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Cinema and Media Studies Pornography
by
Damon Young

Introduction

Although not often included in standard histories of cinema, moving-image pornography has existed for as long as cinema itself, and in the early 21st century it accounts for a considerable percentage of global film and media production and consumption (for estimates, see Studies of the Industry). The earliest attempts to account for the generic specificities of moving-image pornography took the form of enthusiasts’ accounts appearing in the 1970s—the decade in which the mainstream success of films like Deep Throat (1972) marked the emergence of hard-core moving-image pornography as a public (and no longer only a private) mode or genre. Around the same time film critics, such as Parker Tyler and Raymond Durgnat, took up the topic of sex in cinema, addressing pornography to some extent, though focusing mainly on sexual themes in Hollywood and in European and US art and avant-garde cinema. In the late 1970s and the 1980s pornography—still somewhat in the abstract—was widely taken up as the polemical object of the so-called sex wars between feminists dividing into “antiporn” and “anticensorship” camps. Although a number of excellent early essays by film scholars, such as Richard Dyer, Thomas Waugh, and Gertrud Koch, drew on methodologies from the emergent disciplines of film and cultural studies to approach pornography from an analytic rather than a polemical position, it was the publication in 1989 of Hard Core, Linda Williams’s book-length study of heterosexual moving-image pornography, that constituted a watershed moment, isolating specifically hard-core pornography as a historically variable popular genre meriting detailed textual analysis. Since that time research on pornography from within film and media studies has proliferated, drawing broadly—as did Williams’s book—on developments in the history and theory of sexuality as well as the history of visual technologies, including new media studies. Such research comprises textual and genre-based approaches, studies of historical conditions of production and exhibition, audience studies, legal approaches, queer and antiracist approaches, and a new generation of feminist antipornography criticism. Many contributions to the field that has come to be known as “porn studies” remain US focused, though an increasing number of European, Asian, and Australian studies are appearing. The sheer breadth of the contemporary scholarship indicates that pornography is a mode or genre whose study, whatever position one takes on it, remains—perhaps more than ever—crucial to an understanding of contemporary culture.

Textbooks and Anthologies

As more universities and colleges have begun to offer courses considering issues around pornography, several anthologies have appeared that can serve as course textbooks. Elias, et al. 1999 emerged from a conference on pornography and canvasses a wide variety of disciplinary (and professional) perspectives. The three more recent anthologies are excellent, theoretically oriented overviews of the field. Church Gibson 2004 is the most expansive, including earlier classic essays by feminist film and media scholars. Lehman 2006 is a smaller selection of classic and more recent essays, whereas Williams 2004 focuses on new work. For an anthology focusing specifically on the feminist debates around pornography, see Cornell 2000 (cited in Pornography and Feminism: The Sex Wars).

  • Church Gibson, Pamela, ed. More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography, and Power. London: British Film Institute, 2004.

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    This updated and expanded edition of Church Gibson and Gibson 1993 (cited in Anticensorship Feminism and Critiques of Antiporn Feminism) includes new, theoretically focused essays (including some by male scholars) approaching contemporary developments in pornography and argues for the continuing and increasing significance of the study of porn as a way to understand gender in contemporary culture.

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  • Elias, James, Veronica Diehl Elias, Vern L. Bullough, Gwen Brewer, Jeffrey J. Douglas, and Will Jarvis, eds. Porn 101: Eroticism, Pornography, and the First Amendment. New York: Prometheus, 1999.

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    Collecting the proceedings of a world conference on pornography, this expansive anthology includes genre analyses, social science research, audience studies, histories, essays on censorship, and contributions from workers in the industry itself. Also includes a useful bibliography of US court cases on obscenity and secondary sources. Less theoretically focused than the other collections in this section but broader in scope.

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  • Lehman, Peter, ed. Pornography: Film and Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

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    Comprises six “classic” contributions to the study of pornography along with seven newly commissioned essays on a variety of topics, including race, technology, and comedy in pornography. Would work well as a course textbook for advanced undergraduate or graduate students, though the selection of new essays is narrower than the one in Williams 2004.

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  • Williams, Linda, ed. Porn Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Williams, often credited with originating the field of porn studies (see Williams 1999, cited in Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies), here offers a selection of more recent contributions to that field. Includes numerous important essays, many from Williams’s own students, including new work on gay and lesbian porn, race, digital technologies, and sexually explicit art. A key resource for advanced undergraduate or graduate seminars.

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Bibliographies

Williams 2004 concludes with a selective annotated list of theoretical texts of interest to film studies scholars. Slade 2000 and the three volumes of Slade 2001 together offer an exhaustive, annotated list of scholarly, government, and popular texts on pornography and a variety of related topics. Elias, et al. 1999 is a useful reference on censorship and obscenity law. Marchetti 1981 offers a snapshot of the literature before the advent of “porn studies” (see Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies).

  • Elias, James, Veronica Diehl Elias, Vern L. Bullough, Gwen Brewer, Jeffrey J. Douglas, and Will Jarvis, eds. Porn 101: Eroticism, Pornography, and the First Amendment. New York: Prometheus, 1999.

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    Includes a useful and concise bibliography of major First Amendment cases and of secondary sources, especially from a legal perspective. Useful for researchers writing on the history of censorship or obscenity law.

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  • Marchetti, Gina. “An Annotated Working Bibliography on Women and Pornography.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 26 (December 1981): 56–60.

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    Although now out of date, Marchetti’s carefully annotated listing of existing scholarly works on pornography in 1981—from a vantage point early in the feminist “sex wars”—offers a useful glimpse at the terrain before the advent of Williams 1999 (cited in Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies).

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  • Slade, Joseph W. Pornography in America: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000.

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    Full of useful factual information, including a comprehensive annotated listing of relevant court decisions, a bibliography of government reports, a directory of organizations, and a broad though no longer up-to-date bibliography of relevant scholarly and popular literature.

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  • Slade, Joseph W. Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide. 3 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001.

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    A remarkable bibliographic resource that exhaustively surveys existing literature on a wide variety of related fields, including in Volume 1 the history of the concept of pornography and the history of sexuality; in Volume 2 performance, erotic art, and moving-image pornography; and in Volume 3 literature and legal and economic contexts. Each chapter includes a long bibliographic discussion plus a comprehensive list of resources. An essential reference work.

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  • Williams, Linda, ed. Porn Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    This collection (also cited in Textbooks and Anthologies) includes a highly selective but usefully annotated bibliography of scholarly texts relevant to the study of pornography and information on archives and commercial sources for primary materials.

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Journals

While individual essays and occasional special features on pornographic film have appeared in many cinema and media studies journals, including Screen, Cinéaste, Cinema Journal, Camera Obscura, and the Velvet Light Trap, only one journal, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, merits singling out for its long-standing, explicitly articulated commitment to promoting scholarship on pornography.

  • Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media.

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    Ran a special section “Women and Pornography” as early as 1981 (issue number 26) followed by the sections “Sexual Representation” in 1985 (issue number 30) and 1990 (issue number 35); the roundtables “Porn” in 2009 (issue number 51) and 2011 (issue number 53) included a number of excellent new essays. The journal regularly features work by both emerging and established scholars of pornography, including Jump Cut’s own coeditor Chuck Kleinhans.

