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Researching Gender and Sexual Politics

Shira Tarrant

People sometimes ask why I research porn. Itís a fair question.

The data shows that a lot of folks are "clicking," yet far fewer want to talk about it. Online pornography is ubiquitous yet taboo. Pornography is a lightening rod for (often contentious) political debate about important issues: sexual safety, moral panic, sex education, consent, pleasure, and social representation.

Pornography is also a global industry with algorithms, investors, distribution, and public policy. There are simultaneously concerns about trafficking, labor laws, and preventing teen access to adult content. As a political scientist focused on gender and sexual politics, pornography presents an important opportunity for research.

Iíve recently completed two books on the subject. The first is a co-edited collection (with Dr. Lynn Comella) titled New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law (Praeger). More recently, Oxford University Press published The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know. This book was the focus of a long-form piece in The New Yorker, which picks up on a slew of key issues I address.

On the occasion of the 2016 Republican National Convention, I was asked by the Western Political Science Association to write about the GOPís interest in pornography (ďThe Republicansí Porn ProblemĒ). The short version is that the GOP (and the state of Utah) has declared pornography a ďpublic health crisis that is destroying the life of millions.Ē While there are certainly sociopolitical and medical concerns that deserve attention, a range of studies do not support the political declaration that pornography is a public menace. As an interesting side note, data shows a higher rate of porn use specifically amongst the conservative and religious ó those less likely to support comprehensive sex education, birth control, and reproductive justice.

My current projects continue developing these themes regarding gender and sexual politics. In one aspect of this work, Iím turning my attention to American adolescent boys and teenagers and how they navigate conflicting cultural messages from popular culture and peers when it comes to gender, masculinity, and sex.

This project aims to incorporate feminist theory and current events with quantitative survey research and interview data. Iím planning to synthesize my previous research on masculinity and pornography, and further develop this work by conducting comprehensive interviews with scholars, educators, parents, psychologists, and young men about current issues in masculinity and sexuality ó and what is at stake.

The data themes emerging from this research will help suggest productive solutions to enjoy, critique, better understand, and interrupt (where necessary) the gender and sexual politics that weíre all swimming in. As the project takes shape, Iíll be forming a working team including advanced CSULB undergraduate students in order to work closely with them. I am looking forward to this valuable opportunity to work closely with students in providing research experience, hearing their input on the issues, while also mentoring students in the publishing and scholarship process.

In this issue: