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May 20, 2005



Given the vast and huge size of the pornography industry, the de facto age restrictions on involvement, and the very low barriers to entry it would be much, much bigger news if there weren't some college students producing some of it!


Every generation has to throw a tantrum about the fact that the younger generation is interested in sex.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

Students actually learn how to navigate the underworld of cybersex ... You mean, in this day, there are still students who show up in college not knowing this?

Seriously, though, when I was in college I took a course in "recreational drug use." I'm sure the title would have driven batty any adult who wanted to go through my college catalog and complain about the demise of "in loco parentis," but actually, it was a good course. Along with learning something of the history of drug use, we learned just how they affected the body - which meant a crash course on things like neurotransmitters. Not bad for a little one unit course (most courses were three to five units). So I can see how a course in porn, properly done, could be educational. (I can also see why you wouldn't be up for teaching that course - it could be tough to do right.)


“I'm convinced that porn studies, as a field, will continue to grow. As pornography, in all its many and varied forms, continues to exert a powerful influence upon our culture, examining it is worth our professional time and our intellectual energy.”

I am sure there are others in agreement with this statement. I suppose some folks aught to “study” the whole affair. Heck there needs be law on what is acceptable with pornography. The educated need to know what they’re talking about in order to inform lay people what is politically viable or socially apropos--folks need to be kept abreast of any new enlightened information--especially if there’s a minority interest involved.

I was thinking again of the quotes from Thomas Fleming that I gave in your 12/29/04 post “The attempt to arouse desire or stimulate passion for strangers by use of words and images goes by the name of pornography.” And later, “Many, if not most, ‘human interest’ stories are reported without any object other than the arousal of passions for strangers, and to that extent they are pornographic.” If we can give some credence to Mr. Fleming’s comment, one could further argue pornography has to a large extent already been introduce to academia.


I think there's an enormous difference between erotica that is student-produced and distributed and porn that is produced by off-campus commercial entities

I really, really would like to get away from the pretend difference between "erotica" and "porn."

If you're opposing commercial exploitation and promulgation of sexist stereotypes, that's a different matter--and I'd hope you argue against students producing "amateur, authentic" porn by, say, secretly taping themselves having sex with their girlfriend.


We've got a decent sex column in my college paper. One week we had some high school students in the office to learn about how journalism works, and we let them copyedit a page. It wasn't until it was too late that we realized we'd given them the page with the sex column.

Tish G

There's a difference between teaching courses to educate, producing porn to titillate, and writing columns to infuriate!

so right! The year I graduated from Smith, two students took it upon themselves to write a sex advice column. The "infuriating" article was on fisting. Overall, though, the "advice" in the column was alot of techincal with a bit of cheekyness meant to covey the message that these girls were all grown up and ready to rifle the feathers of the Establishment.

Thing is, at Smith, the Establishment is pretty liberal and is mostly ruffled by bad humor or bad taste. The fisting article was, for the most part, inappropriate and written in bad taste. (from a personal perspective, I don't believe this sort of stuff belongs in a college paper. There are many, many students who are not sexually active, and even many who are that are not sexually sophisticated. what is the necessity that drives their peers to want to, like dicators, force others to be more sexually sophisticated than they either need to or want to be?)

The sad thing about college students making porn is that they might not be considering the consequences of their actions--the effect it might have on their psyches as well as the ripple effet it might have on their lives. I also fear there may be a great deal of coersion to participate in making porn. Peer pressure in college can be as great as in high school. I do not beileve we can totally assure anyone that porn made among college age students would be totally coercion-free.

From what I have seen, oftentimes those that teach classes on pornograpy are teaching from the theoretical. As you noted, the classes are often historical or sociological analysis--mostly with an Ivory Tower elitism that denies the global effects of the sex industry on women in Third World countries. Very few profs themselves have ever entered into the world of sex work in order to understand the beast from the inside out. (please note that I do not use the term "beast" in relation to "the devil"...but as a way of noting the enormity of the sex industry.)

I also appreciage Mythago's mention of the pretend difference between 'erotica' and 'porn'...as it is consituted now, they're the same thing.


Tish and Mythago, I think commercialization DOES matter. Consensual, student-produced material designed to be viewed by other students (and not marketed for profit) is fundamentally distinct, I think, from entities like Playboy and Hustler descending on college campuses and signing up young people to appear in videos. I'm mystified that that distinction wouldn't seem fairly significant.


Tish, I'm a bit mystified as to how writing a column about material some readers may not be familiar with firsthand has anything to do with being like a dictator. I'm not entirely sure what your point is here, but I'm pretty sure it's not served well by this analogy. I've never read a college newspaper column about fisting, and I've never lived under a dictator, and I don't really relish doing either, but they really don't seem comparable at all.