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General Accounts

The texts listed in this section do not deal directly with moving-image pornography; rather, they offer an account of pornography’s origins as a literary or cultural category. In situating the larger history of the concept of pornography, all have been important background sources for work on moving-image pornography. Sontag 1967 was perhaps the first American scholar to take pornography seriously, albeit only in its guise as high art. Kendrick 1987 and Marcus 1974 are classic studies of the Victorian age as the era in which our modern concept of pornography takes shape. Hunt 1993 brings together essays by historians relating the category of obscenity to anxieties over democratization in the early modern period. Carter 1978 constitutes one of the earliest extensive feminist reflections on Marquis de Sade, at the dawn of the antipornography feminist movement.

  • Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography: An Exercise in Cultural History. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

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    One of the first theoretical accounts of pornography from a feminist perspective, Carter’s still-compelling analysis of the Sadean oeuvre focuses especially on his two famous female heroines, Justine and Juliet. Although complications abound, Carter ultimately argues that sexual fantasy and pornography can work in the service of women’s liberation.

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  • Hunt, Lynn, ed. The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800. New York: Zone, 1993.

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    A collection of essays by historians on the functioning of the categories of obscenity and pornography in early modern Europe in tandem with and integrally linked to the rise of democracy and the concept of modernity itself. Hunt’s introduction is particularly useful.

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  • Kendrick, Walter. The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture. New York: Viking, 1987.

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    A classic study of the invention of the concept of “pornography,” a word whose modern usage Kendrick dates to the mid-19th century, with the reclassification (and restricting to a “secret museum”) of frescoes from Pompeii. Pornography is not a thing but a name for a “battlefield” around the contested boundaries between public and private.

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  • Marcus, Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century England. New York: New American Library, 1974.

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    Marcus’s study of the sexually repressive Victorian era with its concomitant literary production of a domain of “pornotopia” and its proliferation of discourses around sex. A now-canonical account of the Victorian origins of our present-day obsession with sex.

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  • Sontag, Susan. “The Pornographic Imagination.” Partisan Review 34.2 (Spring 1967): 181–212.

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    Sontag was one of the first American thinkers to provide a serious and scholarly account of pornography. Writing in 1967, her object is literary pornography, which she analyzes in terms of its credentials not as a widespread cultural form but rather as rarefied high art.

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Early Approaches

In the 1970s, during the “golden age” of narrative theatrical pornography (a period in which pornographic films could, in the United States and some European countries, for the first time be viewed in public movie theaters), a number of critics and scholars in the emergent discipline of film studies turned their attention to pornography and erotic cinema. Some of these works, produced before the advent of the so-called sex wars, attempted to analyze the distinctive generic traits of pornographic cinema and thus can be considered early precursors to the more recent field of “porn studies” (see Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies). Turan and Zito 1974 and Di Lauro and Rabkin 1976 are enthusiasts’ accounts—the former a nostalgic homage to the stag film, the latter a quasi-ethnographic description of the industry at a moment of its intense public interest. Atkins 1975 is an edited anthology focused mostly on sexuality in Hollywood and art cinema, categories from which pornography was not, at that moment, entirely distinct. Durgnat 1972 includes one chapter devoted to pornographic cinema. Ellis 1980 was one of the first works to apply the insights of psychoanalytic film theory to the study of pornography.

  • Atkins, Thomas R., ed. Sexuality in the Movies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.

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    This 1975 collection focuses largely on sexual content in European art cinema and boundary-pushing US films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Carnal Knowledge (1971). But it did not shy away from the topic of explicit sex, and also includes essays on Deep Throat (1972), the history of censorship, and sexploitation cinema.

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  • Di Lauro, Al, and Gerald Rabkin. Dirty Movies: An Illustrated History of the Stag Film 1915–1970. New York: Chelsea House, 1976.

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    A nostalgic homage to the stag film (silent one-reel films made prior to the 1970s), which the authors argue belonged to a ritual folk tradition of American masculinity. Illustrated with stills from US and European stag movies and includes a list of films. A lively account of a defunct form, which it uncritically celebrates.

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  • Durgnat, Raymond. Sexual Alienation in the Cinema: The Dynamics of Sexual Freedom. London: Studio Vista, 1972.

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    Primarily concerned with sexual themes in European and American features of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The final chapter, “Skinemantics and the Sadistic Vision,” provides one of the earliest critical accounts of hard-core pornographic films.

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  • Ellis, John. “On Pornography.” Screen 21.1 (Summer 1980): 81–108.

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    Focuses on pornography as a “contradictory area of signification”—one thus open to contestation and refiguration—and provides an account of its legal and cultural status in Britain in 1980. The second half of the essay begins to develop a psychoanalytic reading of pornographic images. Ellis’s essay occasioned a number of responses, printed in subsequent issues of Screen. Reprinted in Lehman 2006 (cited in Textbooks and Anthologies).

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  • Turan, Kenneth, and Stephen F. Zito. Sinema: American Pornographic Films and the People Who Make Them. New York: Praeger, 1974.

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    One of the earliest accounts of the pornographic film industry, this engaging book includes interviews with directors and stars and includes several chapters on gay male pornography. Written for an audience of pornography enthusiasts.

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Government and Censorship

The US government has, under two different administrations, produced two major reports on pornography and its alleged social and psychological effects along with accompanying policy recommendations. The first, the Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (1970), argued that the government should not interfere with adults’ right to consume explicit sexual materials. The Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (1986), or so-called Meese Report, reversed the recommendations of the earlier report, focused obsessively on child pornography, and urged that all pornography, though its production is protected by the Constitution, should be withheld from circulation by law enforcement agencies. Hawkins and Zimring 1988 offers a detailed comparison from a legal perspective. De Grazia 1992, by a lawyer involved in several Supreme Court obscenity cases, offers a firsthand account of the vicissitudes of US obscenity law from an anticensorship perspective. Since they have a special bearing on the history of moving-image pornography, the topics of obscenity law and censorship are additionally taken up by numerous scholars listed in other sections: see especially Elias, et al. 1999 (cited in Textbooks and Anthologies) and Lewis 2000 (cited in Studies of the Industry).

  • de Grazia, Edward. Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius. New York: Random House, 1992.

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    Written by the lawyer who defended the film I Am Curious—Yellow (1967) (and earlier, Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer [1934]) before the Supreme Court, this book, with flair and much anecdotal detail, offers a history of the legal battles around arts and the First Amendment in the United States in the 20th century.

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  • Hawkins, Gordon, and Franklin E. Zimring. Pornography in a Free Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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    Discusses and compares the two US government reports alongside the report of the British Committee on Film and Censorship from 1978. Their “nonpartisan” interest as legal scholars is in the relation between pornography and public law in the context of the increasing publicity of explicit sexual images starting in the 1960s.

