The Atlantic

Storytellers Grapple With the Porn Identity

In new works, Jon Ronson and Tom Perrotta examine the cultural impact of a digital sexual revolution.
Source: Associated Press

Just a few pages into Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher, Eve, a mother in her mid-40s, overhears her teenage son receiving oral sex in his bedroom from his ex-girlfriend. What offends Eve isn’t what’s happening, exactly—she’s already made a point of explaining that she’s not a puritanical mom but a cool mom, who gives her son plenty of space and even offers to pick up condoms at the grocery store. But she’s alarmed, even repulsed, by what she hears: Brendan, her beloved only child, delivering sexual instructions in a parlance that, Eve deduces, is ripped right from hardcore pornography.

Eve recalls attending PTA seminars where a blustering county prosecutor warned parents about “the insane amount of pornography that kids were exposed to every day, a tsunami of filth unprecedented in human history.” In this environment, the man rants, it will take “constant, unwavering vigilance to keep your kids safe.” At the time, Eve and the other parents concluded that he was being hysterical—that all you had to do was teach your kids the right values, and they’d have the tools to become grounded and empathetic adults. But Brendan’s casual, degrading lingo proves how naively wrong this way of thinking was.

Or does it? , over the next 300 pages, explores the redefining of American sex lives by technology, but theis a wry, compassionate novel about the ramifications of porn filtering so effortlessly into mainstream culture, without hysteria or accusations. Perrotta, well-versed in capturing the manifold follies and fetishes of human behavior, knows enough by now to gently emphasize that sex is as complicated as people are, and pornography no less so. To simply categorize porn as a malign influence on vulnerable minds is to ignore what it really says about desire.

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