Pornography: Bodies, Sex, and Representation (AHV3011)

StaffDr Joao Florencio - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Pornography: Bodies, Sex, and Representation will introduce you to the main theories and debates that have surrounded and framed the production, dissemination and consumption of pornographic images. With a focus on modern and contemporary pornographic images, the module will approach pornography as a form of cultural production that can illuminate our understanding of the ways in which our societies have conceived and represented human bodies, their sexual desires and sexual pleasures. Tracing the “birth” of pornography back to the “birth” of modernity, we will follow the tense and complex relationships of visibility and invisibility that have given porn its currency, and we will map our changing understandings of obscenity vis-à-vis the histories of our cultural policing of both bodies and the visible. To do so, we will be critically engaging with materials ranging from literature to early visual erotica (drawing, painting, photography); from historically-censored films (e.g. Pasolini, Genet, Jack Smith) to the so-called “Golden Age of Porn” (e.g. Warhol’s Blue Movie, Damiano’s Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones); from gay porn to feminist and queer “post-porn;” from online amateur pornography to artists who blur the boundaries between art and pornography (e.g. Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Sprinkle, Cosey Fanni Tutti; Matthew Barney). Informed by scholarship drawn from feminist and queer theory, law, media and cultural studies, and the emerging interdisciplinary field of porn studies, the module will allow you to develop important porn literacy skills that you will use to engage with a form of visual production that is second to none when it comes to the scale of its contemporary output. In so doing, the module will enable you to think critically about wider issues of power, censorship, obscenity, sex, sexuality, subjectivities, desires and pleasures as they intersect with and are co-shaped by modern and contemporary visual culture.

Please note that, whilst the module will be guided by the highest standards of academic integrity and rigour, the nature of the topic and of the learning materials may make it challenging on a number of ways. Even if the assigned readings may be dense and difficult to read at times and/or challenge your assumptions, you will still be expected to read them in preparation for each lecture and seminar. Further, both the texts and the visual materials used may call into question taken-for-granted views of sex and sexuality, and their place in visual culture. Finally, given the module’s subject-matter, visual and literary materials of a graphic, controversial and/or explicit nature will be used which some students may find offensive. The module convenor will always contextualise the materials used and provide a rationale for their discussion, and no illegal material will ever be used. You will have the opportunity to bring up any questions or difficulties you may encounter whilst engaging with primary sources but it won’t be possible to pass the module by avoiding them. The classroom is a space where frank academic discussions on difficult topics can take place in a safer environment. 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Summarise and discuss key concepts and debates in the emerging field of porn studies
  • 2. Critically analyse pornographic representations of bodies, sex, and sexuality in relation to the cultural, historical and political contexts of their production, dissemination and consumption.
  • 3. Identify some of the ways in which pornographic images and their media have fed into modern and contemporary understandings of the human body, human sexualities, and subjectivities (including their intersections with race, gender, and class).

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Independently research, present, and critically evaluate relevant visual artefacts in relation to the wider social, cultural, political and intellectual environments in which they have been produced and circulated.
  • 5. Critically engage with relevant scholarship and discuss it, convincingly and coherently, in relation to modern and contemporary visual practices.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Demonstrate adequate research, bibliographical and academic writing skills, and the capacity to construct a coherent argument grounded on visual analysis and scholarly literature.
  • 7. Demonstrate satisfactory proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 8. Demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively, orally and/or in written form, towards the development, research, organization, and articulation of ideas within limited timeframes.

Syllabus plan

Lectures and seminars will be structured thematically in order to introduce and explore key concepts and themes relevant to contemporary scholarship on pornography, sexuality and visual culture. Seminars will be focused on close readings of scholarship and pornographic sources. Interdisciplinary in their scope, some of the major themes addressed by the module will include:

  • What is pornography?
  • Pornographic conventions
  • Pornography, morality and censorship
  • The Feminist “Sex Wars”
  • Feminist and Queer porn
  • Race, gender and class in pornography
  • Pornography and art
  • Pornography and Web 2.0

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22 x 1-hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching217 x 3-hour seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11 x Individual tutorial
Guided Independent Study126erading and researching for lectures, seminars and assessment

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini-essay1000 words1-7Feedback sheet with opportunity for follow-up tutorial

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay903000 words1-7Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Participation and engagement10Five 400-word response papers1-8Oral (seminar discussion)

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay - 3000 words1-7Referral/deferral period
Participation and EngagementRepeat study/mitigation1-8Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Attwood, Feona. Sex Media. Cambridge: Polity, 2018.
  • Attwood, Feona and Claissa Smith. “Porn Studies: an introduction.” Porn Studies 1, no. 1–2 (2014): 1–6.
  • Aydemir, Murat. Images of Bliss: Ejaculation, Masculinity, Meaning. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  • Dean, Tim. Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Dean, Tim, Steven Ruszczycky, and David Squires, eds. Porn Archives. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014.
  • Escoffier, Jeffrey. Bigger than Life: The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2009.
  • Hunt, Lynn. The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800. New York: Zone Books, 1993.
  • Jagose, Annamarie. Orgasmology. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.
  • Kendrick, Walter. The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Kipnis, Laura. Bounda and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
  • Maes, Hans, ed. Pornographic Art and the Aesthetics of Pornography. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013.
  • Mercer, John. Gay Pornography: Representations of Sexuality and Masculinity. London: I.B. Tauris, 2017.
  • Paasonen, Susanna. Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2011.
  • Paasonen, Susanna. Many Splendored Things: Thinking Sex and Play. London: Goldsmiths Press, 2018.
  • Schaschek, Sarah. Pornography and Seriality: The Culture of Producing Pleasure. New York: Palgrave, 2014.
  • Sigel, Lisa. Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815–1914. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002.
  • Sullivan, Rebecca and Alan McKee. Pornography. Cambridge: Polity, 2015.
  • Tang, Isabel. Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization. London: Channel 4 Books, 1999.
  • Taormino, Tristan, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Constance Penley and Mireille Miller-Young, eds. The Feminist Porn Book. New York: The Feminist Press, 2013.
  • Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
  • Williams, Linda, ed. Porn Studies. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004.

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Pornography, sexuality, visual culture