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Review of "The Pornographer's Grief"

By Joseph Glenmullen
HarperCollins, 1993
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 8th 2004
The Pornographer's Grief

The Pornographer's Grief is Joseph Glenmullen's first book; he later wrote Prozac Backlash, a powerful indictment of the pharmaceutical companies for unscrupulous methods in promoting and the new antidepressant medications and taking whatever steps necessary to minimize the public appreciation of the powerful side effects of their products. While Glenmullen does believe that psychiatric medications are sometimes helpful, he thinks they are overused. This is clear as much in this earlier book as it is in the later one. But in The Pornographer's Grief, his topic is sexuality, and he shows his confidence that long-term psychotherapy can get to the root of people's psychological problems about sex. Indeed, he describes several clients whom he treated on a regular basis for years, sometimes meeting more than once a week. Even though the book is just over ten years old, this already seems like a description of a different era.

The format of the stories falls in with a familiar mold, found in neurologist Oliver Sack's classic The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and developed in books such as George Weinberg's The Taboo Scarf and Irvin Yalom's Love's Executioner. Each chapter is self-contained, and describes a different patient. Each patient has a different sort of problem. Introductory and concluding chapters tie threads between the different cases. The stories are told in simple terms, requiring no understanding of psychological theories or psychiatric jargon. They are amusing and clever; the therapist helps the patient, or at least learns a lesson from the case if the therapy is ineffective. Often the therapy takes on the form of a detective story, with the therapist sifting through various clues and trying to find the ultimate cause of the problematic symptoms of the patient. It's a satisfying genre and can convey helpful information, although it get old rather quickly.

Glenmullen is a proficient writer and most of the chapters hold the reader's attention. To give one example, in "The Acrobat's Stocking," Glenmullen describes a brief therapy of man with a very specific problem: he would lose his erection every time he tried to put on a condom. In the therapy, the man discussed his first sexual experience as a high school sophomore where this happened, where he felt considerable pressure and shame when he wasn't able to perform at the girl's request. He also revealed that the problem would sometimes occur if the woman put in a diaphragm in his presence. He explained that it interrupted the usual flow of events in a sexual encounter. After some discussion, Glenmullen probed the man's feelings about sex being carnal. He was from a Middle Eastern Jewish culture, and although he thought himself liberal, he had taken on some of his family's views about sex. Once the man came to understand his internal conflict, and with the supportive cooperation of his new partner, his problem disappeared.

The Pornographer's Grief is both entertaining and potentially informative. It is definitely a helpful introduction to some of the psychodynamic issues that occur around human sexuality.


2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.