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Review: The Porn Report

Review: The Porn Report

Tired of wading through all the crap put forth by organizations like Morality in Media, Family Research Council, American Family Association and the like, which promise "scientific evidence of the true harms of pornography" but deliver only anecdotes, opinions and other pseudo-scientific nonsense? Then The Porn Reportis what you're looking for!

Created by Dr. Katherine Albury and Prof. Catharine Lumby, both faculty of the Centre for Social Research in Journalism and Communications at the University of New South Wales, and Alan McKee, an associate professor at the Queensland University of Technology and Chief Investigator of Understanding Pornography in Australia, the first comprehensive examination of the production and consumption of pornography in Australia, The Porn Report is nothing less than the state of the art in sociological research... with possibly one exception, but more on that later.

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The work's mission is simple: "The authors of this book believe that we need to have an informed debate about [porn's] role in our society, and that means knowing more about what's in popular forms of pornography, who consumes it, how it affects their lives and how we can protect children from unwanted exposure to sexually explicit material," they write in the book's introduction. "Most discussions of pornography to date have relied on anecdotal experience or on very selective surveys of material. And when it comes to consumers, the general approach in media debates has been to portray them in stereotypical terms as sad old men or misogynistic misfits, despite the fact that the most conservative estimates suggest that up to one-third of adult Australians consume pornography and that a significant proportion are female."

The authors begin by trying to define what porn is, noting that cultures through the ages have defined it for themselves, and those definitions (or at least acceptances and proscriptions) often disagreed with both their forebears and their neighbors.

Importantly, however, they note, "As the major institution controlling knowledge in a feudalistic society, the Christian Church was one of the key bodies regulating what people could read. Its power to censor was bound up with its power over the production and dissemination of handwritten manuscripts in monasteries, at least up until the invention of the printing press in 1436." This may have been in part because, "Marginalia [in twelfth-century illuminated manuscripts] included portrayals of priests with erections, masturbating nuns and sexual couplings that saw clergy consorting with demons and animals."

One aspect of the "porn discussion" that these authors note is equally true (if not moreso) in this country: "While millions of Australians quietly live their lives and use pornography, the only people we hear from in public debates are church leaders, social scientists, politicians and commentators—people whose claim to expertise on the issue is the very fact that they themselves don't watch porn, aren't friendly with anybody who watches porn, and don't know anything about the everyday use of porn."

"This isn't seen as a problem," the authors continue. "In fact, it seems to be the first qualification you need for speaking about porn in public. The only porn users you ever hear from in the media are people who call themselves 'addicts' and are trying to stop using it."

The report is filled with tidbits like that, but such realities serve to point up the need for a true survey of porn users—and that's exactly what the authors have done: Talked to 1,023 users—sadly, predominantly male (82%)—from all over their country and got their preferences and opinions on many aspects of the genre.

And did they have preferences! For instance, since it's illegal to sell porn in Australian states, though easily purchased by mail-order, 37% of respondents said they chose their movies by its description in a catalog, followed by 33% who said they picked by the cover photo, and 32% who went by the description on the back cover. Twenty-seven percent chose based on the movie's star, 11% based on its director, and 15% on magazine reviews. Just 11% went by friends' recommendations.

Asked to identify what made "good pornography," and allowed to check multiple answers, 69% said "attractive actors/actresses," the same percentage said "enthusiasm in sex scenes"—a topic the authors explore somewhat at length—while 51% wanted "real-looking bodies, and 45% wanted "good production values."

One thing they generally don't want to see, however, is violence, which they note was present in only 2% of the scenes in the 50 best-selling adult movies in 2003. They also looked at what porn is available on the internet, and found that consumers prefer amateur sites, and that, "It takes a bit of work to find the worst material." They also note that the link between violent porn and sexual assault/rape is tenuous at best, with research results from laboratory experiments often failing to be successfully replicated.

One interesting correlation the authors found was that, "Pornography doesn't cause negative attitudes towards women. But religion does."

Also of interest is what age respondents first saw porn: Of those 66 and over, more than a third saw it before they were 16 years old, while of those who turned 16 between 1990 and 2001, over 79% saw it before they reached that age.

