California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Author of the Month: Shira Tarrant

Published: October 3, 2016

The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know

Shira Tarrant, professor, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know arrived in April from Oxford University Press. Its concise 216 pages belie the size of the sexually explicit entertainment industry. “Porn allegedly accounts for one-third of all internet traffic, though the data about actual consumption is unclear,” said Tarrant, a member of the university since 2006. “Reports in recent years have suggested that 70 million individuals visit porn sites every week; by some accounts, 18- to 24-year-old women watch more porn than their male counterparts; and among middle-aged, white-collar workers, three-quarters of men and half of women have admitted to looking at pornography websites while at work.” Tarrant looks at ongoing political controversies regarding the industry, the feminist porn wars and the views of the religious right, the history of pornography, landmark legal cases, and the latest in medical research. The Pornography Industry also explains such basics as who works in porn, why people become performers, how much they earn, and what happens on a porn set. It further delves into important questions such as: how many teenagers watch porn and should we worry about it? What is porn piracy and can it be stopped? What can the industry do about sexist and racist pornography? Does pornography cause violence against women? Can people become addicted to porn? Is watching porn the same as infidelity? “Each of these topics is a potential minefield,” said Tarrant. “The approach of this book is to take the best research available and lay out the issues so that readers can sort out the myths from reality. For instance, there’s a stereotype that porn performers are drug-addicted victims of sexual assault. The research shows that female performers are more likely to have used a variety of drugs. But trying drugs is not the same thing as being addicted to them. It turns out that weed is the only drug with a moderately higher use rate among porn actresses compared with the civilian public. The research also finds no difference in the rate or incidence of childhood sexual abuse in comparing performers and non-performers. In my book, I suggest this reflects the inexcusably widespread sexual victimization of young girls across the board rather than something unique to porn. It’s also the case that more research is needed about men and boys in this regard. Many of the issues in The Pornography Industry are personally challenging and every single one of the topics is incredibly controversial. Yet this subject is important because the issues evoked by pornography simply magnify areas of concern that are already present in our culture such as pleasure and danger, sexual consent, sexual and racial politics, free speech, and health.” With the state of Utah and the Republican Party Platform recently proclaiming that pornography is a public health issue, and with Prop 60 on the California ballot this fall, the matter is rapidly taking center stage among political and personal concerns. For instance, many parents and policymakers worry about teenagers using online

Author of the Month-Shira Tarrant

pornography. Tarrant explains the question is nto “what if” teens get a hold of sexually explicit material. “They already have it,” she said. “But we need to be able to discuss the issues in reasonable and informed ways. Moral-panic approaches interfere with this. Every Internet block has an easy work-around. Pornography is not going away any more than Disneyland or MSNBC. We need to have conversations in our schools and in our families or religious groups that are safe, age-appropriate, and accurate. That is asking a lot in a culture that is generally uncomfortable with discussing sexuality and doesn’t have a consistent commitment to comprehensive sex education. What I advocate is not only media literacy but porn literacy. It’s incumbent that we’re teaching about sexual consent, sexual pleasure, sexual health—and how we can understand or ‘decode’ fantasy and reality in the realm of such a private subject. Because pornography has moved online, our policies and educational approaches need to keep up with technology.”

Tarrant is the author or editor of six previous books including Gender, Sex and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century, Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style, and Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power. “My previous books all have been about gender and sexual politics,” she said. “I’ve never been shy in writing about controversial or delicate subjects. I try my best to be as fair as possible in letting the data direct the arguments rather than ideology leading me to the data.” Tarrant hopes The Pornography Industry will be widely read by the university and the local community. “This book is accessible and written in everyday language,” she said. “There’s something for everyone in terms of the issues that the book raises.” Tarrant earned her B.A. in political science in 1989 from CSULB and her M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from UCLA in 2001.