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Pornography and Feminism: The Sex Wars

Toward the end of the 1970s a series of debates erupted within the feminist movement over sexuality and pornography. Most academic and political discussion of pornography during the 1980s was situated in relation to these debates, which often centered on the question of whether or not pornography (the focus was on moving-image pornography) should exist at all. So-called antipornography feminists, led by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine A. MacKinnon, saw pornography as the very crystallization of patriarchal power relations; they claimed that the production and circulation of pornography constitutes a violation of women’s civil rights and contributed to the drafting of legislation designed to ban it. Other feminists vehemently criticized MacKinnon and Dworkin’s political alliance with social conservatives as well as the philosophical and political premises of their arguments, arguing in favor of sexuality and sexual representation as important dimensions of feminist experience. A nuanced history of the antipornography feminist movement and its origins in 1970s radical feminism is offered in Bronstein 2011. Cornell 2000 brings together key writings by both antipornography feminists and their critics. Lesbian History: The Sex Wars offers an introductory online overview. Freedman and Thorne 1984 is a special section in the feminist journal Signs at the height of the sex wars, in which a number of feminist academics attempted to think through the issues at stake. Nash 2008 is an attempt to understand why the antipornography position has often been unproblematically adopted by black feminists.

  • Bronstein, Carolyn. Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976–1986. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    A helpful, detailed history of the feminist antipornography movement from its origins in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s through to the rise of the feminist prosex countermovement in the 1980s. Based on extensive archival research, this is the first in-depth, nonpartisan cultural history placing these debates in their context within the history of feminism.

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  • Cornell, Drucilla, ed. Feminism and Pornography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Collects major feminist writings on pornography, including essays from both sides of the so-called sex wars, by Andrea Dworkin, Catharine A. MacKinnon, Wendy Brown, and Judith Butler as well as some works focusing on imperialism and non-Western contexts. Useful for courses on feminism, though it largely ignores the important body of work on pornography by feminist film and media scholars, such as Laura Kipnis and Linda Williams.

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  • Freedman, Estelle B., and Barrie Thorne. “Introduction to ‘The Feminist Sexuality Debates.’” Signs 10.1 (1984): 102–135.

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    At the height of the sex wars, this forum, curated and with an introduction by Estelle B. Freedman and Barrie Thorne, appeared as a special section of the feminist journal Signs. The contributors, writing with a sense of urgency, offer their assessments of the stakes of the debate and the theoretical assumptions undergirding its various positions.

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  • Lesbian History: The Sex Wars.

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    Part of a larger online project created for a seminar on lesbian history taught by Esther Newton at the University of Michigan, this page offers a brief online primer on important figures in the feminist debates over pornography and a brief annotated bibliography.

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  • Nash, Jennifer C. “Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Anti-Pornography Feminism.” Social Text 97 (2008): 51–76.

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    An important article analyzing the way black feminists have tended to adopt the sexually conservative positions of antipornography feminists and arguing for a more theoretically sophisticated, nonnormative analysis of the functioning of race in pornography.

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Antipornography Feminism

Several generations of antipornography feminists have made arguments about why pornography is inherently oppressive to women. Lederer 1980 is the anthology that first gave collective voice to a burgeoning antipornography movement. Dworkin 1981 is perhaps the key text for understanding the antipornography position. Dworkin and MacKinnon 1988 details attempts to provide a means for legal redress to what the authors perceive as pornography’s violation of women’s civil rights. MacKinnon 1993 is a powerful polemic by one of the movement’s key figures. Dines, et al. 1998 makes a case for the ongoing importance of the feminist antipornography position, and Boyle 2010 is an anthology of essays by a new generation of antipornography feminists.

  • Boyle, Karen, ed. Everyday Pornography. London: Routledge, 2010.

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    Positioning itself against the tide of other scholarship in “porn studies,” this new anthology—focusing on the “mainstream” of pornography, that is, that consumed by heterosexual men—adopts an avowedly antipornography position. Boyle and her contributors update the arguments of earlier antipornography feminists with an emphasis on material industrial practices and audience responses. Includes contributions from the veteran antiporn crusaders Gail Dines and Robert Jensen as well as younger scholars.

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  • Dines, Gail, Robert Jensen, and Ann Russo. Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality. New York: Routledge, 1998.

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    Begins with an overview of the history of the feminist antipornography movement before analyzing the production, consumption, and content of then-contemporary heterosexual pornography. The main point—also Andrea Dworkin’s and Catharine A. MacKinnon’s—is that pornography eroticizies dominance and submission and that these positions define the sexual meaning of gender in a way that naturalizes violence against women.

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  • Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: Perigee, 1981.

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    Dworkin’s classic text, arguably the central work of the feminist antipornography movement, makes an argument that connects pornography inherently and ineluctably with misogyny. Pornography, she argues, defines men and women in terms of inequality and is a key site at which women’s subordination is both represented and enacted. It shows the sexual reality of the United States, a reality grounded in the violent subordination of women.

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  • Dworkin, Andrea, and Catharine A. MacKinnon. Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women’s Equality. Minneapolis: Organizing against Pornography, 1988.

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    Dworkin and MacKinnon coauthored an ordinance—a version of which was passed in Indianapolis in 1984—claiming that pornography violated the civil rights of women. The ordinance was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1986 on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. But its temporary success inspired the Meese Commission of 1986, and elements of it were also adopted into law in Canada.

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  • Lederer, Laura, ed. Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography. New York: William Morrow, 1980.

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    The first anthology of antipornography feminist essays, comprising thirty contributions arguing from a variety of perspectives that pornography promotes violence against women. Here is a forceful articulation of the position that politically aligned antipornography feminists with social conservatives advocating tightened censorship laws.

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  • MacKinnon, Catharine A. Only Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

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    MacKinnon, feminist professor of law and prolific antipornography activist, here makes her famous argument about pornography as a form of hate speech. The antipornography feminism movement’s most well-known and perhaps most brilliant proponent argues that sexual representations are reality and thus pornography should not be protected under the First Amendment.

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Anticensorship Feminism and Critiques of Antiporn Feminism

The frequently erudite arguments of antipornography feminists have been met blow for blow by a series of impassioned feminist responses arguing against censorship, criticizing the antipornography feminist understanding of sexuality, and challenging its reduction of pornography to a univocal technology of men’s oppression of women. Some of the best of these critiques are collected in Cornell 2000 (cited in Pornography and Feminism: The Sex Wars). Ellis, et al. 1986 is a response to Lederer 1980 and Dworkin 1981 (both cited in Antipornography Feminism) by feminists associated with the Feminist Anticensorship Taskforce. Gayle Rubin has been one of the most articulate exponents of a sex-positive feminist and queer position. Her critique of the antipornography feminist position is delivered, among other places, in Rubin 1993. Strossen 1995 takes a civil-libertarian approach. Church Gibson and Gibson 1993 is a collection of essays by feminist film and media scholars focusing on textual analysis, whereas Duggan and Hunter 1995 offers a brilliant series of politically focused arguments from a cultural and legal studies perspective. Annie Sprinkle is one of a number of feminist sex workers and performance artists whose practice is often cited as an illustration of the possibilities of a queer feminist pornography. Sprinkle 2001 compiles some of the author’s own writing and performance texts. Bright 2011 is an anecdotal history of pornography from a sex-positive, lesbian, feminist perspective.

  • Bright, Susie. Susie Bright’s Erotic Screen. Vol. 1, 1969–1987: The Golden Hardcore and the Shimmering Dyke-Core. Santa Cruz, CA: Bright Stuff, 2011.

