This post was borne out of a recent discussion with a good friend of mine, Harriet, who is a self-identified lesbian. (I include the phrase self-identified here deliberately: I realise her propensity to prefer the company and sex of woman does not categorise her as a lesbian, but it is a term she very comfortably uses herself). She was talking about going to a sex party, and I, in what I perceived to be ignorance, asked her what her interest could be in going. “Would it not be far too full of men?” I asked naively.
I had expected her to laugh at me, which she did. My question displayed an assumption that I hadn’t realised I held, that lesbian women must only be interested in seeing women have sex with other women. Being the tolerant and long-suffering woman she is, she challenged my assumption. Sex parties often include lesbian sex, she pointed out, and just because she is a lesbian doesn’t mean she is repulsed by men or their sex, any more than a straight person should be repulsed by lesbians. Heterophobia is no more acceptable than homophobia. However, she went on to explain that actually lesbians quite often found men sexually attractive, and, slightly more unusually, they are often interested in watching men have sex with men, in the form of gay male pornography. more...
An exciting new journal is slated for release next year—Routledge’s Porn Studies. The journal, the first of its kind, will focus explicitly on erotic and pornographic materials, as well as sex work generally. As its call for papers makes clear, it aims to include interdisciplinary, intersectional, and global analyses. Such a journal is a brave endeavor because the topic of pornography is an incredibly volatile one in academic and activist worlds. The journal is still a year away from publication and has already sparked angry responses, highlighting an ongoing problem in approaches to pornography that will be the focus of my post. more...
Should public spaces, like libraries, ban pornography? This past week, the San Francisco Public Library made it easier for those who want to use the library’s online services to view illicit materials by installing shields on 18 of its public computers at the Civic Center branch. In the tradition of anti-censorship, the librarians refuse to censor websites, including those containing pornographic materials. Yet, they want to address concerns from some of their patrons who were troubled that they might accidentally see inappropriate content while visiting the library. A librarian reported to KTVU that they are “always looking for any kind of elegant solution that strikes a balance between the right to privacy and folks that want to use the library for any other intended purpose.” The privacy shields attempt to achieve this balance by protecting unwanted eyes from viewing others’ screens.
Not surprisingly, this new policy has stirred up controversy both in San Francisco and across the nation. Fox News reports that anti-pornography advocacy groups like Morality in Media think the shields will not be effective because patrons can simply look over the shoulder of someone seated at a computer and see what he/she is viewing. A spokesperson from Morality in Media further argued that access to pronographic content should be prohibited by common sense: “I mean porn in the library? There’s no place for that.”
Underlying some of these concerns about unwanted viewership is the fear that children might be exposed to sexually explicit materials. This San Diego blogger explains that libraries should be places for children to be children, arguing that we should “let children enjoy their childhoods by keeping open displays of porn and profanity as far away from them as possible.” Still, the anxiety over children and pornography is neither surprising nor new. As Feona Attwood (2011) describes in her Sociology Compass article, children’s sexuality, particularly around pornographic images, has a tendency to incite public discourse and disapproval.
Yet, I think these concerns will turn out to be unfounded. On a practical level, how many people will look over someone’s shoulder to view the content on their computer? However, my support for the privacy shields is grounded in my anti-censorship perspective. Like the San Francisco librarians, I do not support censorship, especially of pornographic materials. This stance is informed by my position as a feminist and a researcher of pornography.
Since the 1970s, many feminists have called for the eradication and censorship of pornography. Anti-pornography feminist organizations, like Women Against Pornography in the 1970s and Stop Porn Culture today, argue that pornography is harmful for women: Pornography causes violence against females. The perceived (yet ultimately unfounded) connection between pornography and violence against women led to public initiatives like the Minneapolis Anti-Pornography Civil Rights Ordinance , which sought to hold pornographers civilly responsible for violence caused by pornography. Yet these initiatives were short sited and politically disingenuous, especially since empirical evidence has yet to show a significant link between violence and pornography consumption. They did lead, however, to unlikely – and unhealthy – alliances with political conservatives who shared only the concerns about pornography and not the larger feminist goals of gender equality. In places where anti-porn ordinances actually passed, like in Canada, the result was a disproportionate amount of censorship of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender erotic materials, showing that such political moves can be co-opted to further other forms of discrimination (see Segal in More Dirty Looks). Given this history, we have reason to be wary of censorship, especially since these types of initiatives can be so easily co-opted by those who ultimately may not share similar goals.
