Capitalist Profit and Intimate life - Pornography Enters the Picture
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 06:05PM
Dr. Harriet Fraad

By Harriet Fraad and Tess Fraad-Wolff. To appear in The Journal of Psychohistory Volume 40 Winter 2013.

Psychohistorians need to look at the psychological consequences which are coupled with the America’s economic conditions. This article focuses on the interaction between the US economy and American’s intimate personal lives.

Massive social changes in the US labor force and in commerce have transformed the economy and powerfully affected personal relationships. Since 1970 we have changed from being a society of people connected in groups of every kind, to a society of people who are too often disconnected, detached, and alienated from one another (Putnam, R. 2000, Fraad, 2006, Fraad, 2010).

One is the loneliest number, and in their personal lives, Americans are increasingly alone (

What has happened to us?

In the 1970s, the American dream of 150 years duration ground to a halt. From 1820 to 1970, every US generation did better than the one that preceded it. The economic progress of every generation of white Americans was at the heart of the American dream. In the 1970s, computers began to replace millions of US jobs. International communication systems became so sophisticated that factories could be profitably moved overseas where labor was cheap and labor conditions were unregulated. The livelihoods of millions of decently paid Americans were outsourced. Civil rights and feminist gains had given women and minorities access to a depleted job market. Militant left, trade union movements or political parties were not there to protest. After 1989, the USSR was no longer present as an alternative albeit a compromised one. It was no longer as necessary to build a decidedly capitalist prosperity for the mass of Americans. Wages flattened. Profits continued to rise as did productivity. Since productivity gains were no longer shared with wages earners, the share distributed to the top continued to rise (Fraad, 2006). Wealthy banks issued credit cards with high interest rates that allowed them to profit by loaning people the money that had formerly been salaries.

Men were no longer paid a family wage. Families suffered. Women poured into the labor force to make up for lost male wages (Fraad, 2006, 2009, 2010). Until this point, most women’s work was primarily labor in the home: creating domestic order and cleanliness, performing childcare and providing social and emotional services for the family. After the 1970s, the majority of women worked outside of the home as well as within it. Now, practically all women work outside the home, currently constituting half of the labor force (Evans, 2009).

Before the movements for racial and gender equality, the best jobs were reserved for white males who were an overwhelming majority. Within our racist and sexist labor force, white men had what ultimately amounted to two wage bonuses: one for being white and another for being male. Beginning in the 1970s it became less necessary to pay higher wages to any workers in the US labor force. Workers’ salaries flattened even as workers increased their efficiency. This meant that ever more profit was made and accumulated at the top.
American white men lost a good deal of the male hegemony that accompanied steady jobs and wages that could support a family. When millions of manufacturing jobs were outsourced, our economy became a service economy. Neither the greater physical strength nor the higher levels of aggression associated with males are particularly welcome in a service economy. Heterosexual personal relationships that had developed on the basis of a male provider income could not hold. Those gendered roles were sexist and limiting. They could have been transformed politically without economically and psychologically traumatizing the American people. A movement was needed that united men and women in appreciating  and appropriating the skills that had been primarily associated with the female gender role. Those are skills involved in the emotional labor that works to create people’s happiness as well as the skills of nurturing people physically and psychologically together as one sustains vulnerable lives.

New roles

US women adjusted to their new roles in the marketplace for which the Women’s movement prepared us. Unfortunately, men were not prepared, nor did they make comparable changes. They held on to the privileges that came with men’s provider roles and women’s full time service in the household. The average unemployed man currently does less housework than his fully employed wife (Fraad 2009, 63-64)
Most US men can longer support dependent wives. However, many want extra domestic, sexual, and emotional services to compensate them for the emasculation they experience when they lose provider jobs and salaries. There is conflict in the household on a whole new level. Our divorce rate has become the highest in the world. It is highest among less educated less prosperous couples ( Only better educated and more prosperous couples can afford to hire the labor of other, poorer women to provide nanny care, maid service, take out food, professionally cleaned clothes, etc. Unfortunately, men and women did not mobilize to force the government to provide free or subsidized childcare, eldercare, or any other direly necessary social services that could ease women’s “second shift” at home.