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    E-book. Bright, a founding editor of the prosex lesbian feminist magazine On Our Backs, is a prolific author of popular books of sex-positive criticism. Here she offers a colorful, behind-the-scenes history of pornography before the Internet from an anecdotal and personal perspective. Includes her own columns from Penthouse Forum in the 1980s and many interviews with industry figures.

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  • Church Gibson, Pamela, and Roma Gibson, eds. Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography, Power. London: British Film Institute, 1993.

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    The first edition of Church Gibson 2004 (cited in Textbooks and Anthologies), this anthology brings together essays by important feminist cultural theorists (including Gertrud Koch, Linda Williams, Grace Lau, and Laura Kipnis), who provide nuanced and diverse analyses of pornography as genre and collectively rebuke the antipornography feminist position by offering textually and historically specific analyses.

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  • Duggan, Lisa, and Nan D. Hunter, eds. Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture. New York: Routledge, 1995.

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    Focusing on battles over sexuality in the United States since the mid-1980s, the first section in particular contains passionate and intelligent analysis of the feminist antipornography argument by Duggan, a prominent historian and cultural analyst working in queer studies, and Hunter, a legal scholar, along with important arguments in favor of a sex-positive queer and feminist politics.

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  • Ellis, Kate, Beth Jaker, Nan D. Hunter, Barbara O’Dair, and Abby Talmer, eds. Caught Looking: Feminism, Pornography, and Censorship. New York: Caught Looking, 1986.

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    Appearing six years after Lederer 1980 (cited in Antipornography Feminism), this collection from the Feminist Anticensorship Taskforce (FACT) powerfully refutes the position in Lederer 1980. Along with smart essays by important feminists, this work also includes numerous sexually explicit images and argues for their status as arousing rather than degrading to women.

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  • Rubin, Gayle. “Misguided, Dangerous, and Wrong: An Analysis of Anti-Pornography Politics.” In Bad Girls and Dirty Pictures: The Challenge to Reclaim Feminism. Edited by Alison Asseter and Avedon Carol, 18–40. London: Pluto, 1993.

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    Rubin has been, since its beginning, one of the most important critics of antipornography feminism. In this classic essay, which is part of a larger collection of essays by anticensorship feminists, she directly takes on the arguments of Catharine A. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin and argues that feminism should not be a criminalizing but rather a visionary force in the domain of sexuality.

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  • Sprinkle, Annie. Hardcore from the Heart: The Pleasures, Profits, and Politics of Sex in Performance. New York: Continuum, 2001.

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    Sprinkle, a performance artist, sex worker, and feminist pornographer, has for years articulated (and embodied) a prosex feminist position. The object of many critical studies (for example, Straayer 1996, cited in Lesbian and Queer Pornography), she tells her own story here through a selection of performance texts, essays, and interviews.

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  • Strossen, Nadine. Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights. New York: Scribner’s, 1995.

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    Strossen, then president of the American Civil Liberties Union, argues that censorship is more dangerous and more harmful to women’s rights than pornography.

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Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies

The debates between antipornography and anticensorship feminists dominated the discussion about pornography within (and outside) academia throughout the 1980s. But while many general claims about pornography’s essence and its political significance were made, few scholars had paid specific, textually focused attention either to the historical development of sexually explicit moving images or to their varied generic characteristics. Koch 1990 was one of the first works to attempt such an account in a brief but illuminating essay. The publication of Williams 1999 (originally published in 1989) was a watershed moment, marking the dawn of what would become known as “porn studies.” Linda Williams was not the only scholar to take such an approach, but the publication of her book paved the way for the emergence of a new field. Williams 1995 uses early pornographic photographs and stag films to discuss the notion of a corporealized vision specific to modernity. Kipnis 1996 offers a further sophisticated analysis of (contemporary) pornography as a cultural form of fantasy. Penley 1997 offers a class-based analysis. Wolf 2008 is a book-length German-language history of the genre. Andrews 2006 provides what David Andrews argues is a missing analysis of soft-core, a topic rarely addressed by other pornography scholars. For other work in the “porn studies” vein, see also Textbooks and Anthologies, Gay Male Pornography, Lesbian and Queer Pornography, Pornography and Racialization, and some of the historically focused essays cited in Studies of the Industry.

  • Andrews, David. Soft in the Middle: The Contemporary Softcore Feature in Its Contexts. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006.

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    Arguing that soft-core performs an important (and overlooked) cultural role, Andrews offers a detailed account of its history and structure, from US and French sexploitation films in the 1960s and 1970s to the more recent genre of the erotic thriller. The lessons to be drawn from soft-core, argues Andrews, require an entirely different analysis from the one porn studies has provided of hard-core pornography.

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  • Kipnis, Laura. Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America. New York: Grove, 1996.

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    Kipnis’s excellent book, chapters of which have been widely anthologized (for example, in Lehman 2006, cited in Textbooks and Anthologies), analyzes pornography as a crucial form of contemporary national culture. Starting from the premise that there is more to pornography than simply a celebration of gender oppression, Kipnis specifies the social meanings encoded within various subgenres of contemporary porn, mining the lowbrow for its sometimes subversive content.

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  • Koch, Gertrud. “On Pornographic Cinema: The Body’s Shadow Realm.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 35 (1990): 17–29.

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    Originally appearing in 1981 in a German anthology on pornographic cinema, Lust und Elend: Das erotische Kino (Pleasure and misery: Erotic cinema; by K. Gramann, G. Koch, B. Pfletschinger, H. Schlüpmann, M. Winter, and K. Witte, Munich: Bucher), Koch’s essay was translated into English when pornography started to become a legitimate object for US film studies. Koch’s Frankfurt school training is evident in her approach to pornography as a genre defined by its historically specific exhibition contexts and the “organization of the senses” of modernity.

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  • Penley, Constance. “Crackers and Whackers: The White Trashing of Porn.” In White Trash: Race and Class in America. Edited by Matt Wray and Annalee Newitz, 89–112. New York: Routledge, 1997.

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    This essay, reprinted in Williams 2004 and Lehman 2006 (both cited in Textbooks and Anthologies), brings the question of class to the analysis of pornography (as does Kipnis 1996), analyzing its predilection for “white trash” aesthetics as a form of “trash” protest against bourgeois values and social hierarchies.

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  • Williams, Linda. “Corporealized Observers: Visual Pornographies and the ‘Carnal Density of Vision.’” In Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video. Edited by Patrice Petro. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

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    In a follow-up essay to Williams 1999, the author considers early pornographic photographs and stag films, arguing that they are exemplary of a new corporealized modern vision in which the distance between spectator and spectacle is collapsed. Along the way the essay engages and challenges both feminist film theory’s concept of the “male gaze” and Jonathan Crary’s influential book Techniques of the Observer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

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  • Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.” Exp. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

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    An expanded edition of the 1989 work that, as the first comprehensive scholarly analysis of pornography as genre, launched “porn studies.” Emphasizing the 1970s “golden age” of narrative theatrical porn, Williams identifies the key structural tropes of hard-core heterosexual pornography (such as the “money shot”) and connects its history to the history of cinema in general and to the emergence of modern regimes of sexuality.