The San Francisco librarians are also wary of censorship, but they have found a solution that should appease most people. The privacy shields are a good middle ground. They allow people to access illicit materials without exposing others to the content. People can make the choice to view pornographic materials or they can avoid the 18 computers with the privacy shields. What do you think? Do you support the San Francisco library policy?
Attwood, Feona. 2011. “The Paradigm Shift: Pornography Research, Sexualization, and Extreme Images.” Sociology Compass 5(1): 13-22.
Bronstein, Carolyn. 2011. Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976-1986. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ciclitira, Karen. 2004. “Pornography, Women and Feminism: Between Pleasure and Politics.” Sexualities 7(3): 281-301
In a recent article from The New York Times, titled “Church Counsels Women Addicted to Pornography,” writer John Leland reveals predicable information regarding the Church’s response to overt female sexual behavior. While the fact that the Church is openly acknowledging this as a “problem” is newsworthy, it is the reaction and subsequent treatment that seems obvious and problematic. Leland writes, “The programs at Ms. Renaud’s group and XXX Church diverge from secular sexual theory by treating masturbation and arousal as sins rather than elements of healthy sexuality. Emphasis is on recovering ‘sexual purity’, in which thoughts of sex outside marriage are illicit.” Similar to the Church’s response to male pornography addiction, this article highlights an approach that blatantly ignores the drive or interest in pornography and focuses therapy on restoring the notion that “sexual purity” is the corrective path. Pornography, within this reasoning, has distorted the Church’s normative message regarding “sex” and “sexuality.” Crystal Renaud, a group leader for a Victory Over Porn Addiction group and founder of Dirty Girl Ministries, was quoted as saying: “It’s an injustice that the church is not more open about physical sexuality. God created sex. But the enemy has twisted it.” So what did we learn from this article? Certainly the fact that women are interested in the pornographic version of sexuality is nothing new – even if they do attend Church and practice organized religion. On the other hand, the fact that female Church leaders are trying to organize recovery groups brings attention to the “severity” (or profit possibility) of this issue within this community. In the end, this article does support the pervasive nature of pornography – and that it can no longer be categorized as attracting a seedy, unethical, secular, male-only viewership.
Dirty Girl Ministries: Helping Women Overcome Pornography Addiction
Although “sexting” is certainly not an isolated phenomenon, a recent case at Chenery Middle School in Belmont, Massachusetts deserves cultural consideration. According to reports, a nude photo of an underage student was circulated between seventh and eighth graders – approximately 40 to 50 according to Bill Grubbs, the school’s assistant headmaster. Further details provide that each of those students paid $5 for access to the “sext,” which was sent by the underage student’s “boyfriend.” This situation is currently under investigation: cell phones have been seized, students have been interviewed, and the phrase “child pornography” has been circulating in media reports.
However, while this case is yet another example of “sexting,” interviews with parents, via a report on WCVB-TV 5, reveal an interesting denial of current cultural and sexual trends, i.e., the pervasiveness of the profitable pornography industry through accessible electronic media (Internet). One parent states that, “The fact that another child thought it was okay to pay for that takes it to a whole other level.” Another parent responded to reporters with the following: “The idea of charging, that’s the cherry on the cake, or the icing on the cake. I can’t believe that at this age it crosses their mind to do this.” Both parents question the notion that individuals would pay for nudity. Do they truly believe that the success of the pornography industry would not penetrate the minds of puberty-stricken eighth graders? Interestingly, this case at Chenery Middle School appears to embody behaviors learned from the normalizing pornography industry, most notably, exploitation and profit. Where else would eighth graders learn that selling nude photography can generate capital?
Article: Police investigating alleged sexting incident at Chenery Middle School (including WCVB-TV 5 report)
As pornography becomes increasingly accessible due to technology (mobile phones, Internet, etc.), researchers have started to pay close attention to its individual and cultural impact on the construction of sexuality and subsequent behavior. Research on pornography spans a variety of theoretical paradigms and methodologies, and works to answer questions regarding audience reception, political economy of the industry, content and violence, and a variety of other cultural and critical inquiries. While at one point on the margins of media studies, film studies, and sociological research, porn studies has become a staple in attempts to understand the interaction between sexuality, audience and media.
