Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009

1

THE MEDICAL AUTHORITY OF PORNOGRAPHY

Meagan Tyler
The University of Melbourne Australia

Porn Cultures: Regulation, Political Economy, and Technology
Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th of June, 2009 Leeds, UK

Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb.edu.au

these connections had intensified and sexologists became concerned that their works were being circulated through the same underground networks as pornography. 2006.g. Attwood (ed. But there are also more subtle sites of pornographication which are yet to receive the same sort of attention. are rapidly becoming an area of significant academic interest (e. 2005. McNair. Sex advice columns in pornographic magazines were one of the most prominent ways in which this fusion occurred – the pornography industry gained greater legitimacy and Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb. or the mainstreaming of pornography. 2007. History Sexology. advertising and television programming. publications dealing with pornographication concentrate on particular areas of popular culture which are easily recognisable: fashion. 281-2). for example. and even authority. 2004).). By the 1920s. just as sexology was becoming a recognised discipline (Cocks. Most often. these circumstances radically changed as pornography became increasing socially acceptable in the West. Sørensen. 2007. instead of fearing a connection to pornography. p. Analyses of these prominent sites of pornographication tend to focus on the way in which pornography is gaining greater exposure.au . However. By the 1960s.Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 2 The processes of pornographication. between the distribution networks for pornography and scientific works on sexuality in the early 20th Century. While pornographers generally welcomed this relationship as it offered them some legitimacy. Nikunen & Saarenmaa (eds). Historians have noted the links. and pornography are generally conceived of as very separate entities but the history of the two has frequently intertwined. Paasonen. sexologists actively sought to fuse relationships with the growing pornography industry (Collins. 2003). 2009. 2002. and I wish to consider one of these today: the use of pornography in sexology and sex therapy.edu. Hall & Bishop (eds). 2004. 2003). In particular I wish to consider the way in which these branches of medicine are affording pornography considerable legitimacy. Poynor. 1996. Stø. in regard to sexual matters and the problems that this trend may pose for women. art. that is the scientific study of sexuality. sexologists feared that the connection to illegal materials could undermine their fledgling discipline (Cocks. influence and legitimacy in the mainstream. albeit limited.

The newly established discipline of modern sex therapy drew on pornography as an important tool for understanding human sexuality. This was done primarily through what became known as “Sexual Attitude Reassessment” workshops – or SARs – first trialled in the late 1960s. 1990). There was some debate over whether or not any discernable difference existed between the “professional” films and the hard-core pornography. for several hours at a time over the course of a two day period (Irvine. 2006). By the 1980s the SAR workshops had become so popular among medical professionals that SAR components were being integrated into university medical courses all over the US (Reiss. p. 1990. Furthermore. Indeed. SARs and Therapy Training Pornography and sexology also intertwined in the 1960s through the emerging 3 area of sex therapy. 1990). 1990. 2006. medical professionals could attend up to eight days of “training” which were composed mainly of watching pornographic films (Reiss. 2006). but any suggestion that they were clearly separate is tenuous at best (Irvine. where therapists would watch pornography.Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 sexologists were provided with a new way to market sexological ideas to the masses. 2002). (The American Association of Sexuality Educators. p. The materials used in the SAR workshops were generally a mix of hard-core pornography and so-called “professional” films produced by pharmaceutical companies (Irvine. 2006). But the SAR format also began to create controversy in the 1980s. The SAR workshops withstood such challenges. Reiss. and by the 1990s continued to be so widespread that the peak professional body for sex therapists in the US. the practice of using SAR screenings as part of standard medical Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb. usually on multiple screens simultaneously. Watching pornography was taken to be an important part of training for sex therapists.au .. released a set of standards to govern the curriculum of such workshops (Robinson et al. the distinction between the professional and the pornographic became even more blurred when the Playboy Foundation began funding SARs in the early 1970s (Reiss.edu. particularly in regard to the training of practitioners. Counselors and Therapists – AASECT). 2006). especially in the wake of prominent feminist challenges to pornography (Irvine. however. 63). 94) or therapists themselves (Reiss. At the height of the SAR trend.