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  • Wolf, Enrico. Bewegte Körper—bewegte Bilder: Der Pornographische Film; Genrediskussion, Geschichte, Narrativik. Munich: Diskurs Film, 2008.

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    The first book-length German contribution to the field of “porn studies” aiming to redress the invisibility of pornographic film in standard film histories and also to create a more elaborated place for pornography as genre within (German) film studies. Covers in some detail the history of pornographic films as well as production, distribution, and reception.

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Studies of the Industry

The works listed here include both sophisticated contemporary scholarship on production and exhibition and reportage-style “insider’s” accounts. Turan and Zito 1974 and Hebditch and Anning 1988 offer journalistic accounts of the industry at two distinct moments—the “golden age” of the 1970s and the late 1980s, when pornography was being produced on video. O’Toole 1998 offers an account of the industry in the 1990s centered in the San Fernando Valley as pornography was shifting online. (For an account of the gay male pornography industry, see Escoffier 2009, cited in Gay Male Pornography.) On the scholarly side, Lewis 2000 offers a classic and detailed account of the relation between Hollywood and the pornography industry, focusing on a crucial moment at the beginning of the 1970s when the boundaries between the two were suddenly up for renegotiation. Simpson 2004 provides a brief comparison of the industrial histories of pornography and mainstream cinema. Wyatt 1999 focuses on the advent of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings system at the end of the 1960s. Schaeffer 2004 and Gorfinkel 2006 are two excellent examples of contemporary approaches to pornography in terms of the history of its production, exhibition, and reception. Schaeffer 2004 focuses on the transition from soft-core sexploitation films to theatrical hard-core features from the 1960s to the 1970s, while Gorfinkel 2006 offers an account of film festival culture in the early 1970s and of an emergent cinephilia that encompassed sexually explicit film. Together these essays begin to fill in some of traditional film history’s long-standing gaps.

  • Gorfinkel, Elena. “Wet Dreams: Erotic Film Festivals of the Early 1970s and the Utopian Sexual Public Sphere.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 47.2 (Fall 2006): 59–86.

    DOI: 10.1353/frm.2006.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gorfinkel’s award-winning essay details a brief but important moment in the early 1970s, when erotic film festivals, showing a mix of pornographic and art house films, deployed a utopian rhetoric marrying discourses of aesthetic innovation to those of sexual liberation.

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  • Hebditch, David, and Nick Anning. Porn Gold: Inside the Pornography Business. London: Faber and Faber, 1988.

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    A detailed industry study from the late 1980s. The authors take an investigative journalist’s approach, providing an account of pornography as global business and numerous interviews with key industry figures. Not a scholarly text but a well-researched and detailed empirical account.

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  • Lewis, Jon. Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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    An important history of Hollywood’s relation to questions of censorship emphasizing the economic motive behind many of the twists and turns of the MPAA’s various strategies for regulating content. Especially interesting on the 1970s, when for a brief moment it looked as if pornography might enter the “mainstream.”

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  • O’Toole, Laurence. Pornocopia: Porn, Sex, Technology, and Desire. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1998.

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    Written for a popular audience, O’Toole’s book offers an engaging take on the history of pornography, censorship, and the “porn wars” followed by an in-depth journalistic report of the then-contemporary industry centered in the San Fernando Valley. The final chapters consider pornography’s move online. Includes many interviews with performers, viewers, and producers.

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  • Schaeffer, Eric. “Gauging a Revolution: 16mm and the Rise of the Pornographic Feature.” In Porn Studies. Edited by Linda Williams, 370–400. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Excellent historical study offering a nuanced account of the shift from sexploitation films in the 1960s to the theatrical hard-core features of the early 1970s, emphasizing the role of shifting technologies in effecting this development in the context of social and industrial conditions at the end of the 1960s.

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  • Simpson, Nicola. “Coming Attractions: A Comparative History of the Hollywood Studio System and the Porn Business.” Historical Journal of Television, Radio, and Film 24.4 (2004): 635–652.

    DOI: 10.1080/0143968042000293900Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a broad overview of the industrial history of moving-image pornography, comparing its structure to that of the “mainstream” film industry. Surveys available empirical data but also points up the difficulties in obtaining or verifying such data.

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  • Turan, Kenneth, and Stephen F. Zito. Sinema: American Pornographic Films and the People Who Make Them. New York: Praeger, 1974.

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    This early account of the pornographic film industry is written from an enthusiast’s perspective and includes interviews with directors and stars from the 1970s “golden era” of theatrical porn. Includes several chapters on gay male pornography.

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  • Wyatt, Justin. “The Stigma of X: Adult Cinema and the Institution of the MPAA Rating System.” In Controlling Hollywood: Censorhip and Regulation in the Studio Era. Edited by Matthew Bernstein, 238–264. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

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    Examines the implementation of the MPAA rating system, which replaced the Production Code in 1968, and the major studios’ relation to the shifting parameters of the X category within that system.

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Gay Male Pornography

Although many essays have been written on various aspects of gay male pornography, no one has provided an analysis as definitive of that category as the one Linda Williams provided of heterosexual hard core (see Williams 1999, cited in Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies). Many of the selections here offer appreciative takes on the history of gay sex films or of figures in that history. Capino 2005 makes a case for Wakefield Poole, director of the groundbreaking Boys in the Sand (1971), as an auteur whose artistic value transcends the category of pornographer. Escoffier 2009 provides a popular history of the industry. Stevenson 1997 offers a condensed overview. Waugh 1996 is the definitive study on gay male visual erotica up to the end of the 1960s. Dean 2009 is one of the few studies to suggest a theoretical framework and offers a sophisticated account of a particular subgenre of contemporary gay porn that eroticizes the possibility of HIV transmission. Cante and Restivo 2004 also offers a complex theoretical account. Dyer 1985 was one of the first attempts to account for the generic specificities of gay male pornography in terms of its narrative qualities and relationship to cultural norms of masculinity. Morrison 2004 takes a social science approach focusing on the negotiation of pornographic materials by consumers. A number of additional essays on gay male pornography are listed under Pornography and Racialization.

  • Cante, Rich, and Angelo Restivo. “The Cultural-Aesthetic Specificities of All-Male Moving-Image Pornography.” In Porn Studies. Edited by Linda Williams, 142–166. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Cante and Restivo, authors of a number of theoretically ambitious essays about gay male pornography (see also their contribution to Church Gibson 2004, cited in Textbooks and Anthologies), here argue that in gay porn the question of space takes on a significance it lacks in straight porn and that a refiguring of the public-private divide is central to both gay porn and gay male subjectivity.

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  • Capino, José B. “Seminal Fantasies: Wakefield Poole, Pornography, Independent Cinema, and the Avant-garde.” In Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream. Edited by Chris Holmlund and Justin Wyatt, 133–150. New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    Capino offers an appreciation of the films of Wakefield Poole, the gay pornographic cinema’s first auteur, arguing that Poole deserves to be taken seriously as a director of independent cinema.

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  • Dean, Tim. Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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    Presenting itself as a sociological (though richly theoretical) study of gay male barebacking subcultures, Dean’s book includes two important chapters on contemporary condomless gay pornography, the first focused on the notorious Treasure Island Media and its staging of “breeding” fantasies and the second offering a capacious account of fetishism as a key dimension of eroticism.

