The Porn Report

Alan McKee, Katherine Albury + Catharine Lumby

Melbourne University Press 2008
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
A study of the production and consumption of pornography in Australia, The Porn Report is based on a three year project which involved a survey of a thousand Australian consumers, detailed analysis of the fifty most popular DVD titles from the largest distributors, and interviews with producers. This is augmented with additional research and some general background, beginning with a general history of pornography, drawing on Walter Kendrick's The Secret Museum.

The survey of pornography users was not random, but was broad enough to demonstrate that the common stereotypes are wrong: unsurprisingly, given that pornography users make up about a third of Australian adults, they are fairly representative of the broader population, with the major exception being that fewer than one in five of the respondents were women. (It is notable here that only 15% of women respondents read "pornographic novels", which suggests the exclusion from the survey of "erotic novels", sold in ordinary bookshops and not considered pornography. These would surely qualify as pornography under a functional definition, and including their readers might have levelled the sex balance.) Some excerpts from the responses to open-ended survey questions give a more personal perspective on the survey statistics.

Detailed analysis of the most popular Australian DVD titles shows that, even with broad definitions, fewer than 2% of scenes have any kind of violence. The total ban on violence in the Australian X-rated category seems to have worked. Another finding was that "pornography does not really objectify women more than men... On some measures, men are the more active sexual subjects... on others, it's the women." The Internet is a lot more diverse, but despite extensive efforts the authors managed to find not a single site with actual rape photographs, and only a handful of sites with faked ones.

There is no evidence that pornography causes harm to its users: the studies that suggest this have involved pushing pornography on non-users in artificial laboratory experiments. In contrast, there has been almost no attempts to study the beneficial effects of pornography, even though consumers overwhelmingly report positive effects: "Pornography has made them more relaxed and comfortable, more tolerant and open-minded. It has given them pleasure and improved their relationships."

Part two of The Porn Report addresses some key areas of debate, particularly in the production of pornography. It includes a history of feminist pornography, covering the United States and Australia and surveying the diversity of small amateur productions, disproportionately hindered by censorship. This progresses naturally to a look at the move towards DIY amateur porn, produced non-commercially or at a cottage industry level.

"Protecting the children" has been a rallying call for censorship for a long time. It turns out that actual child pornography — the police prefer to call it "child abuse material" — is extremely hard to find. And evidence-based education has to be central to protecting children from harm, whether from cyberstalking or contact with material they will find disturbing. The Porn Report concludes with an attempt to provide guidelines for ethical pornography: this focuses on health and safety issues and workers' rights in production, but also stresses the power consumers have to influence products.

The Porn Report is essential reading for anyone involved with debates over pornography and censorship in Australia, and would be useful for those in other countries. It is lively but not dramatised and, though it doesn't offer anything startlingly new, it pulls together information from a range of sources and provides some solid evidence to back up intuitions.

March 2008

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%T The Porn Report
%A McKee, Alan
%A Albury, Katherine
%A Lumby, Catharine
%I Melbourne University Press
%D 2008
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN-13 9780522853407
%P 224pp