They have trouble with desire or they have trouble with arousal. Pornography. 1999). This trend has been evident for at least a decade.. 2000. Black. It is also important to note that the recommendation of pornography in sex therapy tends to be for couples rather than individuals (Striar & Bartlik. Helen Singer Kaplan. wrote in his bestselling work The New Male Sexuality. and some of the most respected and well known figures in sexology have been supporters. a trained psychiatrist. Bernie Zillbergeld. 2007. 974). 1993. is predominantly seen by therapists as a way to “add Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb.g. Pornography as Therapy The use of pornography in sex therapy is not only limited to the training of professionals. 2006). 16). p. extolled the virtues of pornography for women suffering from “female sexual dysfunction” (FSD): Forty-three percent of women have some sort of sexual dysfunction.edu. mostly as a way for individuals and couples to “enhance” their sex lives (Striar & 4 Bartlik. for example. 1999). Furthermore. which can be used to suggest new “erotic materials” for patients (e.au . 113). p.Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 training is a practice that still continues at some US universities to this day (Robinson et al. She also advocated that pornography be prescribed by practitioners to help in the treatment of sexual dysfunctions (Slade. 1999. feeling more aroused or something to increase the pleasure of your sexuality… (Saltz quoted in Winfrey. or “erotic material” as it is more commonly referred to in sexological literature. 2006. And this [pornography] is a tool to use if you need help feeling more desirous [sic]. p. In a recent episode of the TV show Oprah. Today. 2002). 60). one of the first sexologists to theorise sexual desire. p. Pornography is frequently recommended by therapists to patients. sex therapist Gail Saltz. the use of pornography in therapy is now so widely accepted that the renowned journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy includes an “Internet and Multimedia Review” section. a prominent therapist. Hall. was quoted in the mid-1990s as referring to pornographic videos as “non-chemical aphrodisiacs” (quoted in Striar & Bartlik. pornography is still openly prescribed by many therapists as a way of treating sexual dysfunction. Another prominent figure. that the use of pornography by men and couples was “mainly beneficial” (Zillbergeld.

p. 61). 61). for example. however. Striar and Bartlik (1999) note. that women may not enjoy watching mainstream. Dworkin & MacKinnon. There is some acknowledgement within the literature on pornography and therapy. they explain. The use of pornography as a coercive strategy. They go on to warn fellow therapists that “some women with a history of sexual abuse may respond negatively to erotica that degrades or objectifies females” (p. Another way in which pornography can prove useful. becomes validated as a way for couples to achieve sexual “enhancement”. It therefore appears that sexually healthy women are expected to be aroused by such pornography. A more detailed analysis of Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb. Russell. Even after taking into account the risk of negative responses. 61). 1998). In one of the few academic articles to actually address this practice in sex therapy. Striar and Bartlik remain positive about the potential for pornography use in therapy. 61).Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 5 diversity to a monogamous relationship” (Striar & Bartlik. In this instance it appears qualified therapists are suggesting that pornography should be used as a tool when trying to convince an unwilling partner to perform a sex act that they do not wish to engage in. here. They further explain their rationale with the following example: “[I]t can be used to introduce a partner to a new mode of sexual experience that he or she might otherwise find distasteful or unacceptable” (p. 62 [emphasis mine]).g.edu. the expectation that healthy women should enjoy some level of objectification and degradation in pornography remains. is through “giving the viewer permission to model the behavior” (p. Despite this aside. One of the most serious problems with this sort of recommendation is that there is considerable evidence to suggest that pornography is already used as a coercive tool in heterosexual relationships and that many women suffer various forms of harm as a result (e. therapists Striar and Bartlik claim that pornography is particularly beneficial for “couples with incompatible sexual fantasies” (p. “Stimulation of the Libido: The use of erotica in sex therapy”. In this instance the recommendation by therapists seems to be merely offering medical legitimacy to a harmful practice which is already occurring in heterosexual relationships. hard-core pornography. 1997. 60). Responding negatively to objectifying or degrading material is taken to be a symptom of past abuse rather than a rational or healthy reaction.au . that there can be problems associated with the recommendation of mainstream pornography to women and suggest that women may instead prefer a new “sensitive genre of film created by and targeted for females” (p. 1999.

