The aesthetics of pornography: the insights of consumers

McKee, Alan (2006) The aesthetics of pornography: the insights of consumers. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 20(4), pp. 523-539.

View at publisher


This paper is modest in its scope. Ongoing public debates about pornography and its place in society tend to hear mostly from those commentators whose expertise is based on not being familiar with the genre. This work aims to present the voices of pornography consumers and to benefit from their expertise about the genre.

Listening to the voices of some of these consumers—men and women from a variety of educational backgrounds and age groups, in all different States and Territories in Australia—provides us with valuable information for these ongoing debates. The first piece of information might simply be that users of pornography are able to be as articulate, intelligent and self-reflexive as other citizens. We also find out that they don't think that all pornography is equal. In this paper I have focused on issues about their judgements about pornography, and its uses in their lives. There was absolute agreement that these users of pornography wanted to see actors genuinely enjoying themselves. There was no discourse available for celebrating pornography which was non-consensual. There was no suggestion that 'anything goes'. Some interviewees went further and noted that financial inducements or drugs might place limits on genuine consent—and they had little interest in watching such material.

Beyond this desire to see genuine pleasure, the existence of two distinct evaluative paradigms—celebrating fantasy and celebrating realism—is interesting. This provides a useful corrective to those public voices which want to condemn pornography as though all of it showed unrealistic body images. There is a demand for both types of pornography; and each has its own internal logic. Those viewers who like 'fantasy' bodies do not simplistically equate those with everyday life.

Interviewees were also able to go further with these debates, and link them into wider social structures, thinking self-consciously about feminism and the claims that have been made on its behalf against pornography. Finally, interviewees were able to tell us about the ways in which pornography is integrated into their everyday lives—an area about which previous academic research, focusing on decontextualized exposure to pornography, has been remarkably silent.

These are only the voices of 46 self-selected consumers of pornography. We cannot claim that they are representative of all pornography users. But they give us at least the opportunity to hear the voices of people who consume these materials on a regular basis—the experts on the genre from whom we so rarely hear in public debates.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

1,608 since deposited on 28 Aug 2008
55 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 14565
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Pornography, Aesthetics, Audiences, Consumption
DOI: 10.1080/10304310600988310
ISSN: 1030-4312
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > CULTURAL STUDIES (200200) > Culture Gender Sexuality (200205)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > CULTURAL STUDIES (200200) > Screen and Media Culture (200212)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > CULTURAL STUDIES (200200) > Consumption and Everyday Life (200203)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2006 Taylor and Francis
Copyright Statement: This is an electronic version of an article published in [Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 20(4):pp. 523-539.]. [Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies] is available online at informaworldTM.
Deposited On: 28 Aug 2008 00:00
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 13:30

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page