In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pornography

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks and Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • General Accounts
  • Early Approaches
  • Government and Censorship
  • Pornography as Genre: Porn Studies
  • Studies of the Industry
  • Gay Male Pornography
  • Lesbian and Queer Pornography
  • Pornography and Racialization
  • Audience and Empirical Studies
  • Philosophical Approaches
  • Internet and Digital Technologies
  • Pornography and Everyday Life
  • Popular Accounts

Cinema and Media Studies Pornography
Damon Young
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0153


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.

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.