and the ubiquity of video and DVD technology ensures that porn will continue to be used at an unprecedented rate. In a sense, Loftus' book is a little dated; it addresses ideas from certain anti-porn feminists in an age when many factions of feminism have already found ways to include pornography in their agenda.

"Our organization addresses one issue," said Marilyn Fitterman, co-president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). "First amendment rights, which includes pornography." Fitterman isn't necessarily pro-porn or anti-porn. She told me when asked about it, "It's not really my thing," but took no specific position in regards to its inherent morality, outside of sharing my annoyance that it's still causing moral dilemmas at all.

"One of the reasons pornography is such an issue in our country, and it isn't in so many other countries, is that we're so Victorian in our attitudes about sex. If we could be more casual, this would not be such an issue," continued Fitterman.

OBJECTIFYING PORNOGRAPHY

What Fitterman is calling for is not a defense of porn users, but not a critique of them either. Rather, we need to abolish critics and advocates completely. Pornography is not, as my friend says, devoid of emotion; how could it be when it sparks so much raging emotion in the hearts of its supporters and detractors? It's time to truly make pornography devoid of all emotion. It's time to objectify it.

Local sex therapist Tony Farrenkopf says, "for men, porn is an auto-erotic event. Males can fantasize, males can voyeurthey can have more casual, anonymous sex where the emphasis is on the arousal and the sexual pleasure."

A need for visual stimulation is an inherent part of the modern male's sexual psychology. I'm not writing that in defense; I'm stating a fact. All men have this fixation, and many men will continue to try to satiate it through the use of pornography as long as the means exist. Call it a problem if you will, or call it a defect, but do not call it a conscious choice, and do not evaluate it.

Watching Sex could have been brilliant: a neutral place where men could talk about a naturally occurring trait that society insists on discrediting. But in its second half Loftus starts editorializing, using his subjects' stories to provide ammo for a direct assault on anti-porn feminist theory.

"As they so often do, women presume to speak for men in this area," Loftus huffs. In switching to attack mode he debunks all he was working towards in the first part of his book, placing the act of watching porn back behind its defensive wall after having spent hundreds of pages showing why it doesn't need to be defended at all.

By trying to argue his viewpoint on porn is somehow more "right" than other viewpoints on porn, he shoots his point right in the foot. It's like trying to argue that the ability to see is somehow more morally correct than blindness.

Acceptance is neither a positive nor a negative action. Acceptance is objectification, the assessment of something for what it is. It's a moving on. Loftus spends half a book accepting, then goes on the defense, sinking back into the murk of an irrelevant war.

David Loftus will read Thursday May 8at 23rd Avenue Books, 1015 NW 23rd, 224-6203, 7:30 pm, free