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  • Dyer, Richard. “Male Gay Porn: Coming to Terms.” Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 30 (1985): 27–29.

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    One of the earliest scholarly analyses of gay male pornography, Dyer’s short and still great essay, written at the height of the antipornography feminist movement, insists on defining porn as a genre—one with distinctive narrative characteristics and one that aims at provoking a bodily response (an idea elaborated much further in Williams 1999, cited in Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies).

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  • Escoffier, Jeffrey. Bigger Than Life: The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore. Philadelphia: Running, 2009.

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    Written for a general audience, Escoffier’s book provides a history of the commercial gay porn industry, emphasizing the key role pornography has played in gay male social history. Similar in approach to Hebditch and Anning 1988 (cited in Studies of the Industry) though with a different object, much of the material is based on extensive interviews with performers and industry figures.

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  • Morrison, Todd G., ed. Eclectic Views on Gay Male Pornography: Pornucopia. Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park, 2004.

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    Originally published as a special double issue of the Journal of Homosexuality (47.3–4), this collection approaches gay male pornography from a social science perspective emphasizing empirical methodologies and audience research. Notably includes two pieces—by Robert Jensen and Christopher Kendall—that adapt the arguments of antipornography feminism to a critique of gay male pornography.

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  • Stevenson, Jack. “From the Bedroom to the Bijou: A Secret History of American Gay Sex Cinema.” Film Quarterly 51.1 (Autumn 1997): 24–31.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.1997.51.1.04a00040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A very brief but still useful and accurate overview of the various production and reception contexts in which homoerotic and gay pornographic film, including avant-garde and experimental film, have been consumed in the United States. In some ways a concise summary of the story told in Waugh 1996.

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  • Waugh, Thomas. Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from Their Beginnings to Stonewall. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

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    An expansive and comprehensive study of gay male visual materials from early art photography and early cinema through to the 1960s. Includes copious visual materials and a detailed historiography of the production and circulation of male homoerotic images in various contexts—including home movies. The key text on the history of gay male visual culture.

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Lesbian and Queer Pornography

Compared to the large body of literature on gay male pornography, there exist relatively few studies of lesbian, transgendered, and (nongay male) queer pornography; this no doubt reflects the fact that such pornography is much less prevalent than gay male and heterosexual varieties. Theophano 2002 offers a helpful description of what does exist. Butler 2004 makes a good attempt to historicize the position of lesbianism in screen eroticism since the 1960s. Smyth 1990 focuses on the well-known lesbian-owned company Fatale Video, created in the 1980s to produce a specifically queer and lesbian pornography. Straayer 1996 includes a chapter on the performance artist and feminist pornographer Annie Sprinkle, arguing that her work helps destroy normative sexual categories, including those that shape our understanding of pornography’s allegedly gendered address. Califia 2000 is a classic of “sex radical,” transgender, and feminist criticism. Bright 2011 includes a discussion of lesbian video. Jacobs, et al. 2007 brings together the work of younger scholars writing about queer pornographic online ventures, and Nault 2010 examines queer developments in heterosexual pornography.

  • Bright, Susie. Susie Bright’s Erotic Screen. Vol. 1, 1969–1987: The Golden Hardcore and the Shimmering Dyke-Core. Santa Cruz, CA: Bright Stuff, 2011.

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    E-book. Bright, a prolific and popular author of prosex lesbian cultural criticism, is an impassioned advocate of pornography as a form of sexual expression and modality of sexual experience for women. This colorful, behind-the-scenes history of pornography before the Internet includes a chapter on lesbian video.

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  • Butler, Heather. “What Do You Call a Lesbian with Long Fingers? The Development of Lesbian and Dyke Pornography.” In Porn Studies. Edited by Linda Williams, 167–197. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Butler traces the history of lesbian screen eroticism in sexploitation, “golden age” pornography (where lesbian scenes for the most part appeared as a “warm-up” for straight sex), and subsequent explicitly lesbian video pornography (or what she calls “dyke porn”). The footnotes provide a useful archive of other existing literature on this topic.

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  • Califia, Pat. Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. 2d ed. San Francisco: Cleis, 2000.

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    In this updated edition of his 1994 collection, Califia—a pioneer of “sex radical” criticism—offers engaging and accessible takes on a variety of sexual themes, aggressively criticizing censorship and antipornography feminism, analyzing the “panic” over child pornography, and broaching issues of broad relevance to lesbian and queer sexuality, with a special focus on sadomasochism, leather, and other “perverse” practices.

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  • Jacobs, Katrien, Marije Janssen, and Matteo Pasquinelli, eds. C’lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2007.

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    Arising out of conferences in Amsterdam in 2005 and 2007, this (freely downloadable) collection includes contributions from artists and producers as well as (mostly young) scholars from Europe and the United States. The final section, “Netporn after the Queer Boom,” examines a variety of lesbian and queer online projects and sites, arguing for the proliferation of sexual possibilities made possible through online technologies.

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  • Nault, Curran. Bend over Boyfriend to Take It like a Man: Pegging Pornography and the Queer Representation of Straight Sex. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 52 (2010).

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    Nault explores what he calls a “queer” development in heterosexual porn: the rise of the substantial subgenre of “pegging” pornography, in which men are penetrated by their female partners. The essay offers both a descriptive account of this genre and a (generally positive) analysis of its political implications, suggesting that it “provides an example of queer theory in straight practice.”

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  • Smyth, Cherry. “The Pleasure Threshold: Looking at Lesbian Pornography on Film.” Feminist Review 34 (1990): 152–159.

    DOI: 10.1057/fr.1990.18Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides an account of a number of lesbian pornographic films from the 1980s, primarily by the lesbian-owned Fatale Video. Like Butler 2004, Smyth argues in favor of pornography as a means for lesbian sexual expression.

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  • Straayer, Chris. Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-orientations in Film and Video. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

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    This celebrated study focuses mostly on nonpornographic queer cinema and video but includes an appreciative and theoretically astute chapter on boundary crossing in the work of Annie Sprinkle.

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  • Theophano, Teresa. “Pornographic Film and Video: Lesbian.” In GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Edited by Claude J. Summers. Chicago: GLBTQ, 2002.

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    A helpful, brief discussion of important works of lesbian pornography in the United States since the advent of the first lesbian-produced works (by Fatale Video) in 1985. Includes a brief discussion of transgender pornography, also covered in a separate entry online.

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Pornography and Racialization

As several scholars have pointed out (see Bernardi 2006 and Nash 2006), the racialized dimension of moving-image pornography has not received enough attention from researchers, although this is fast changing. Many of the pioneering studies of racialization in pornography focus on gay male pornography, mostly in the US context. Cervulle 2007 is an exception, examining the Orientalist fantasies at work in the figure of the Arab “top” (i.e., penetrating partner in anal sex) in French gay porn. Fung 1991 is a classic study of the feminization and desexualization of Asian and Asian American men in US gay porn. Nguyen 2004 complicates Richard Fung’s argument by examining the star persona of Brandon Lee, an Asian American top. Mercer 1991, a reflection on the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s images of black men, is a famous analysis of racialization in the context of gay male fantasy. Shimizu 2007 examines the figure of the Asian woman from stag films to contemporary sexually explicit art. Williams 2004 examines the complex determinations of the fantasy of interracial sex between black men and white women. Bernardi 2006 castigates Linda Williams and other figures in porn studies for ignoring the racism endemic to much pornography, whereas Nash 2006, taking a different tack, argues not that most porn is racist but rather that race is a crucial, missing dimension of feminist analyses of pornography. While most of the studies listed here are concerned with representation, Miller-Young 2010 is based on extensive ethnographic research focusing on black women’s labor in the pornography and sex work industries.