In 2008, the recession struck, plunging millions of Americans into precarity and loss. Male jobs were hit hardest. Most of the jobs lost were in disproportionately-stereotypically male fields like construction, heavy machinery, finance and aggressive big-ticket sales. 75% of the more than 5 million jobs lost in our recession have been traditionally men’s jobs (, (

Men have fallen behind. Women’s earnings grew 44% from 1970 to 2007 compared with 6% growth for men’s jobs ( Women now occupy nearly half of the nations’ jobs, more than half of management positions, and most of the seats in higher education ( - Cached - Similar 2009).

Men’s traditional roles in both the marketplace and the home are becoming obsolete. Only two of the fifteen most rapidly increasing US jobs are usually male jobs: janitor and computer engineer ( All the rest of the job growth areas are in traditionally feminine work in social services of all kinds. Social service jobs are lower paid, but cannot easily be outsourced. Qualities traditionally associated with women like the abilities to nurture, cooperate, and socially connect are those most often required in America’s new service economy.

Women have responded to men’s financial incapacity and refusal to share equally in housework and childcare. Women will no longer bear the extra work in caring for men who can neither support them nor compensate for women’s quadruple shifts in domestic labor, emotional labor, childcare and jobs outside of the home. US women increasingly refuse to marry men who cannot provide economic support and still want full personal services. Women currently initiate most US divorces and, increasingly, refuse to marry in the first place. Women can now afford to live in single households, and they do ( For the first since these figures were calculated in 1880, the majority of Americans of prime marriage and child bearing age (18-34 years old), remain unmarried and live alone.

These changes have drastically altered the pattern of intimate relationships. Shifts in gender roles and employment required women to adjust by taking on career and job responsibilities and living alone or alone with children. Most men have not adjusted. Their former workforce and gender roles allowed men to grow accustomed to outsourcing their emotional needs and life maintenance activities to women who are now far less available. American women had a vital feminist movement for support. US men had and have no social, political, or labor movement to explore what they missed by avoiding tasks in maintaining life, or in emotional intimate personal connections outside of sex. Single women continue to maintain close emotional connections with their women friends and children. Men have become increasingly emotionally disconnected and lonely. They respond to capitalist ads selling market based solutions to their felt loss of manliness. They buy testosterone cream to enhance the sense of manhood that changed social conditions erodes for them. Testosterone products are one of the biggest growth areas for the pharmaceutical industry (

Men have now become afraid of heterosexual love relationships in which the rules have changed. Often those heterosexual relationships were the only emotionally intimacy men had. The biggest growth area in the sex trades is the “GFE”, the girl friend experience in which a man purchases the affectionate emotional as well as sexual companionship of a women for a day, or weekend in which there is intense emotional connection for the purchased time period. Sadly, most US men do not know how to function as equal partners and they often fear learning. Heterosexual women too may be afraid because they too have no guidance in maintaining an intimate relationship between equals. They fear losing their autonomy. However they maintain intense close relationships with friends and family. Women are also more willing to try and maintain emotional connection with men. Emotional labor has, after all, been a part of women’s traditional gender role.

The position of men

Lost and lonely men may work on transforming their lives through 12 step programs or therapies. However, needing and reaching for help has traditionally been associated with femininity, not machismo. There are 4 main streamed refuges left for men who cling to male hegemony and stereotyped masculinity. They are: the NRA and gun culture, the military, the Christian Right, and pornography. Of these 4 misogynist refuges, pornography is the most prevalent, profitable and expanding. The heterosexual internet pornography industry has exploited heterosexual men’s loneliness and contributed to changing the face of the most intimate connections.

Possibilities for meaningful and egalitarian heterosexual personal relationships now seem bleak. Women’s current disappointment with men and men’s increasing withdrawal from authentic communication and relationships are now reflected in popular culture. Trendy films like "Knocked Up," have birthed a new genre. In "Knocked Up," the female lead has a good job. She is attractive and professional-looking while the male lead lives with a handful of unemployed, slovenly, male roommates who spend the majority of their time playing videogames, smoking pot, and watching pornography in a filthy apartment covered in pizza boxes and overall inertia. Their biggest aspiration, which remains to be accomplished, is launching their own pornography site.

