‘Porn Studies’: The world’s newest scholarly journal


Show World Center porn shop is shown, Wednesday, March 29, 2012 in New York’s Times Square. The store features adult DVDs, peep shows, sex toys and pornographic magazines. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

There’s porn on television. Porn in magazines. Porn on smartphones. Porn on Twitter. Porn on playing cards. Porn in birthday cards. Porn in Anime. There’s even food porn.

Now there’s a porn academic journal.

The debut issue of Porn Studies, published by Routledge and co-edited by a professor of cultural studies at London’s Middlesex University, was released on Friday. It hails itself as the “first dedicated, international, peer reviewed journal to critically explore those cultural products and services designated as pornographic.”

Indeed, the journal teems in critical exploration. Some of the titles:

  • “Revisiting dirty looks”
  • “Hard to swallow: Hard-core pornography on screen”
  • “Pornography, porno, porn: Thoughts on a weedy field”
  • “Deep tags: Toward a quantitative analysis of online pornography”
  • “Internationalizing porn studies”
  • “Porn and sex education, porn as sex education”

Now more than ever, editors Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith say, the sociological and anthropological study of pornography has become essential to the understanding of contemporary society. There’s no doubt: Porn is everywhere, tantalizing, baffling and terrifying the masses. Late last year, three porn actors tested positive for HIV, and the industry was hit with several moratoriums on filming.

Then earlier this month, a 19-year-old college freshman at Duke University confessed she had become a porn star to pay for her college education, igniting a debate over not only the ballooning cost of tuition but also the growing role pornography plays in the culture.

“Porn is becoming an important part of increasing numbers of people’s lives, although what that means to them is something we still know very little about,” said the Porn Studies editors. “The ways that porn is produced and distributed have undergone rapid, radical and incremental change, but much of the popular discussion about those changes is still based on guesswork.”

Translation: There’s a lot of porn today. We don’t know what that means.

Despite the popularity of pornography, there are obstacles to publishing such scholarly work, editors say. For one, some haven’t taken their academic work seriously. “There were attempts to poke fun at the silliness of academic investigations of pornography in keeping with the perennial accusations of the superficiality of media studies, as well as more negative coverage questioning the need for a publication of this kind.”

Indeed, if this quote suggests anything, it’s that one of the greatest challenges facing the quarterly Porn Studies is the contrast between the carnal behavior of pornography and the academic codifications this journal has applied to it.

Still, it’s far from cold scientific inquiry. Some amorous tendencies have crept in. “Porn Studies,” the editors write, “has been a labor of love.”

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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