Tish G

djw-- you missed the point. The objection is to writing about sexual practices that would be considered more on the advanced scale in order to shock other students who may be on the beginner level. Is it right or just to write a column with the motivation to upset those that one personally believes to be "uptight?"

That, in a sense, is behaving like a dictator..."you will know this information because I believe you need to." or perhaps you'd prefer a less severe term.

When it comes to information about sex, or even information about religion, the information may best be meted out with discretion and care for the populace at hand--read Maimonides on this one. Discretion and respect for others often seems to go out the window when it comes to supposedly open discussions about sexuality.

Hugo--the thing is, could you *ever* know for sure that no coercion was involved if students made their own porn?? And who would supervise such a project and what might the motives be for sponsoring such a project?

One aspect I think that is not being considered in the discussion is that the sex work, (and porn is part of that) is performance...whether it is slick profession performance or amature is the same as the distinction between a hollywood movie and a community theater production. Bottom line though is that the performance is a pantomime of real sex. It is NOT real sex. It is for the benefit of others--the benefit to the participants is small compared to the enjoyment others will receive from viewing the end product.

What would be the purpose/point of asking young people who may be in the early stages of their sexual lives to pantomime the act of sex for the benefit of an audience?

When one is a sex performer as with any performance, a part of oneself must go on the back burner. One has to assume the projections of others--which often requires a compartmentalization of the self because projections are the fantasies of others, not the total realities of one's personal being.

As for Playboy and Hustler soliciting on campuses--many campuses do not openly support either group soliciting on campus. But let's make a distinction here between Playboy and the porn filmmaking industry. Playboy doesn't always lead to porn, and many of the young women who pose it it go on to bigger and better things. Also, the ones who actually make it into Playboy are few and far between (and often have very good agents.)

Porn films, on the other hand, glean their actresses from many places and, given there are many young women interested in making porn, I don't think the non-amateur porn makers need to solicit campuses for actresses. (Unless you have evidence otherwise)

As for the distinction between erotica and porn...for me it's more about the use of the words. Is a sex film made with soft lighting and a big budget and labled "erotica" any different from one made with bad lighting on a shoestring budget and called "porn"? Not really.

Tish G

Hmm...rather than dictator, I should have used the term "fundamentalist preacher," with the columnists preaching the Gospels of Sex rather than the New Testament.


Well Tish, I'm hardly endorsing the student production of porn/erotica! I'm not condemning it out of hand, either. I agree that college students are in many ways too young to realize the consequences of their actions, but I don't think public institutions ought to act in loco parentis to protect young people over the age of 18 from making serious mistakes. Private institutions can and should have a freer hand.

By the way, our campus is always blanketed with fliers for "adult modeling" jobs. Of course, we're a hop, skip, and a jump from the Valley, the porn capital of the world, so the kind of "recruitment" that I see in handbills and fliers all over PCC may not be typical in other parts of the country.


I guess I just shudder to think of how limited all sorts of writing would be if the author always self-censored based on possible hurt feelings from some segment of the potential audience. Could make for a much more boring world. I also suspect that many sexually inexperienced college students don't fear or with to avoid more information about sex, and in fact may seek it out rather actively. But that's another matter.


Huh. Funny how such fliers don't seem to make it the extra three blocks to Caltech - the stereotype of brainy chicks being sexless/ugly lives on!


But students aren't compelled to read every article in the paper, or even to read it at all, Tish. If they were printing explicit photographs, I could understand your argument, because with visual media it really only takes a glance to be fully exposed to it-- someone really could be idly flipping through the paper and see something he or she wasn't prepared or didn't want to see. However, in order to learn something from a text-based sex column against their will, students would have to find the column, acknowledge that it is sexually explicit, and read it pretty much in its entirety. Why would someone on the "beginner level" choose to read a sex column if they have that much of an aversion to learning about sex? I guess I just give students a little more credit in terms of knowing their boundaries-- I don't think campus newspapers should have to limit their content to the level of what the most prudish student considers appropriate (or what the most innocent/naive student can handle). Prudish/innocent/naive students can and should do that sort of policing for themselves.

Besides, it's not as if this sort of thing isn't a commonly discussed topic among college students. In order to really protect these "beginner-level" types from learning anything they don't already know about sex, I think you'd have to isolate them completely from their fellow students. College kids don't censor themselves when they're talking with their peers, and learning the sort of things you don't hear about in classrooms from your more experienced friends is sort of a rite of passage. It's a bit silly to say that a student-created, student-run paper shouldn't be able to write about the sort of things students talk about all the time. (In fact, I think all the discussions about the purpose of sex columns have left out one important element-- they're entertaining. It's not just about "shocking their elders," it's about appealing to the occasionally puerile college sense of humor. People read sex columns for the same reason they used to listen to/watch shows like Loveline-- yeah, occasionally they might learn a thing or two, but they're really watching to find out what crazy topics are going to be discussed this week.)