A New York Times article describing 2 state-of-the-art sitcoms is called “Downsized and Downtrodden, Men are the New Women on TV” (Stanley, October 10, 2011).

Images of high-functioning women and slacker-style, adolescent men have also come up in a study conducted by contributing author Tess Fraad Wolff. Fraad-Wolff interviewed 48 heterosexual women of 4 different races and socioeconomic groups ranging in age from 22-40 years old. She asked questions that concern women’s emotional and sexual experiences during the dating process. An overwhelming majority, 46 of the 48 women interviewed, responded with descriptions of the problems below.

The last complaints about inserting sexual material into the most initial of conversations may relate to an issue that powerfully impacts relationships and illustrates a profound connection between capitalism and loneliness. It is the mainstreaming of heterosexual pornography.

The impact of pornography

Pornography precedes capitalism. However capitalists have now marketed pornography on a whole new level. Pornography has now become a pastime for billions of men and an addiction for millions. Forty million adults in the United States regularly visit pornography sites. Of those 40 million, 87% are men (

Capitalism and pornography

The explosion of heterosexual internet pornography in the early 1990s yielded huge profits. Pornography is a capitalist dream machine. The industry has larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. By 2006, Worldwide Pornography Revenues ballooned to $97.06 billion (,, Dines, 2010)

Because of its extreme profitability, pornography producers each strive to capture a greater market share. They produce more violent pornography and more degrading and assaultive acts upon younger and younger woman (, Capitalism values profit above all, thus de-prioritizing consideration for equal rights, morality, child abuse, or damage to personal relationships (Cohen, 2006).

How do the mainstreaming of pornography, and the increasing number of viewers and addicts affect relationships and the psychology of Americans?

Sexual connection can motivate people to find and maintain relationships and build on those connections to create families. Heterosexual internet pornography has dramatically altered images of sexuality. Heterosexual US men are experiencing increasing difficulty performing sexually, from maintaining erections, to focusing on partners during sex, to having orgasms at all. Many men have grown so accustomed to the breakneck pace with which pornography offers hundreds of images that they can no longer maintain arousal or concentration during the comparatively slow interactive process of actual sex (ttp:// Additionally, many viewers have unconsciously associated anonymity with arousal, resulting in a failure to either engage in or appreciate the intimacy that often accompanies real sex. Men in record numbers confess to being unable to complete sexual acts that involve another live person. A recent University of Kansas study found that 25 percent of college-age men said they’d faked orgasms with women because they could not have orgasms without pornography (

Why is pornography addictive?

The act of watching pornography involves bonding between the brain and the images and acts. This neural bonding process entails the immediate mental imitation that occurs when people watch representations of any behavior, particularly behavior that possesses arousing qualities. The chemicals released from the firing of neurotransmitters create pleasurable sensations. Viewers want to get more of sensations. Viewers are all potential addicts because they not only achieve orgasm with pornography, but potentially develop a neurological attachment to it (Struthers, 2009), They often do not realize the ways in which their relationships with pornography have begun to replace those with one another.

Many men reject actual sex in favor of the synthetic version even when they have partners with whom the opportunities for sex are present. They turn off to the connectedness and intimacy that actual sex can offer. They retreat into pornography to escape from the challenge of changed and challenging relationships with women. Many avoid even trying to form a relationship in favor of a seemingly safe, isolated, anonymous bond with artificial images on computer screens. Although the fraction of women who view and are addicted to pornography mainly do not cite decreased desire to experience real sex with partners, they do share inabilities to masturbate or orgasm without pornography or pornographic images. Initially, larger numbers of women reported feeling perpetually upset and sexually rejected by their male partners. Men too have now grown disturbed by their increasing sexual dysfunction and reliance on pornography (
Immersion in pornography is both a cause and a result of the bleak loneliness of trying to relate in a profit-driven America with an altered gender landscape. Family life is increasingly difficult as male and  female roles change and our government does not help families to survive. It could help by providing quality child-care, home help, after school care and help with quality meals. Those options are only open to the privileged who are the Americans who tend to remain in intact relationships ( In our time of dislocation and misery for men, the capitalist market place provides an escape. Pornography provides a lucrative market that sells its wares to mask heterosexual men’s fear of changed gender expectations. The way in which capitalism and loneliness feed one another is present as rising numbers of men and women forego countless opportunities for intimacy and family in favor of the experience of sitting alone with manufactured, profit -driven images that often contain polarizing and divisive messages about gender relationships and sexuality. They select solitary, purchased degraded and humiliating, vicarious experiences over mutual ones - even in sexual acts that are, by their very nature and description, about merging, physically, psychologically, symbolically, and perhaps spiritually.