  • Bernardi, Daniel. “Interracial Joysticks: Pornography’s Web of Racist Attractions.” In Pornography: Film and Culture. Edited by Peter Lehman, 220–243. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

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    Bernardi criticizes the field of porn studies (see Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies) for failing to sufficiently comprehend the racism that structures most pornographic representations: these representations, he argues (with reference to numerous websites) position the white man as sole subject of pleasure and power and traffic in irremediably racist stereotypes.

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  • Cervulle, Maxime. “De l’articulation entre classe, race, genre et sexualité dans la pornographie ‘ethnique.’” In Études culturelles et cultural studies. Edited by Bernard Darras, 221–228. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007.

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    The French scholar Cervulle explores a theme subsequently developed in his book (with Nick Rees-Roberts) Homo exoticus: Race, classe et critique queer (Paris: Colin, 2010): the complex politics of fantasy at work in the positioning of Arab men as tops in contemporary French gay pornography, starting with Jean-Daniel Cadinot’s Harem (1984).

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  • Fung, Richard. “Looking for My Penis.” In How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video. Edited by Bad Object-Choices, 145–168. Seattle: Bay, 1991.

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    Fung’s classic and frequently anthologized analysis of the way racial meanings are codified in American gay male pornography, such that Asian men are desexualized, appearing as the passive partner, servant, or “bottom.”

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  • Mercer, Kobena. “Skin Head Sex Thing: Racial Difference and the Homoerotic Imaginary.” In How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video. Edited by Bad Object-Choices, 169–222. Seattle: Bay, 1991.

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    Not an essay about pornography as such, Mercer’s famous analysis of Robert Mapplethorpe’s black male nudes is nevertheless a key text in approaching the question of race and sexual representation. Mercer reconsiders his own earlier condemnation of “racial fetishization” in Mapplethorpe’s work, offering a more nuanced and appreciative (if still ambivalent) account.

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  • Miller-Young, Mireille. “Putting Hypersexuality to Work: Black Women and Illicit Eroticism in Pornography.” Sexualities 13.2 (2010): 219–235.

    DOI: 10.1177/1363460709359229Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on extensive ethnographic research in the pornography and sex-work industries, Miller-Young’s essay offers an empirical account of black women’s labor (and frequently devalued status) in these industries. Like Shimizu 2007, rather than aligning herself with an antipornography and anti-sex-work position, Miller-Young emphasizes the paradoxical possibilities for agency and “erotic autonomy” in black women’s sexual labor.

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  • Nash, Jennifer C. “Bearing Witness to Ghosts: Notes on Theorizing Pornography, Race, and Law.” Wisconsin Women’s Law Journal 21 (2006): 47–72.

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    Deals with the problematic way race has appeared, or failed to appear, in feminist analyses of pornography. Calls for a more complex account of the mutual imbrications of race and gender in pornography and thus of the significance of race in shaping notions of gender and sex. Since its primary concern is with the shortcomings of existing approaches, the essay adumbrates without yet delivering the analysis it calls for.

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  • Nguyen, Hoang Tan. “The Resurrection of Brandon Lee: The Making of a Gay Asian American Porn Star.” In Porn Studies. Edited by Linda Williams, 223–270. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Nguyen, responding in part to Fung 1991, focuses on the Asian American porn star Brandon Lee, who became famous as an Asian American top, and analyzes the complex racial fantasies at work in the construction of Lee’s star image.

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  • Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    Shimizu argues that the study of pornography is crucial to our understanding of the construction of racial identities; rather than merely castigating what she diagnoses as the “hypersexualization” of Asian/American women in (primarily US) media culture, Shimizu argues that the sexualization of race also produces forms of pleasure and fantasy for racialized subjects themselves.

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  • Williams, Linda. “Skin Flicks on the Racial Border: Pornography, Exploitation, and Interracial Lust.” In Porn Studies. Edited by Linda Williams, 271–308. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Williams takes on the topic of race in pornography through an analysis of various heterosexual interracial (black-white) hard-core scenes and of the sexploitation film Mandingo (1975). She argues that the anachronistic taboo on miscegenation structures a particular form of desire exploited in sexploitation films and interracial pornography and examines the complex relation of racial stereotypes to sexual fantasy.

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Audience and Empirical Studies

Many of the political debates over pornography have focused on the question of its “effects” on viewers. Donnerstein, et al. 1987 offers an assessment of available research by behaviorist psychologists whose own research was consulted in the preparation of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in 1986. Albury, et al. 2008 details a major study of Australian consumers of pornography and attempts to situate pornography’s position as a quotidian object. Loftus 2002 is also based on interviews, this time of heterosexual male pornography users. Robert J. Stoller, a psychoanalyst, interviewed performers and uses these interviews as the basis of his psychological reading of sex and pornography (Stoller 1991).

  • Albury, Katherine, Alan McKee, and Catharine Lumby. The Porn Report. Carlton, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 2008.

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    Based on a three-year study funded by the Australia Research Council, this book reports on the results of the researchers’ extensive interviews with pornography producers and consumers in Australia. With sections on feminist porn and amateur porn, its overarching emphasis is on the diversity of pornography and its status as an everyday part of contemporary sexuality. Engaging and designed for general audiences.

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  • Donnerstein, Edward, Daniel Linz, and Steven Penrod. The Question of Pornography: Research Findings and Policy Implications. New York: Free Press, 1987.

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    The behaviorist psychologist Donnerstein was a key witness for the Meese Commission, which based its arguments for censorship on his findings that exposure to certain kinds of pornography may lead to desensitization to sexual violence. In this book, appearing a year after the Meese Commission report, the authors review the research on the social effects of pornography and conclude that onscreen violence poses more of a problem than pornography per se.

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  • Loftus, David. Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography. New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2002.

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    Loftus, a journalist, interviews almost 150 (heterosexual) men about their experiences with pornography, aiming to provide an evocative, empirical account from a variety of men’s personal perspectives that also debunks many of antipornography feminism’s claims about the male response to porn.

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  • Stoller, Robert J. Porn: Myths for the Twentieth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

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    Stoller, a psychoanalyst who has written widely on sexuality, interviews a number of performers in the heterosexual pornography industry, weaving into this reportage a nonpathologizing, psychoanalytic/psychological account of the hostility (against one’s parents or society) that is inherent to eroticism.