Periodically, the mainstream media will pick up on published pornography studies and offer the researcher, or researchers, an opportunity to reach a larger audience. A recent article published in London’s Times reports on a recent study by Michael Flood, which found that young boys who are exposed to porn are likely to have problematic relationships with women. According to the article, “Boys exposed to porn are more likely to indulge in casual sex and less likely to form successful relationships when they grow older, according to research carried out in a dozen countries.” The article goes on to report that Flood’s research indicates that pornography is not the ideal sex educator and that the Internet is creating an environment where boys are most likely going to treat it as such.
It’s one thing to experience the pornification of culture through public advertising (billboards, subway adverts), among other mediated formats. But what if someone sitting next to you on the subway is watching pornography on their iPod? In a recent Washington Postarticle, Staff Writer Monica Hesse questions the acceptability of portable porn, also known as “secondhand porn” to those experiencing forced exposure. Due to technological (portable) advancements, the consumption of digital pornography has moved from the domestic to the public. Instead of being subjected to pornography by your “slobby” college roommate, Hesse reports that exposure has permeated public transportation, among other venues. She writes, “But the increasing popularity of laptops and handheld devices, and the prevalence of wireless Internet success, means there’s a greater chance of becoming a bystander to a complete stranger’s viewing proclivities. Like being exposed to the cigarette smoke of a nicotine addict on the street, people are inhaling secondhand smut.”
In her article, Hesse does not maintain that “secondhand porn” is a plague infecting the public sphere. Instead, she writes that it is a steady phenomenon that has become increasingly prevalent –during flights and professional basketball games. She also does not make this a moral issue. Instead, Hesse frames this phenomenon around the public/private debate and cultural dependence on personal technology. more...
While the term “augmented reality” uttered in a sexual context might immediately conjure the perennial problematic of the boozed, buzzed, and befuddled (commonly referred to as “beer goggles”), more nuanced analysis may prove fruitful. Fellow Sociology Lens news editor, nathan jurgenson, recently argued in “towards theorizing an augmented reality” that we need to anticipate an ascending paradigm where “digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other.”
To anticipate this new reality, I argue that we ought to turn to another trend in consumer culture that has prevailed for several decades. Pornography and the sex industry have consistently been a bellwether for future technology adoption in the population writ large. Remember polaroids, VCRs, camcorders, DVDs, and high definition television? Sure you do. Ever wonder why so many of our parents and grandparents bought these items so early on, even though they were expensive and still largely untested? They were probably producing and consuming pornography. Yep, that’s right: porn. Okay, so, some people had other motivations. The conspicuous consumption of such commodities certainly confers a form of social capital which appeals to many. Yet, ample evidence exists indicating that the pornography industry has influenced the adoption of a wide range of technologies (see citations below). Even the founder of Wikipedia and one of Time Magazine’s most influential people, Jimmy Wales, began his entrepreneurial career leveraging user-generated content for profit by hosting a series of user-generated porn web rings. more...
In The Washington Post, Jaclyn Friedman wrote an article entitled “He Trashes the Ladies. They Love Him For It.” In this article, Friedman provides a feminist critique of females that endorse Tucker Max.
In 2002, Tucker Max started a website detailing his “life as a self-involved, drunken womanizer”. Recently, his New York Times best-selling book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell turned into a movie. In this movie, he argues that “all women are whores” and that “fat girls aren’t real people”. Given these statements, Friedman questions: Why are some females fans of Tucker Max?
Everyone has an opinion on pornography. Some argue that it is a vital contributor to understanding sexuality, some assert that it is a vulgar practice that objectifies women, and some maintain that is a lucrative industry just like any other capitalistic enterprise. Of course, these three positions are not the only ones that pervade the cultural discussion of the pornography industry. For example, during the Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told an audience that: “All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.” He went on to say that: “And if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants! You know, that’s a good comment, it’s a good point, and it’s a good thing to teach young people.”
Now, taking Schwartz’s ultra-conservative standpoint into account, this statement could be written off as another homophobic, moralistic rant. However, the inaccuracy of this assumption, coupled with its context as part of a panel on “The New Masculinity,” deserves some attention. Schwartz’s statement that “all pornography is homosexual pornography” was taken from a conversation he had with a “very good friend” that was commenting on “the malady that he suffered” due to living the “homosexual lifestyle.” more...
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Sociology Lens aims to offer a lively and informative venue for faculty, graduate students and the wider public to discuss current issues in sociology. The site is a companion to the online review journal, Sociology Compass.