The hegemonic position of heterosexual males has been destroyed as the relentless capitalist search for profit eliminated and outsourced jobs and lowered wages. Men and women might have reached a desired mutual respect and equality without the capitalist profit-driven destruction of our economic and personal lives. There are non-capitalist ways such as uniting together to force the US to provide services that permit women and men to work together as equals outside and inside of the home. The destruction of the US economy and the absence of help leaves women with the burden of doing it alone, and men dispossessed, dysfunctional and lonely. The marketing of pornography offers a profitable refuge from the wreckage that capitalism helped to create. Family life is abandoned as collateral damage. The plight of children and our future is grim.

We must now face the eerie trumping of profit over shared experience. Capitalism has polluted the experience of reciprocal connection in our very bedrooms and bodies. The failure of capitalism to provide sufficient jobs, possibilities for prosperity, decent wages and social services, has led masses to grab at lonely pseudo-solutions that ultimately worsen their quality of life. Pornography is one of them.


Psychohistory casts a unique beam of light on the crucial interaction between human psychology and our economic system. The US was the most egalitarian Western developed nation in 1970. Now we are the least egalitarian among all of the developed nations (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). Media is largely funded and owned by the 1%. Our elected officials’ campaigns are increasingly financed by that same 1%. The lobbyists who represent the 1% increase their influence on our laws and so it goes. The supports we understood as legitimate sustenance for of the mass of US tax paying people are now presented as “entitlements” that we hardly deserve. Our social right to unemployment insurance, quality public education for the young and quality eldercare are now commodified. Quality service, once considered a human right is now often available only to those who can afford it. In just one of infinite examples in just one of an infinite number of areas, public school funds are slashed (Lewin and Dillon, April 20, 2010). Elite families pay between $30,000 and $45,000 a year for quality primary and secondary education (9

Extreme inequality effects the connection between all of us. The haves lead radically different lives from the 99%. We are divided by radical disconnections based on wealth and all that it buys. As we become a nation providing services to those who can afford them, people may see those who work for them as a service to be bought and sold.

The basic capitalist principle is to accumulate more and give less. It does not pay to hire anyone unless you are getting more for yourself or your corporation than you give to the human who works for you. That same principle increasingly finds its way into interpersonal relationships. We use the services of others not as relatives in interconnected human family, but as service commodities to be used without human connection. A glaring example is in heterosexual pornography in which women commodify their sexuality to be used by male viewers. Those male viewers are themselves alienated from the women they routinely see as service commodities for male arousal. The routine humiliation of women is a stock feature of heterosexual pornography (Hedges, 2009) These viewers have distanced themselves from human connection in an intimate personal, sexual experience. The women who become pornography actors separate themselves from all but the money they collect from the job. Human connection is lost even in the most intimate act. Disconnection and alienation from one another starves both parties.

It is only such disconnected beings who could become inured to the deaths of between 450,000 and 600,000 Iraqi civilians who are the “collateral damage” in just one of our wars (Tirman, 2012). Naturally it is not just from “foreigners” we can become disconnected. Americans seem similarly detached from the numbers of US soldiers who return from combat with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (, or do not return because they have committed suicide. In 2010 as in 2009 there have been more suicides than combat fatalities in our wars,462 combat deaths and 468 suicides ( 27, 2011).  As we need to consider the whole range of psychological adjustments to our economic conditions with their powerful psychohistorical impact on all relevant aspects of our lives from the national one, to the most personal and intimate.

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