Contrary to popular belief, porn researchers donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t spend their days pouring over X-rated clips and studying every move of James DeenÃ¢â‚¬”well, not every day at least. In fact, when we spoke with Lynn Comella, Ph.D., whose work appears in the first issue of the new journal Porn Studies, she was at the library. "I'm surrounded by archive boxes, file folders, and a bunch of dusty memos," says Comella, who received her Ph.D. in communications from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and wrote her dissertation on feminist sex toy shops. Since then, her research has expanded to include the womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s market for pornography. "It's really no different than how other academics might study any other phenomenaÃ¢â‚¬”we go to the archives and we spend time in libraries."
Clarissa Smith, Ph.D., co-editor of Porn Studies seconds that opinion: "Sometimes it's incredibly boring." Smith received her Ph.D. from the University of Sussex while doing her dissertation on pornography for women. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been studying pornography for over 20 years and wrote the book One for the Girls! The Pleasures and Practices of Reading WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Porn.
The thing is, what you find boring and what a porn researcher finds boring might not be same thing. For instance, Smith once focused her research on the performance styles of two female porn stars, giving a shot-by-shot account of the scenes and analyzing everything from body movements to facial expressions and voice. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Towards the end I could have repeated every grunt and groan in perfect sync with the visuals!Ã¢â‚¬Â says Smith. Still, it also required a lot of intense reading and researchÃ¢â‚¬”not unlike the research projects of other academics.
So how does one become a porn researcher? Smith was studying for a masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degree in womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s studies, where pornography was definitely a hot button topic. When she came across a copy of a new soft-core porn magazine in the early 90s, she was intrigued: This contradiction between a female-centric porn pub and the theories that pornography was totally at odds with female sexuality was too interesting to ignore, says Smith. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Since then, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never looked back. Researching pornography is endlessly fascinating,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Smith. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is so much to think about from regulation through aspects of businessesÃ¢â‚¬”magazine, film, internetÃ¢â‚¬”examining specific films, stars, directors, as well as how people actually talk about their connections with pornography.Ã¢â‚¬Â OK, now weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re intrigued.
MORE: Is Porn Addiction Really a Thing?
Making it Legit
According to Smith and Comella, the field of porn studies isn't all that different from other disciplines, so why shouldn't it have it's own journal? But this is a topic that has been widely debated since last summer, when the publisher Routledge announced their new peer-reviewed journal, Porn Studies, would debut in 2014. Now that the first two issues are finally here (and free to view online), the researchers hope it will dispel the myth that the journal is merely pro-porn propaganda.
"There were a few problems last year, but I think part of that was because people couldn't see what the journal was likely to be," says Smith. "We've had a more welcoming attitude [now], I think because people can see it isn't a campaign for pornography; it's about exploring it in academic ways to really understand what is out there, what are the debates, and how might we react to it."
The first issue tackles topics like current porn trends, how pornography is tagged online, and the effects of the industry across cultures and continents. "It's staking a claim in a growing field, and the existence of a journal legitimizes the work that many people have been doing for decades," says Comella, whose article in the first issue uses the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas to study the business and culture of the porn industry. It turns out, Comella isn't always deep into library archivesÃ¢â‚¬”sometimes she's brushing shoulders with porn stars and producers to get a closer look at the field.
MORE: 13 Things That Are Only True in Porn
Way Behind the Scenes
In ComellaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s latest article in Porn Studies, she introduces the concept of "porn studies-in-action," a research approach that studies the industry through places like erotic film festivals, feminist porn sets, adult video stores, and adult trade expos. She's been attending adult trade shows since 2008, paying particular attention to the seminars and panels dedicated to women and pornography. "I think when I talk to people about the focus of my research they might be initially surprised, but they're always intrigued," says Comella. "They always want to know more."
And while Comella swears itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still not as exciting as you might think, her job sounds pretty damn interesting to us: "I spend a lot of time in seminars, taking notes and paying very close attention to what's being said," says Comella. "What are the things being said by people who are part of the adult industryÃ¢â‚¬”sex toy manufacturers, porn directors, porn performers?" Between researching the rise of feminist pornography, recent developments in obscenity laws, and how fans interact with porn stars, it certainly doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sound boring.
So we have to wonder, do porn researchers take their work home with them? "Some people would say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœTruly you've become desensitized to it,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ But I don't actually feel I'm desensitized," says Smith. "I'm open and intrigued by it." Comella agrees, explaining that she hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t had an Ã¢â‚¬Å“awakeningÃ¢â‚¬Â since starting her research. "I don't feel like itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s changed me at all," says Comella. "I think most people that make the decision to have a research endeavor that focuses on sexuality are pretty open-minded people to begin with."
Both Smith and Comella are hopeful that the journal will be a thought-provoking resource, even if there is a little skepticism from the critics. "There's a lot more openness in academia for this type of research, but still in some ways we do have to work harder to prove ourselves," says Comella. "We have to make sure we do really good research; there's a different set of expectations. It's absolutely fantastic that there's a journal exclusively devoted to the field of porn studies!"
MORE: 11 Things You Didn't Know About Porn