TIME Pop Culture

The Porn Studies Journal Is a Real Thing — And I Read It

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With article titles like 'Why Internet Porn Matters,' you can't go wrong

Want your academic journal to get some attention? Just make it free and about porn to bring in the ever-desirable “free porn” readership. Case in point: Porn Studies, the academic quarterly that published its inaugural issue today.

I read through the issue and, for better or for worse, anyone looking for titillation is likely to be disappointed. (Unless what turns you on is sociological analysis, in which case — it’s your lucky day.) Despite the tantalizing nature of its title, it’s dense albeit fascinating academic content, with articles like “People’s pornography: sex and surveillance on the Chinese internet” and “Finding gender through porn performance.”

But the sophistication of the analysis doesn’t mean there’s nothing relevant to the average reader in the journal: porn, it turns out, is at a turning point — at least academically. In the introduction to the journal, Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith (of Middlesex University, appropriately, and University of Sunderland, both in the UK) explain why they think Porn Studies is needed: it’s gotten a lot easier to study the topic, as pornography has grown more accessible and the media has developed an interest in covering it, but the field is still young. While academics from many fields, from cultural studies to psychology, talk about porn, they sometimes talk around each other. Porn Studies aims, among other goals, to be the place where they figure out how to talk about it and research it.

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. 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… Academic work has begun to chart these developments and the field has taken on a new urgency and significance given the continued position of pornography at the centre of controversies around media, gender, sexuality and technology. Pornographies, their spread, their imageries, their imaginaries and their consumption always have a high profile, but in the past decade or so interest in pornography has grown exponentially – with a concomitant increase in claims about porn’s effects, both positive and negative.

If Porn Studies succeeds in that goal, research about porn won’t be twisted into click-baiting reports on how porn is destructive — unless the research actually shows that it is.

But that time isn’t here yet. So if what you’re looking for are weird sex facts, here’s one standout: An analysis of the tags used to search for porn online showed there’s something extra-appealing about Danes. Though the researchers found that search terms usually follow predictable clusters in the “porn semantic network” (“spanking” and “latex” go together, as do “upskirts” and “voyeur” — makes sense), some terms work as bridges between interest clusters. One of those terms is “Danish.” The researchers don’t go into why, and we don’t have any guesses either.

Also, there is such a thing as “fair-trade porn” and it’s not a joke; it describes content made with feminist ethics in mind. Also, there are ten distinct ways that consumers use pornography. Who knew?

One paper found, somewhat depressingly, that one of the major reasons users look at porn is because they have nothing better to do. Now, though, that reason is obsolete — anyone can just go read Porn Studies instead.

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