Show World Center porn shop in New York’s Times Square . (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

Each week, In Theory takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives. This week, we’re talking about pornography regulation. Need a primer? Catch up here.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of “Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully” and “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity.”

Last year in my University of Texas office, after I had summarized for a group of young women the feminist critique of pornography (which they had never heard of), one of the students in her early 20s suggested that older people (such as myself, age 57) are out of step with young people, including young women. Yes, some pornography is nasty, she said, but she and her friends don’t get all worked up — it’s just porn.

I offered a hypothetical to test her assertion: Imagine being asked out by two guys. The men are equivalent in all criteria that matter to you — sense of humor, intelligence, looks — and the only clear difference is that one regularly masturbates to online pornography and one never looks at it. Who would you rather go out with?

The student winces and acknowledges that she would choose the non-porn user.

Why the disparity between the stated commitment to being porn-friendly and the actual preference in partners? Further conversation with those students, and many others, suggests that women know what pornography is and how men use it, but feel a sense of resignation about contemporary pop culture.

Commercial pornographers want us to believe that their product is just routine sexual activity on film. While there is considerable variation in graphic sexually explicit material, the most common pornography offers sexualized male dominance on screen, with the gonzo genre pushing the boundaries of the degradation of, and cruelty toward, women. Beyond the extreme material produced by the “legitimate” pornography industry are even harsher genres that sexualize every inequality you can imagine, especially racist porn. At its core, that’s what pornography does: It makes inequality sexually arousing.

Yes, women also use pornography — more so now than in the past — but still far less than men. Just ask the pornographers who they make movies for: The primary consumers are men, and in a patriarchal society it’s profitable to eroticize women’s subordination to male power, which then becomes part of men’s masturbation routine. Do heterosexual women want partners whose sexual imagination has been shaped by making women’s subordination a sexual turn-on?

Many young women have told me that pornography is so ubiquitous that they are resigned to dating men who use it. “There’s no sense in asking them not to,” one woman told me, “because they won’t.” Perhaps some women profess not to be bothered by pornography when they feel they have no options.

Starting in the 1970s, a radical feminist critique of pornography has offered an alternative. To better understand and challenge men’s violence against women, feminists analyzed and attacked the sexism and misogyny not only in pornography but also in television, movies, advertising and music — which all routinely present objectified female bodies for male sexual pleasure. On all these mass-media fronts, we’ve lost ground in recent decades, as the culture has grown more corrosive and the sexual exploitation of women more routine. Ironically, the trajectory of hard-core pornography from the margins to the center of pop culture has proved that those radical feminists of previous decades were on target.

This feminist alternative is available to both men and women. And as men increasingly find that habitual pornography use undermines their ability to experience intimacy, making it difficult to perform sexually without a porn loop playing in their head, that alternative should be compelling to everyone.

This is not a call for reasserting conservative control of women’s sexuality, but an argument against men’s exploitation of women and for healthy sexual education. It’s a call to fight what Culture Reframed calls “the public health crisis of the digital age.”

For the first 30 years of my life, I was a “normal” guy who used pornography, albeit in the much tamer pre-Internet world, and always felt uncomfortable with the way the material shaped my sexual imagination. Feminism gave me the framework for not only getting beyond pornography, but also challenging how male dominance defines so much of our sexual interaction. As I wind down a second 30 years living with that feminist framework, I can say without hesitation that I would never go back to being “normal.”

Other perspectives:

Mireille Miller-Young: Porn isn’t a public health hazard. It’s a scapegoat.

Matthew Schmitz: The case for banning pornography

Jillian C. York: Who defines pornography? These days, it’s Facebook.

Alexander Rhodes: The conversation we’re not having about porn

Haley Halverson: The anti-porn movement is growing. The public is just catching up.