Well over a decade ago, a guy named Fabian had an idea. It was an innovative idea that solved a problem and changed the world.
Unfortunately changing the world doesn’t always mean improving it.
Fabian’s idea was born back in the late 90’s/early 00’s when lots of his friends were sharing their username and passwords for the various porn websites that they had paid for. Fabian was a tech guy and he realized that the porn industry was woefully behind the times when it came to their business models and distribution, and so Fabian created Pornhub.
This is the premise behind the fascinating and disturbing podcast by Jon Ronson called “The Butterfly Effect”
Here’s how Audible describes the podcast: “Hear the story of what happened when the tech industry gave the world what it wanted: free porn. Lives were mangled. Fortunes were made. All for your pleasure.”
I love that description. “See what happened when the tech industry gave the world what it wanted…”
So here’s what happened.
Registering on the Spectrum
His name was Nathan and he is a teenager with autism His life had challenges, particularly social challenges that come along with being on the spectrum, but for the most part he was doing okay. Until Nathan discovered porn.
There was a young woman that Nathan was romantically interested in at the high school he attended, unfortunately Nathan, tried to begin a relationship with her the same way that he saw relationships begin in the videos he had begun to watch.
He talked to and texted her the way that he saw that the men in those videos talk to the women.
And that didn’t go over well.
The poor young woman was understandably extremely upset and even terrified by the aggressive and dehumanizing language that she was being texted from Nathan. So she told her parents, they went to the cops, and now Nathan is a Registered Sex Offender.
For the rest of his life he can’t be within 2000 feet of any school, park or daycare, he can’t work at any fast food restaurants, and before he can live anywhere the neighborhood he’s moving into must be alerted to his shameful status.
My point isn’t to dispute whether Nathan should be a Registered Sex Offender or not, my point is that his Autism just made it more difficult for him to hide the effects that porn had on him.
The effects that porn has on all of us are similar, most of us just have better skills at hiding it…until we don’t.
Killing Me Softly
Remember a couple of years ago when that smutty website Ashley Madison had a leak in their database? Ashley Madison was a website that existed to help married people have an affair, and when the database leak happened there were a lot of people who were outed publicly because they had signed up to the website looking for something on the side.
One of those people was John Gibson, a Southern Baptist preacher who, when it came to his church’s attention that he had a membership on the site devoted to adultery, was immediately and understandably fired. He came home and promptly took his own life, leaving a wife and devastated teenage children behind.
It’s an incredibly tragic story all the way around. But it’s also here is where Ronson’s reporting begins to be really helpful. Do you know how Ashley Madison grew to such staggeringly high membership levels?
It was by advertising on PornHub.
20,000 people were signing up for Ashley Madison every day, and something like 80% of them were coming from ads generated on PornHub.
It’s was a genius move on their part. They went after people who were in the middle of a habit that was training their souls to be unsatisfied with their sex life and to have soaringly unrealistic expectations, and those ads were placed on just the right website at just the right time to keep reminding them that the grass might be greener on the other side.
To make this point, Ronson points out that the traffic on Ashley Madison always spiked on the day after Valentine’s Day or after Christmas or Thanksgiving.
Basically the traffic spiked after husbands had to spend significant amounts of time with their wives.
That was when they would begin daydreaming about what they might be missing, and most of those spouses never considered that what they might be missing was what was right in front of them.
Keeping It Real
Over a decade ago, The feminist Naomi Wolf wrote “The Porn Myth” in NYMag.
In it she pointed out the dangers of the world we were creating for ourselves. She noted that our pornography was to healthy sex what Fast Food was to a good meal, and how it would lead not to vibrant passionate sex but to sex that was boring, filled with jealousy and competition and stripped of mystery.
I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.And feminists have misunderstood many of these prohibitions….
For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.
We have traded in reality for a pixelated and plastic version of it.
Our technology has outpaced our souls and it’s begin to have far reaching consequences
And so the Butterfly Effect ends by Jon Ronson telling Fabian, after all of his research, the one piece of good news he found that has come from his giving the world free porn.
Ronson tells Fabian that, for the first time since they’ve been surveying this kind of thing, High school students are having less sex than they did ten years ago.
That’s the good news. The bad news?
It’s because an incredible amount of high school students now struggle with erectile dysfunction and impotence when they are with a real naked woman.
Fabian’s response was: “Maybe I should get into the pharmaceutical industry to help with that.”