are acted out by couples who the viewer is told are “happily married” (Eberwein. Eberwein. 117). 2005. 2006. 2006. p. 1999. some former prostituted women and porn stars are known to have performed in such educational materials (e. p. Another therapist. 193). Althof & Kinsberg. p. Jules Black. Although the real identities of the actors are not provided. 1999.au . 117). 2006. couples should use the videos “like a textbook. Much like the use of “woman-centred” pornography. Monet. The main difference between mainstream pornography and “educational” materials such as the Better Sex series. like rereading a chapter” (quoted in Eberwein. The most commonly 6 recommended sex education videos in sex therapy are those from the Better Sex series (Hall. According to Dr Judy Seifer. put together by the Sinclair Intimacy Institute. freeze the frame. Kleinplatz. 40).edu. The videos include explicit sex scenes. She argues that what results is the “marketing of unabashed pornography dignified and masquerading as educational materials” (p. 1999). Leiblum. Striar & Bartlik. is the presence of a qualified sex therapist appearing intermittently throughout the sex scenes (Irvine. for example.g. Monet. one of the therapists involved in developing the Better Sex series. 2005).Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 what exactly it is in this material that couples are expected to “model” provides further evidence of the problems that pornography as therapy is likely to present for women. Stop the tape. These educational materials have their critics even from within sexology. p. hard-core pornography. p. 2006. which in the majority of cases. concurs that the bulk of the sex education genre is invariably “an excuse for soft porn” (Black. 1990. 1997. Kleinplatz. 2002. these educational videos can serve as a starting point in attempts to manipulate women into accepting more mainstream. 1999. Therapist Peggy Kleinplatz (1997). 125). has noted the similarities between pornography and the sex found in education videos. 200). Hartley. run by “well known and respected sexologist” Mark Schoen (Black. 1997. As former porn star Veronica Monet explains in her recent sex advice book: Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb. These are videos purportedly designed to instruct and enable couples to experience greater sexual pleasure. Sex Education Videos Take for example the set of products considered to be the most legitimate within sexology: therapist made sex education videos.

at the end of volume seven in the Better Sex series. She explained how she was forced. Linda Marchiano detailed her extensive abuse at the hands of her husband and pimp. including women shown naked but still wearing high heels and the use of the “money shot” (p. 1981). p. The connections between mainstream pornography and sex education materials have also been exposed by English Professor Robert Eberwein (1999). The Institute offers a “Sinclair Select” range of mainstream pornography videos which can be ordered over the internet. and in some cases activities familiar from pornographic movies actually appear” (p. sometimes at gun point. Customers are assured that the range is vetted by therapists and educators who choose only “high quality sex positive productions” (Sinclair Intimacy Institute. Indeed. She once even stated that: “every time someone watches that film. Eberwein gives a number of examples from the Better Sex series to illustrate this point. Consequently. 2005. and Deep Throat. a title card appears on screen stating that “[t]he fantasy scenes in this program were selected by sex educators from popular adult videos” (Eberwein 1999. to perform in Deep Throat. While these may not seem alarming at first.).Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 7 You might like to begin your quest for proper porn by purchasing an instructional video. Among the extensive list of “sex positive productions” are The New Devil in Miss Jones. in her autobiography Ordeal (Lovelace. 199 [emphasis mine]). 125 [emphasis mine]). p. x-rated footage is interspersed with instructional commentary from a doctor or sex therapist…However. Chuck Traynor. Jenna Loves Pain.edu. they are watching me being raped” (Marchiano quoted in Dworkin. they tend to do it with an academic flair. That such a film is labelled “sex positive” by the Sinclair Institute therapists should be serious cause for concern. He notes that: “Some of the elements in the tapes display pornographic conventions. 1980). 2007a.pag. Although these videos show real sex acts. 199). n. Deep Throat is a particularly revealing choice given the circumstances surrounding its production.au . Some of the videos even contain scenes which are simply spliced from mainstream porn. For instance. the Sinclair Intimacy Institute does also recommend the use of mainstream pornography. the content of these films can be seen as far from “sex positive” for women. Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb. this approach is an admittedly mild introduction to porn and is intended to be so (Monet. 199).

