New Book Seeks to Advance Field of Porn Studies

Mar 10, 2015 4:26 PM PST

LOS ANGELES — Lynn Comella told XBIZ “New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law” comes at an “opportune” time for the field of porn studies.

“The timing is great and in some ways kind of happenstance that the project unfolded at the point in time it did,” said Comella, an associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who co-edited the book, which is available now through Praeger.

Comella teamed with Shira Tarrant, an associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at California State University, Long Beach, on the project that aims to advance the study of pornography with its comprehensive collection of research, data and analysis.

Comella said ideally the book would be enlightening “for anyone who is interested in the topic of pornography.”

“We wanted it to be accessible to students, researchers and also people working within the industry as well as the general reader, someone who maybe doesn’t know anything about porn except that it’s always talked about in the media,” she said. “It was really important for us to curate a book that hopefully will have something for all those different audiences.”

A native of Erie, Pa., who is part of a growing number of scholars whose research focuses on the cultural study of sexuality, Comella said that Praeger actually approached her with the idea.

“They contacted me a couple years ago and pitched the idea of doing this collection and I thought it was timely,” Comella said.

“At the time I signed the book contract the field of porn studies hadn’t quite gained the visibility that it now has. We signed this deal before the launch of the journal of ‘Porn Studies’ and it was really clear when we were putting this collection together it was going to be published at quite an opportune moment.”

The book endeavors to answer fundamental questions such as why people use porn, whether porn addiction is a fact or myth, what constitutes revenge porn and is it illegal?

Comella and Tarrant received contributions from several experts in the fields of sociology, media studies, gender studies, psychology, criminology, politics and the law. They also included insights from adult performers and content producers.

“When Praeger reached out to me I certainly saw the potential in the project and I was excited about the ability that Shira and I had to curate the type of collection we felt would really bring some new perspectives to the table when it came to critical studies of porn,” Comella said.

Comella knew of Tarrant prior to working on the book, but this marked the first time they’ve collaborated.

“We worked really well together. We had similar visions for the project,” Comella said, noting they were committed to making it “a conversation” among the scholars featured.

“We also wanted it to be data driven. We have a number of chapters in the book with empirical evidence. What does the evidence say when it comes to media effects? How do we interpret the data?”

The book is split into two sections: Foundations and Controversies, and Cultural Issues and Effects. Comella and Tarrant not only shared the voices of academic researchers, they also included essays that have yet to be published.

Shar Rednour and Jackie Strano wrote about the history of lesbian porn production and the challenges of making lesbian porn in the late ’90s, a topic that Comella noted “has never really been told in an academic collection.”

“We were pleased to have a chapter from them,” Comella said. “We were also pleased to have Mireille Miller-Young, a great porn scholar who did an interview with the BBW performer Betty Blac about the relationship between race and labor in porn.”

“New Views on Pornography” also includes a chapter from Clarissa Smith, Feona Attwood and Martin Barker titled “Why Do People Watch Porn?”

Smith and Attwood edited the academic journal “Porn Studies” published in 2014 by Routledge; Barker worked with them in 2011 on the design of their study of porn audiences.

In addition, Carol Queen, the staff sexologist at Good Vibrations who is the co-founder of the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, contributed a chapter about “Good Vibrations, Women, and Porn: A History.”

“We definitely have some top names in the field,” Comella said. “We were happy to publish established scholars and younger scholars as well. We worked really hard to put together a diverse collection.”

A nationally recognized expert on sexual politics and contemporary culture, Tarrant’s previous books include “When Sex Became Gender” and “Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power.”  

Comella meanwhile was just honored with the Nevada Regents’ 2015 Rising Researcher Award, given annually to one faculty member in the Nevada System of Higher Education based on their early-career accomplishments and potential for future advancement and recognition in research.

“Gender and sexuality often times is a little bit more challenging work to be recognized for so that’s why this Rising Researcher Award feels especially good,” said Comella, who is now in her eighth year at UNLV.

While her work has been published in several academic journals and books and she has researched and written more than 45 articles about sex and culture, “New Views on Pornography” marks Comella's first co-edited book.

“It feels like quite an accomplishment. Anyone will tell you this type of project is a labor of love,” she said. “A lot of time and energy goes into soliciting the chapters, editing the chapters and going through several rounds of revisions.

"I think that it really became kind of real when we were doing the copyediting. We had 450 pages to copy edit. I’m really pleased to have it in print and I’m hoping that readers will be excited to have this collection.”

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