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Sex studies journal editors accused of ‘normalizing porn’

By Carole Cadwalladr, The Observer
Saturday, June 15, 2013 20:27 EDT
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New publication ‘will foster the normalisation of porn’, say critics

The editors of a new peer-reviewed journal into pornography studies, both senior academics at British universities, are “promoting pornography”, “ignoring” its potential harms, and are tantamount to “climate change deniers”, campaigners claimed last week.

As David Cameron called for companies to take action against sites that “pollute the internet” ahead of an emergency summit on internet pornography on Tuesday, academics and campaigners launched a furious attack on the editors of the new journal for what they see as “pro-porn bias”, which they fear “will further foster the normalisation of porn”.

The journal, which announced its call for papers a month ago, and will be published by Routledge next year, marks a turning point in the academic study and treatment of pornography. It is the first peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the subject and its editors – Feona Attwood, professor of cultural studies at Middlesex University, and Clarissa Smith, a reader in sexual cultures at Sunderland University – say it will offer a fresh cross-disciplinary approach and provide a focus for researchers working on porn.

However, a petition accusing journal of bias, and demanding that Routledge either change its editorial board or rename it “Pro-Porn Studies” has attracted 888 signatures, including from senior academics in North America and Europe, people working with the victims of sexual and domestic violence and health professionals.

Gail Dines, a British professor of sociology at Wheelock College, Boston, and the author of Pornland, said that, while it was vital that pornography was studied and research published, she had grave concerns about the editorial direction of the journal.

“These editors come from a pro-porn background where they deny the tons and tons of research that has been done into the negative effects of porn,” she said. “They are akin to climate-change deniers. They’re taking a bit of junk science and leaping to all sorts of unfounded conclusions.”

Attwood said it was untrue that they were ignoring the potential harms of porn

The board of Porn Studies has come in for particular criticism. It includes Tristan Taormino, whom Dines calls “a pornographer who has worked with the some of the most hard-core directors in the industry” and whom Attwood and Smith call “the editor of a recent and acclaimed book on feminist pornography as well as a director of feminist porn films”. There is also Violet Blue, a sex blogger, whom Smith claims is “one of the leading figures in tech writing in the world”.

Some 30% of all internet bandwidth is estimated to carry porn, and porn sites receive more traffic each month than Amazon, Twitter and Netflix combined, but until recently the increasing prevalence of violence content (a 2010 study of the 50 most popular sites found physical or verbal abuse against women in 90% of all content) and the growing ease of access has been largely ignored by academics, politicians and the mainstream press.

Stuart Hazell and Mark Bridger, recently convicted of the murders of Tia Sharp and April Jones respectively, were both found to have watched violent material, much of which was legal, and the subsequent furore prompted David Cameron to call for internet search companies to take urgent action to better police the results they deliver. On Tuesday Maria Miller, the culture secretary, will host an amergency summit with representatives from Google (and YouTube, which it owns), Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, BT, Virgin, Talk Talk, Vodafone, Sky, O2, EE and Three to discuss ways of better policing the internet, but campaigners said yesterday that legislation was required. They are demanding that the 2008 extreme pornography act needs amending to include rape porn.

Routledge has issued a statement saying that the proposal for the journal was “reviewed by six experts in the field, and we have every confidence that the editors and board are equally committed to our values”, but refused to comment on an accusation by Dines that it had “been derelict in its duty to uphold academic impartiality”.

Attwood said that “we absolutely haven’t said that the experience of front-line practitioners is irrelevant” but the problem was there was “very little good research on the experiences of actual women”.

“One of the key things we want Porn Studies to help develop research on is the experiences of actual women and men – whether they are people who consume porn, produce porn as amateurs or make a living in porn.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Image: "Beautiful Woman At Home Sitting On A Couch With A Laptop" via Shutterstock]

 
 
 
 
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