And finally, I'm a little disturbed by the idea that we should be fighting to protect students from gaining information. What's so terrible about learning, even if it's learning about something a lot of people consider unsavory? Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sure how finding out that some people enjoy engaging in a sex act that's a little out of the ordinary is going to traumatize any legal adult who's self-sufficient and worldly enough to be attending college.


Damn, I'm not "experienced" with fisting but I can read about it without feeling forced to do it, Tish.

Tish G

Hugo...ah, I think that PCC's proximity to the locus of the porn industry def. makes a difference. Out here in Bugfart, there are, on occasion, ads for adult industry work in the local alternative press paper. These ventures are usually on the *very* amateur scale.

We don't see much outright solicitation because the industry isn't here. Come to think of it, there's not much *here* anyway....

Many of the local college kids get into discussions re: "hey! Let's make a porn film! Why haven't other classes thought of doing it?" Funny thing is, I think *every* incoming class on all of the 5 college campuses for at least the past 20 years thinks of doing it...just few have the time to do so.

as for djw's comment I guess I just shudder to think of how limited all sorts of writing would be if the author always self-censored based on possible hurt feelings from some segment of the potential audience....I would suggest a reading of Maimonides. It is not worrying about "hurt feelings," but an understanding of appropriateness. It does not mean self-censoring but an examination of one's motives for the need to give a group or an individual certain kinds of information.

It is a very subtle understanding of a concept, not a knee-jerk reaction contingent on emotionality.

Keri--not everyone is who goes away to college is "worldly and self-sufficient." That was pretty obvious to me the first year I was at Smith, and was obvious to me when I was much younger growing up in a college town--when I, myself, wasn't all that "worldly."

One thing that often seems to be missing is an understanding of what "worldly" is. "Worldly" doesn't happen because one has a traumatic childhood, is exposed to things far before they are ready to understand them, because they've been to Europe, have a jaded attitude towards something, or for a series of other superficial reasons. Worldliness sometimes happens to a person because they have questioned what was spoon-fed to them via academia, has gone out and experimented and explored the world around him/her. And, usually, it takes quite a number of years to adequately assimilate knowledge of the world. Trust me on this one. or just read my blog.

As for learning...that's fine. Esp. if one is interested about learning about subcultures or outre sexual practices. But it's something one can do on his/her own time, without the ageis of the college or univeristy one is attending. Why rely on the college or university for approval of a personal interest? Further as it is with both subcultures and outre sexual practices, finding the elders of these worlds rather than culling popular opinion from one's peers is probably a better way to do it. People who inhabit these worlds have far better information than someone who's spent their time reading texbooks on it. Some of those elders one meets, too, just might be the people who've authored a textbook or two.


And anyway, isn't your praise of the campuses virgins its own way of dictating how the rest of us should have sex, or in this case not? If you say that graphic sex advice in and of itself is pressure to conform, then surely talking up someone else's virginity is pressure as well.

Frankly, I am hesistant to say that some acts are fine for an advice column and some are not, because the dividing line between perverse and not is usually drawn on sexist and heterosexist lines. Anal sex on women, for instance, is becoming an acceptable practice to discuss in advice columns. Anal sex from a woman onto a man, like in the link Hugo provides, is still taboo for sexist reasons.

Tish G

Amanda, you missed the point...

Tish G

Further, I am not praising "campus virgins"...but that even people who are sexually experienced can find better information on sex practices in places besides the campus paper....like, maybe links on the campus health center website? Or well-written blogs on it?

Anal sex on a man is taboo for homophobic reasons stemming out of the AIDS epidemic.

Anal sex on a woman, still, in our time, violates a taboo. The emphasis on anal sex in straight porn became more prevalent with AIDS--there were more reasons for the general populace to forbid anal sex after AIDS than before, but there was more of a curiousity about it than before.

And there was a virtual shut-down of the gay porn industry for quite awhile...

I've been an observer of the porn industry for over 20 years. It's been interesting to watch its evolution.


All I meant by the "self-sufficient and worldly" comment was that someone who's made it as far as college (which usually involves living on one's own for the first time, beginning to work toward one's future career, learning to coexist with a wide variety of people, and other steps in the general direction of adulthood) ought to have the mental capacity to handle finding out what "fisting" means without having a breakdown or something. Honestly, what's the worst that's going to happen? They'll read it, maybe feel a little surprised or grossed out, and move on. I hardly consider it important enough to keep people from feeling momentarily disgusted that we should practice censorship to achieve that goal.