Jenna Loves Pain also received endorsement from the reviewers at Adult Video News. he read in the magazine how to tie the knots and how to bind me in a way that I couldn’t get out…[M]ost of the scenes where I had to dress up or go through different fantasies were the exact scenes he had read in the magazines (quoted in MacKinnon & Dworkin (eds). restraints and blindfolds’ can easily be found in sex stores and catalogues (p. Far from being a mild fetish title.). n. The New Devil in Miss Jones contains sex that is “universally good and downright edgy.Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 Moreover.pag. and that it includes an abundance of “high-end latex fetish ware” and “authentic BDSM action” (Ramone.). According to the top US porn industry magazine Adult Video News. 1997. for example. n. n. p. complete with instructions on how to bind his wife. This is especially the case in regard to bondage. It could well Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb. The problems with these materials are exacerbated by the fact that couples are indeed expected to model these sort of sex acts in order to enhance their relationships. double penetration and flogging in the closing scene…” (Pike-Johnson. discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM).pag. 61). This husband appears to have used the pornography very much like a textbook. The Sinclair Institute. It is unclear exactly what percentage of women are faced with scenarios such as this. 113-114). held in the early 1980s. as a result of pornography (Russell.au .. The idea that couples should use pornographic materials “like a textbook”.pag. 8 particularly for its themes of bondage. Deep Throat is not an isolated case. feminist sociologist Diana Russell found that approximately 10 percent of women in the US reported being forced into sex acts that they did not want. to borrow Dr Seifer’s phrase. when he finally convinced me to do it.). can again be seen as the medical legitimation of ways in which pornography is already used in heterosexual relationships. explained the way that her husband had used pornography during their marriage: [W]hen he asked me to be bound. discipline and sadomasochism. sells its own a range of BDSM wear and Striar and Bartlik (1999) helpfully inform fellow therapists that accessories to facilitate domination and submission fantasies. 2005. For example. but in the late 1980s. such as ‘whips. 2005. one woman who gave evidence at the Minneapolis pornography ordinance hearings. 1988).edu. 2005. with piercing. editor Mike Ramone stated that “Jenna Loves Pain raises the bar for what is possible in pure BDSM titles” (Ramone.

as the consumption of pornography among adult and adolescent populations in the West appears to be rising rapidly (Flood & Hamilton. Paul. is that the enterprises of sexology and pornography frequently interlink. Meagan Tyler tylerm@unimelb. McKee. it is important that the use of pornography in therapy be included in critical research on pornographication and sexuality. that porn stars are producing their own. Indeed pornography is now broadly considered so legitimate as a model for healthy and attainable sexuality. it makes it increasingly difficult for women and couples to step outside this model. Albury & Lumby.au . Tydén & Rogala. 2005. Monet. Hanson & Tydén. It is. Häggström-Nordin. These current trends. particularly in regard to instructions for women. 9 Moreover. 2004). have served to further legitimise pornography (Cocks. sex advice literature (e.edu. Adding medical authority to this practice will presumably make it increasingly difficult for women to be able to resist this pornographic model of sexuality in their own relationships. The advice-style material produced by porn stars and the advice-style material produced by the sex therapists is striking similar. 2003. Albury & Lumby. Respected sex therapists have provided commentary in. 2004. 2004). In sex therapy. 2004).g. 197). Anderson & Berman. 2003. 2008). in almost all instances. As pornography and sex therapy continue to provide mutually reinforcing understandings of what sex should be. it is believed that a considerable amount of these consumers integrate their pornography use into sex with a partner (Häggström-Nordin. 2006. 2008. even those developed by major pornography production houses such as Playboy (Eberwein. 1999. What I have really sought to highlight here today. 2005. p. As this trend appears to be intensifying. 2003. Royalle. Hanson & Tydén. pornography is presented as a textbook which can provide instruction on sexual technique and the genre of pornographic educational videos is one of the most obvious sites of material interconnection between these two industries. and endorsement of. a variety of educational videos. 2003.Porn Cultures Conference – Leeds 2009 be reasoned that this rate may now be much higher. bestselling. McKee. Hartley. as in past interactions between the pornography and sexology industries. women who are encouraged to mimic pornography and perform sex acts they do not wish to in order to please a partner.

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