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    Why We Need an Academic Journal for Pornography

    Written by

    Kelly Bourdet

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    Porn Studies is a newly formed, peer-reviewed academic journal for pornography. The publication is now accepting submissions. Its creators describe it as such:

    Porn Studies is the first dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal to critically explore those cultural products and services designated as pornographic and their cultural, economic, historical, institutional, legal and social contexts. Porn Studies will publish innovative work examining specifically sexual and explicit media forms, their connections to wider media landscapes and their links to the broader spheres of (sex) work across historical periods and national contexts.

    This is an exciting moment for those interested in how depictions of sexuality affect, shape, alter, and ultimately form a culture’s acceptance of various practices, subject matter, body types, and more. Pornography is a hugely influential form of media, one that is hardly ever discussed in serious terms due to societal discomfort. And when it is discussed seriously, it can be through a narrow lens—showcasing only what is worst about the medium, and ignoring its potential to reflect positive attitudes and affect social change. Such was the situation in Iceland, where public health officials and one-sided academics suggested banning violent pornography (or all pornography), fearing it projects misogynist views of women and retrograde sexual dynamics.

    The feminist porn movement, initiated by performers like Annie Sprinkle and Nina Hartley, has found a firmer foothold in the internet age. There are now production studios, performers and digital platforms dedicated to providing feminist pornography in a market otherwise saturated with a distinctly male vision of sexuality. This is immensely important.

    A recent study published by researchers in the Netherlands found that the relationship between pornography and sexual behaviors was modest, at best, and have likely been overestimated in the past. He found that only 0.3 percent and percent of sexual practices of the participants (4,900 men and women aged 15-25) could be attributed to the pornography viewed. They found that risky sexual practices were often more correlated with sensation-seeking personalities than with specific pornography usage.

    Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal’s Holly Finn wrote a scathing rebuttal of the scientists’ study based on her own anecdotal evidence. In it, she echoes the sensationalist and fear-mongering idea that pornography addiction is somehow rampant in society-mind you, recent research found that 70 percent of men and 30 percent of women watch pornography.

    She quotes a doctor at a pornography recovery center in Utah, a state known for its religiously influenced view of sexuality and, perhaps correspondingly, the highest per-capita online pornography subscriptions in the union. Is it any wonder that a culture that shames individuals for watching pornography might have so many people conflicted about their usage? Addiction is characterized by the inability to cease an activity despite a desire to do so or in the face of negative consequences. It’s possible that normal, abstinent individuals who rely on pornography to satisfy their sexual urges, but who have been raised in a culture that stigmatizes pornography use, might feel objectively worse about watching than those with a more accepting stance on porn or sexuality. They might, in fact, feel more comfortable with an “addict” identity, rather than identifying as a person who just likes to look at porn a lot. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some people with legitimate addictive and compulsive sexual behaviors, but I don’t think pornography addiction is a national epidemic.

    Pornography isn’t any one thing. Just like Michael Bay movies don’t represent “film,” mainstream porn certainly doesn’t represent the full spectrum of what is out there. Instead of decrying an entire, extremely popular medium, maybe we should think about it. Maybe we should acknowledge that pornography is powerful and that it depicts a wide range of sexuality—some empowering, some disempowering.  An academic take on porn might be just what we need.

    @kellybourdet

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