There are plenty more demographics, including plenty of revealing quotes from those surveyed, but perhaps one of the most important statistics generated by the survey was that 93% of respondents—porn consumers all—said they had experienced no negative effects from watching porn.

"Yet," the authors note, "the entire tradition of social science research into pornography has started from the assumption that porn is a major cause of negative attitudes towards women, and has then set out to prove this. In laboratories, by showing pornography to people who don't normally watch it, and by ignoring the fact that pornography in the real world is used for pleasure, some scientists have managed to produce negative results from exposure to pornography."

And what were the actual effects? Well, 14% said its most important effect was to "make[] them more relaxed and comfortable about sex"—the number one answer—while another 10% said it "makes them more open-minded and willing to experiment." Other responses in the single digits revealed that porn "makes them more tolerant of other people's sexual pleasures," "causes sexual arousal and pleasure," "educates them about the mechanics of sex," and "makes them more attentive to their partner's pleasure." Just 2% said it "causes them to objectify people."

The second section of the report is devoted to "Current Issues and Debates," including the evolution of feminist porn (giving major props to Fatale Video, Candida Royalle, Good Vibrations, Susie Bright and Tristan Taormino); "do it yourself" amateur video and small-label producers (including a brief shout-out to celeb porn and One Night in Paris); child porn (where the authors note that, "One of the strongest arguments for age-appropriate sex education in our schools is that it lifts the taboo on discussing bodies and sexual feelings, makes children more comfortable about disclosing any abuse to parents or others, and gives children a healthy sense that they have a say in who touches them and who doesn't."); and "cyberporn" (where they found that 38% of boys but only 2% of girls age 16 and 17 had seen porn on the internet, and that, "none of [our interviewees] said they felt harmed by coming across pornography at a younger age").

One important segment of the book is the chapter, "Porn, Sex and Ethics," so it's disconcerting to see this description of one "extreme" example of how some movies are cast: "Your agent calls you and tells you there's a job for you in a new video. You're nervous, but you need the money and you've gone too far into this porn business to back out now. You arrive at the location, an upscale house in Los Angeles. The filmmaker tells you the other girl he hired is sick, so you'll; have to do the scenes she was booked to do, as well as your own. One will be a double penetration scene, with two men you've never met before. Although you've heard that you have a right to know the results of your co-performers' most recent HIV tests, no one mentions HIV or any other kinds of infection. There are no condoms on the set. During the scene, the men slap and choke you, while calling you a slut and a whore. You begin to cry. Although you've never had anal sex before, the filmmaker convinces you to do the anal scene the other performer was booked to do. By the end of the day you're exhausted. You feel bullied and used."

It's sad to see such exaggerations and outright lies included in this excellent work, especially since the authors claim the description is "based on real accounts by first-time porn performers." (Shelley Lubben?) While we have no doubt that some of those unsavory practices have occurred in the past, most no longer do, and when AIM was still functioning, it provided newcomers with videos by seasoned performers that, had they watched them, would have made clear that most of the described practices were ample reasons to bolt from the set and raise an industry-wide stink.

More disturbingly, this chapter also notes that, "In her survey of all three years' worth of AVNs [2001-2003], Kath was struck by the images and language used to market porn to US buyers. Although an actual sexual fetish for humiliation is rate, even in the BDSM scene, a substantial amount of porn was marketed as if audiences and producers alike believe that sex is inherently degrading and that female performers should be humiliated for being sexual." Sadly, this problem continues to this day for some producers, and the authors call some of them out by name and castigate them for their depictions of female performers as "'dumb sluts' who 'deserved' poor treatment."

Overall, however, The Porn Report is an excellent study that both highlights the preferences and displeasures of Australia's porn-watching public, and makes comments on the state of the industry circa 2003 which are still valuable today.

Simply put, this is a report that every adult industry member and supporter should read—and commit some portions of it to memory!

**

The Porn Report By Alan McKee, Katherine Albury and Catharine Lumby; Melbourne University Press, 2008; 224 pp; $27 (Amazon.com)






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