As for whether it's better to get knowledge about such things from their peers or from "elders," that's really irrelevant, because as I said, they're going to hear their peers' opinions on these things no matter what. College students talk about sex, and they do not limit their discussions of sex to the most basic heterosexual missionary-position lights-off encounters-- anything is fair game. (Besides, even though we've all downplayed the educational value of these columns, I'd rather have these hypothetical "innocents" learn about some of the kinkier sex acts while in a fairly neutral and non-threatening situation like reading the campus newspaper than have them hear about these things for the first time when someone's trying to pressure them into doing them. The more they know, the more they can start to determine where their comfort zones are and where they draw the line. "Protecting" them from this kind of knowledge might very well do more harm than good for their sexual development.)

And this might just be the school I attend, but my experience with our campus newspaper is that what's printed in the paper has little or nothing to do with "college or university approval." Our paper has been able to make enough money through advertising to declare itself an independent entity; it's almost entirely student-run (aside from one faculty advisor whose main purpose is to critique the writing) and has as little to do with the administration as possible. In fact, when I was on staff, we clashed with the administration over some ads we were running for a local strip club; they didn't want us to print them, but we stood our ground, and there wasn't a whole lot they could do about it. So the fact that something runs in a campus newspaper doesn't always mean it's condoned or encouraged by the school itself. (And why on earth do you consider it better for students to get sex information from a blog? At least articles in campus newspapers tend to go through a few editors before they're printed. Anyone can get some webspace and say whatever they want, though, and if these innocents are really so innocent, how will they ever be able to tell whether or not it's accurate?)


Keri said what I would have, so I'll be brief. You can't have a robust civil society, or a good college experience, or a lot of other desirable things, if we're not thick-skinned. So some overprotected and thin-skinned people will be troubled by such a column, and as such it might do them a little harm. Thick skins are a virtue and a necessity in a pluralistic democratic community.

This may seem a bit grandiose, but I'm completely serious. As someone who teaches political theory and ideology, often to the same people you're worried about, they get offended by reading Hobbes. or Marx. or whatever. Well, tough. Getting offended is a good start, actually, but you've got to learn to build on it--why are you offended? Do you have good reason to be? etc. You can't be a thinker, at least not a good one, if you don't learn to encounter, tolerate, critically examine, and engage with ideas, images, and people that are very different from you and your established ways of being in the world.

As a political theorist, I suppose I should have read Maimonides by now. I'll bump him up the list a bit, at your suggestion, but for reasons of professional and personal interest he's still not too close to the top of my "must read when i have time list." My own sense of appropriateness (amongst many other things) would probably prevent me from writing a campus newspaper column about fisting. I'm very glad, though, that my personal sense of appropriateness is not shared by many other writers and thinkers, because the aesthetic and ideational world we live in would suffer for it.


DJW: "You can't be a thinker, at least not a good one, if you don't learn to encounter, tolerate, critically examine, and engage with ideas, images, and people that are very different from you and your established ways of being in the world."

I wonder, my diversiphile friend, have you ". . . learned to encounter, tolerate, critically examine, and engage with ideas, images, and people that are very different from you and your established ways of being in the world" including Stalin Communism, Nazism, etc (I might add emphasis to tolerate and engage).


"Anal sex on a man is taboo for homophobic reasons stemming out of the AIDS epidemic."

huh? Last I checked "anal sex on a man" is taboo for homophobic reasons, period.

If AIDS actually had anything to do with it, men sticking their penis into anyone's anus would be "taboo" and the missionary position and fellatio would be more taboo than cunnilingus or "anal sex on a man" with a sterile object.

Apologies to Hugo if that's too graphic, it just seems better for clarity's sake to use the correct terms rather than euphemisms.


Well, I've read significant portions of Mein Kampf. And some of Stalin's disastrous Marxist theory from the teens, when he was robbing banks for the cause. But only to try to better understand the disastrous side of the 20th century and not to tolerate and engage, no.

The point of your question escapes me entirely. You seem to be pointing out that some people/ideas/images ought to be outside of the circle of toleration, respect, even serious conversation. I couldn't agree more, and moreover I agree with your examples.

Are you implying that taking seriously, engaging, respecting some people/ideas/images that are very different from your experience and comfort zone requires giving all of them the same status? That's not a defensible position or even a tenable one. I'm pretty sure I haven't said anything that commits me to it. If I have, you'll have to connect the dots for me.

An alternative interpretation of your question would be that you're implying that crude sex columns are the rhetorical equivalent of Naziism, but I'm pretty sure you've got a better moral compass than that.

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