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Philosophical Approaches

Many writers have treated pornography as a conceptual problem or an occasion for philosophical reflection. Soble 2002, in the US context, and Ogier 2008, in the French, both rebut arguments that would condemn pornography on moral grounds as well as the feminist antipornography position. Ferguson 2004, working in a Foucauldian tradition, reads the emergence of modern forms of pornography as exemplary of the rise of utilitarianism. All three consider the moral and conceptual issues around pornography “in theory,” but whereas Frances Ferguson makes her argument through close readings of literary texts, Alan Soble and Ruwen Ogier speak only of pornography as a general category.

  • Ferguson, Frances. Pornography, the Theory: What Utilitarianism Did to Action. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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    Focusing on literary examples, including the Marquis de Sade and D. H. Lawrence, Ferguson argues that the emergence of pornography in western Europe in the late 18th century was linked to the rise of utilitarianism. Pornography here is both a real historical genre or mode and a model for the social structure of modernity.

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  • Ogier, Ruwen. Penser la pornographie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008.

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    Ogier approaches the debates over pornography from the perspective of moral philosophy. Examining the views that pornography is degrading to women, that it incites sexual violence, and that it is corrupting to youth, Ogier finds each flawed. The discussion is limited by its failure to include any actual textual analysis and thus to distinguish between different kinds and contexts of moving-image pornography.

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  • Soble, Alan. Pornography, Sex, and Feminism. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2002.

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    The analytic philosopher Soble has written several interesting books on sex and pornography. Here he takes on feminist and conservative arguments against pornography, arguing against the view that certain acts and their representations are “ontologically” degrading; rather, processes of fantasy are highly individual and sexual images polysemic.

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Internet and Digital Technologies

“Pornography,” as Zabet Patterson puts it, “is going on-line” (Patterson 2004). While most essays about contemporary pornography necessarily use online examples, the essays here theorize the relation between emergent digital technologies and pornography specifically. How do new technologies change the role pornography plays in contemporary culture? What can pornography tell us about the characteristics of interactive media environments? Work in this area is still fledgling. Chun 2006 is the most wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated account to date. Brathwaite 2007 deals with the gaming industry’s negotiation of the question of sexual content in video games. Patterson 2004 and Wynter 2007 offer accounts of the new forms of pleasure and desire occasioned by new technologies: Kevin Wynter’s take is more cautionary and Patterson’s more celebratory. Attwood 2010 brings together numerous scholars writing about contemporary pornography, mostly engaged in representational criticism. Jacobs 2011 is a major study of online pornography in the People’s Republic of China that demonstrates that the Internet both transcends and remains tied to national contexts. For an early account of pornography’s shift online, see also O’Toole 1998 (cited in Studies of the Industry).

  • Attwood, Feona, ed. Porn.com: Making Sense of Online Pornography. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.

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    Attwood has published several collections on pornography. This one includes all new essays by mostly young, UK-based scholars on various international kinds of Internet cultures. The great diversity of online porn leads to a wide diversity of topics, from child pornography to extreme and “shock” imagery, but most are focused on content rather than questions of technology per se.

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  • Brathwaite, Brenda. Sex in Video Games. Boston: Charles River Media, 2007.

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    An industry-focused study by the games designer Brathwaite that examines the history of sexual content in video games along with the industry’s attempts at self-regulation.

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  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Screening Pornography.” In Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. By Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, 77–128. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

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    Chun, a preeminent theorist of new media, is less interested in pornography itself than in the way it crystallizes anxieties over the Internet’s collapse of public and private space. Includes an illuminating discussion of major legislative and judicial battles over regulating Internet content.

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  • Jacobs, Katrien. People’s Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2011.

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    A wide-ranging, ethnographic study of Internet porn cultures in China by the Hong Kong–based author of a number of important books and articles on pornography. Jacobs’s interest is in new media-based “subcultures,” “do it yourself” (DIY) pornography, and the way the Internet facilitates the proliferation of sexual cultures even in the face of their official proscription.

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  • Patterson, Zabet. “Going On-line: Consuming Pornography in the Digital Era.” In Porn Studies. Edited by Linda Williams, 104–126. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Patterson’s contribution (see also Williams 2004, cited in Textbooks and Anthologies) attempts to specify the generic features of online pornography and the new relations between user/spectator and content—the new forms of embodied “habitus” and new modalities of pleasure and desire—occasioned by new technologies.

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  • Wynter, Kevin. “Towards a Theory of Virtual Pornography: A Phenomenological Introduction to Virtual Sex Simulators in the ‘Naive Realist’ Paradigm.” CineAction 72 (Spring 2007): 16–22.

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    A preliminary attempt to provide, using quite technical language, a phenomenological account of interactive sex simulators: where the “spectator” becomes an active participant, via a digital avatar, in a nonlinear, nonnarrative sexual scene.

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Pornography and Everyday Life

The works in this section approach pornography as an everyday domestic artifact. They thus move away from large political claims or the question of whether pornography should or should not exist and focus on how it operates, concretely, as part of the fabric of everyday life. Albury, et al. 2008 is a major study of the quotidian role of pornography in the lives of its Australian research subjects. Juffer 1998 is a classic study of women’s use of pornography. Barcan 2002 focuses on the aesthetics of ordinariness in the proliferating online genre of “homemade” pornography.

  • Albury, Katherine, Alan McKee, and Catharine Lumby. The Porn Report. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008.

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    This study, also discussed in Audience and Empirical Studies, is mostly focused on the place of pornography in the everyday lives of Australians. It aims to move beyond the high drama of existing debates to come to an appreciation of pornography’s less dramatic, more quotidian dimensions.

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  • Barcan, Ruth. “In the Raw: ‘Home-Made’ Porn and Reality Genres.” Journal of Mundane Behavior 3.1 (2002).

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    An Australian study, this essay examines the rise of “reality” genres in contemporary online pornography, including homemade pornography or professionally made pornography using “ordinary”-looking models. Barcan is interested in the everyday quality of sexual media and finds in “ordinary” porn a resistance to mediated images of perfection.

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  • Juffer, Jane. At Home with Pornography: Women, Sex, and Everyday Life. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

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    A study of women’s everyday domestic consumption of pornography. Juffer argues that sexual stimulation is a human need and that women’s negotiation of erotic visual materials (including lingerie catalogues, erotic literature, and porn proper) can be empowering.

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Popular Accounts

Pornography, always a big seller, has been the object of dozens (perhaps hundreds) of popular accounts. Listed here are two examples that take divergent positions. Paul 2005 is condemnatory, while Nathan 2007 is curious and mostly sympathetic.

  • Nathan, Debbie. Pornography: A Groundwork Guide. Toronto: Groundwood, 2007.

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    Nathan is a journalist who takes a more or less sympathetic approach to pornography as a cultural phenomenon. Argues against Paul 2005 that the “negative” effects of pornography are not so unlike those caused by other forms of media (for example, Vogue magazine). Includes very short, easy-to-read chapters on feminist debates, the industry, workers, landmarks in the history, and so forth. Written for a popular and not a scholarly audience.

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  • Paul, Pamela. Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. New York: Times Books, 2005.

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    In this widely read book based on interviews with (mainly) young heterosexual men, Paul argues for pornography’s ubiquity and for its impact on our everyday relationships. She purports to remain impartial, but her condemnatory position is evident in the altered subtitle that was used for the paperback edition: How Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families.

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LAST MODIFIED: 08/29/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791286-0153

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