One fascinating parallel in the two cases is the pursuit of women customers. Until the 1950s, cigarette consumption was much higher among men than among women. The industry attempted to lasso women by creating brands such as Virginia Slims and marketing cigarettes as emblems of "glamour, beauty, autonomy and equality." Similarly, pornographers recognize that their clientele is heavily male and are keen to draw in the other 50 percent of consumers. Playgirl magazine, when it debuted in 1973, pitched itself to "today's liberated, independent, self-aware, sensual woman." College women report that they feel pressured to watch porn to prove their "enlightenment" on sexual matters. With the exception of some feminists and some religious groups, they get very little support for resisting its march to mainstream status.
It is possible, Eberstadt argues, that pornography can reacquire the stigma it has lost. Attitudes toward smoking underwent that kind of reversal. At first, smoking was disapproved, then went mainstream and when the evidence could no longer be denied, finally slipped back into social opprobrium.
Like smoking, porn is not an innocent pleasure. At a 2003 meeting of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 62 percent of attendees said that Internet porn had contributed to divorces in the previous year. Mary Anne Layden, of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology program at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that young people who view porn are more likely to have multiple sexual partners, more likely to engage in risky forms of sex, and more likely to be sexual offenders. Other studies have shown that teenagers who view pornography are more likely to engage in early and more frequent sexual activity. Pamela Paul wrote of "countless men" who described "how while using pornography, they lost the ability to relate to or be close to women."
That last insight, hard to prove with statistics, is the heart of the matter. Porn degrades relations between the sexes by encouraging a gross and impersonal approach to a subject that should be most elevated by tenderness, fidelity and respect. Eberstadt quotes philosopher Roger Scruton, who said it very well: "Those who become addicted to this 'risk-free' form of sex run a risk of another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness."