Jon Ronson is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. He is the type of guy that I think I could be friends with. Smart, soft-spoken, and interested in all the same weird and esoteric stuff I love.
His books: The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and Them are all favorites of mine. So when I heard that he had an original Audible series about porn coming out my interest was immediately piqued.
The Butterfly Effect, came out on Friday, July 27, and focuses on the ripple effects the creation of porn tube sites like Pornhub have had on the porn industry and society as a whole.
Pornhub, Youporn, Redtube, Brazzers, and all of my favorite spank sites were created or once owned by German businessman Fabian Thylmann. Listening to all seven episodes of the series, Thylmann doesn’t strike me as someone who created those sites to ruin people’s lives, but his legacy is certainly being considered by many interviewed for the show as the cause for their problems.
Thylmann, now a very wealthy man, is worth about $200 million according to websites like The Richest. In the last episode he respectfully defends himself, as Ronson brings to light many of the things he is accused of causing.
Do I blame Thylmann for the societal woes and misfortunes of 21st century western culture? My answer: no.
The Butterfly Effect is a wonderfully produced series, and one that I quickly devoured, but I can’t confidently say that I come to all the same conclusions that both interviewer and the interviewees come to.
Looking through the skeptical lens, no matter how compelling the information, correlation is not necessarily causation. Although, it is interesting to note that there has been a rise in males under 40 with erectile dysfunction, I don’t know if this is necessarily due to tube porn. It is an interesting question that needs further study.
Psychologist Gary Wilson was the person interviewed for this section of the program. I’ve been familiar with his work for a number of years. He maintains a popular blog, Your Brain on Porn, and is popular with members of the no-fap movement. A movement that practices not masturbating or watching porn for extended periods of time if not ever.
I have to say that to a degree the rate at which I currently consume porn is in part because of Wilson’s website. Trying to limit my exposure, and the amount in which I masturbate or watch explicit material.
Unscientifically, I have concluded that it makes me slightly more productive, and possibly more outgoing. Do I think this result is somehow magically caused by me limiting my pornography exposure – I don’t know. I haven’t fully given up the material and the data simply isn’t conclusive enough to make a broad generalization.
Sex researcher Nicole Prause in an interview with Shane Mauss has said that sex is notoriously under researched, and that perceived effects by porn on the body could be caused by something else.
Perhaps, the one thing that seems most compelling to me in the The Butterfly Effect is that the rise of tube porn has decreased the profit margins for people in the porn industry. Porn director Mike Quasar talks about his content being stolen, and making less money then he has before the advent of the sites.
I believe this, and I think if we were to make a spreadsheet comparing bank statements over the last 10 to 15-years by people in the industry we’d see that trend. This is all largely speculation though, and it is coming from someone in the industry who is a bit older.
Unfortunately, with progress (if you want to call it that), there will always be people that get left behind. This is the most apparent in the coal mining and manufacturing industries. Learning to make money in an evolving industry can be difficult, and for most older people, it can be hard to evolve right along with it.
Actors like Dale Dabone complaining about young porn stars being on their phones all the time, or them becoming a household name over some amateur home video, feels a little like my grandpa lecturing to me. Dabone comes off slightly jealous, and not exactly with the times.
I do feel for him, and no doubt I believe him when he said that the prominence of tube porn might have cost him his second career as a nurse. His argument is that he has become more recognizable now that there isn’t a paywall separating him from his fans.
The Positive Side
It isn’t all bad though. Not everyone has had their lives negatively affected by the tube sites. For the sex doll industry their sales have increased, supposedly due to porn. Teen pregnancy is now down which is also supposedly also due to porn. Plus, there is now something called the custom porn industry, fans now have direct access and can hire their favorite stars to make pornography specifically for them.
Many of the custom videos created seem to have some touching and even deep meanings attached to them. The last episode in particular highlights a beautiful moment in this particular niche.
There is a lot in this series, and it will hard to critique all of it. I love Ronson, I loved this series as well, but like I said this is all opinion. None of this has been rigorously studied and none of this is proven.
Listening to the series I can see myself coming to many of the same conclusions as the subjects of the series. I even sympathize with most of the people who were interviewed. I’m a very sex positive person, and found some of the stories very beautiful and moving.
Ronson, does a good job highlighting the supposed positive and negative results created by pornhub and its imitators. This is one of the main reasons I like this series. Like everything in the world there are rarely ever any blacks and whites, moreso most things fall into weird gray spaces.
Most surprising though comes at the end when Thylmann sits down with Quasar. The two have a conversation where Quasar gets to air his grievances to Thylmann. Thylmann, comes off as very likable in the interview, he seems to sympathize to a degree with Quasar, but still manages to defend himself. Even going so far as to highlight the unexpected consequences that Pornhub has had on his life. It hasn’t all been positive.
I really hope that this series continues, exploring different topics and the supposed broader implications they might have. I like these serialized type of podcasts, it’s like Netflix for your ears, and Ronson proves he is not only a good writer but also a good podcaster.