My academic career has been centred on considerations of the ways in which pornography matters to those who consume it and to those who would condemn it. I am interested in the textual formations of pornography and how those play out across different technologies; in how people access and engage with pornographic materials and with other forms of sexualized products; I’m also intrigued by the constant demands for increasing regulation and censorship which rarely seem to engage with the idea that pornographies are realms of representation which dramatise all kinds of sexual feelings and fantasies and therefore actually matter to people in important ways. I have written about the problems of attempts to legislate against pornography and have been active in opposing measures which seek to criminalise the imagination. Alongside this work, I have written about porn-star performances, the meanings of masochism in sexual storytelling, the idea of ‘authenticity’ in pornography and how audiences speak about the films they like, I’m currently working on projects which seek to explore the nuances of porn’s storytelling about sexual desire and which don’t shy away from some of the more outlier or outrageous elements of pornographic productions.
My doctoral research looked at pornography for women and tried to understand, through the use of interviews and questionnaires, just what pleasures and disappointments women felt in a sexually explicit magazine aimed at them. This was necessarily a limited project and it was always my intention to do a larger more comprehensive venture which would explore how and why men and women, of whatever sexual orientation and status, use and enjoy pornographic media. For ten years, I’ve planned this research and finally, because of the fantastic opportunities offered by the internet for gathering responses from across the globe and in situ – in the spaces and places that most people now access sexually explicit films, stories and pictures – it is possible. I hope we’re going to gather hundreds if not thousands of responses so that this research can make an intervention in all those spaces where politicians, campaigners and moral entrepreneurs make claims about the ‘effects’ of pornography on society.
Clarissa Smith, Reader in Sexualities and Culture, University of Sunderland
Some key publications:
Extreme Concern: Regulating ‘Dangerous Pictures’ in the United Kingdom, Journal of Law and Society, vol. 37, no. 1 (with Feona Attwood, 2010)
Pornographication: A Discourse for All Seasons, International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, vol. 6, no.1 (2010)
Pleasure and Distance: Exploring Sexual Cultures in the Classroom, Sexualities, (Special Issue, 2009)
One for the Girls! The Pleasures and Practices of Reading Women’s Porn, Intellect (2007)