Are media becoming pornified?

A range of terms are used to mark the differences between media texts that depict sex; hardcore/softcore, porn/erotica, porn/art, mainstream/independent, kink/vanilla and so on. There are genres that have a particular concern with sex and a set of conventions for representing it; for example, the erotic thriller, sexploitation movie, sex comedy, or slash
fiction[224]. And of course there is pornography – the media genre most clearly devoted to sex. Within this genre are a range of pornographic subgenres or pornographies[225].

While the new visibility of sex in mainstream culture is sometimes described as ‘pornographic’, it usually relies on a fairly non-explicit form of representation, drawing on the style of the pin-up[226] or on a glossy ‘pornochic’ style with high production qualities[227]. The terms ‘pornification’ and ‘porno-chic’ have been used to describe the way in which mainstream media texts ‘borrow from, refer to, or pastiche the styles and iconography of the pornographic’[228].

Ann Summers parties are often seen as an example of the way sex is now marketed to women, associated with a healthy, fun femininity[229]. The success of bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey also suggests that women make up a considerable market for sexual representations and the numbers of women who consume pornography also appears to be growing[230].

All of these practices and representations, like most of those in mainstream culture more generally, are more likely to depict heterosexuality than other forms of sexual identity or community. While the amount of discussion they have attracted suggests that they are very widespread, their visibility has tended to be exaggerated. For example, researchers have found that sexy clothes and accessories for children are not easy to find in shops[231], engagement with erotic performances remains relatively hidden[232], and the vast majority of popular culture representations are neither explicit nor raunchy. In addition the press frequently present sex as something that is dangerous, risky and harmful, and it is far from clear that increased visibility means that society is more comfortable with sexual issues than in the past[233].

Trends in pornography

224. Williams, L. (1989). Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’. London: Pandora; Hunt, L. (1998). British Low Culture: From Safari Suits to Sexploitation. London & New York: Routledge; Schaefer, E. (1999). Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Durham: Duke University Press; Hellekson, K. & Busse, K. (2002). Fan Cultures. London: Routledge. Williams, L.R. (2005).The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; Mendik, X. (Ed.) (2012). Peep Shows: Cult Film and the Cine-Erotic. London & New York: Alterimage/ Wallflower Press; Hunter, I.Q. (2013). British Trash Cinema. London: British Film Institute.
225. Paasonen, S. (2007). ‘Porn Futures’ in Paasonen, S., Nikunen, K. & Saarenmaa, L. (Eds.) Pornification: Sex and Sexuality in Media Culture. Oxford: Berg, 161-170;
Paasonen, S. (2011). Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography. Cambridge; MIT Press.
226. Attwood, F. (2013). Art School Sluts: Art, Porn and Aesthetics, in Kerr, D & Hines, C. (Eds.) Hard To Swallow: Reading Pornography On Screen, New York: Columbia University Press, 42-56; Buszek, M.E. (2006). Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
227. McNair, B. (2002). Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratisation of Desire. London & New York: Routledge.
228. McNair, B. (2013). Porno? Chic! How Pornography Changed the World and Made it a Better Place. London: Routledge.
229. Storr, M. (2003) Latex and Lingerie: Shopping for Pleasure at Ann Summers Parties. Oxford: Berg.
230. see Deller, R.A., Harman, S. & Jones, B. (2013). Reading the Fifty Shades Phenomenon. Sexualities, 16(8).
231. Buckingham, D., Willett, R., Bragg, S. & Russell, R. (2010). Sexualised goods aimed at children: a report to the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee. Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee, Edinburgh, UK, http://oro.open.ac.uk/25843/2/sexualised_goods_report.pdf
232. Hubbard, Phil (2001). Sex Zones: Intimacy, Citizenship and Public Space. Sexualities, 4(1), 51-71; Bernstein, E. (2007). Temporarily Yours: Sexual Commerce in Post-industrial Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Hubbard, P. (2011).
Cities and Sexualities. London: Routledge.
233. Arthurs, J. (2004). Television and Sexuality: Regulation and the Politics of Taste. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Trends in pornography