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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.


Smith, Clarissa (2016) Pornography. In: The Oxford Handbook of Sex Offences and Sex Offenders. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 9780190213633

Item Type: Book Section


Pornography is often understood as the ‘lowest of the cultural low’ (Williams 1989)—as one of the ‘body’ genres, its effects are ‘registered in the spectator’s body’ (Dyer 1985) with the potential to transgress the ‘limit between viewer and image’ producing an ‘instability of the distinction between subject and object of representation’ (Dennis 2009, pp. 3–4). The effects of sexual media are endlessly debated—from fears of moral decline, through coarsening of attitudes, to the promotion and normalization of male violence against women and the rising problems of sex and/or pornography addictions. Historically, pornography is understood in relation to the category of obscenity—that is, as depicting actions, functions, and identities that lie on the outer edge of the permissible, and with the potential to ‘deprave and corrupt’ likely viewers. In more recent times, the focus has moved away from ideas of corruption of individual viewers toward the broader category of cultural ‘harms’ and effects on society.
Of course, pornography is not a monolith, however much its detractors might like to assert singular intentions, forms, and effects. As a genre, pornographic media have histories and national and international contexts. There have been changes and continuities across centuries and, in the fast-paced media age, across decades, years, and even months. With the idea of variety in mind, this essay cannot cover the expanse of pornographic materials, their status across individual jurisdictions, and the regulatory frameworks pertaining to production, distribution, and consumption; instead I take a broad-brush approach focused primarily on the Anglo-American contexts to highlight the ways in which the idea of pornography exists as a legal entity while understood as potentially detrimental to the social order and articulated to forms of criminality.

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More Information

Depositing User: Clarissa Smith


Item ID: 9310
ISBN: 9780190213633
Official URL:

Users with ORCIDS

ORCID for Clarissa Smith: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 11 May 2018 13:25
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2019 16:06