Porn 101: College Campuses Using Porn in the Classroom

Porn is popular on the college campus . . . and I’m not simply talking about the dorm rooms or the fraternity houses. I’m talking about the classroom.

It is not surprising that college courses would feature pornography as a topic. Considering how influential and widespread pornography has become in the world, to ignore it in academic settings would be like ignoring a major voice in the world of economics, law, media and popular culture.

But what happens when porn is not merely discussed but viewed in the classroom?

Some Examples

Not all courses that deal with the subject of pornography actually require students to view pornographic material. Reviewing a course catalog for a university will probably not tell you whether viewing porn is par for the course. Examples of these courses abound:

  • UCLA has a course called “Pornography and Evolution,” which discusses why pornography exists and how its existence supports evolutionary theory in the social sciences.
  • Vanderbilt offers several courses, one entitled “Human Sexuality.” This course looks at the history of sexuality, gender roles, sex in human relationships, pornography, rape, AIDS, and homosexuality.
  • UC Berkley offers “Moving Image Pornographies, Off and On/Scene.” This course discusses the nature of pornography, and concentrates particularly on the changing of cultural norms and attitudes about pornography.
  • Bates College offers the course, “Doing It, Getting It, Seeing It, Reading It,” which focuses on, among other sexual topics, “distinctions between pornography and erotica.”
  • New York University offers several courses. One sociology course, “Sexual Diversity in Society,” explores the social nature of sexual expression, and discusses many topics including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestism, transgenderism, incest, sadomasochism, rape, prostitution, and pornography.
  • NYU also offers “Free Speech, Media Law, and Democracy,” which examines, among other things, important Supreme Court decisions that have shaped First Amendment rights in regard to hate speech, pornography, mass media, and the rights of journalists.
  • San Francisco State offers “Sex, Power and Politics.” This class examines how the state and social institutions define gender roles, regulate sexual practices, and police sex as a means of social control. They also offer “History of Love and Sexuality,” which covers topics such as courtship, unions, sexual identity, pornography, sex and science, and sex and religion.

“So you Want to Teach Porn”

Some professors and educators feel that in order to really teach about pornography, it needs to be seen and studied in the classroom.

In 1998, Professor Hope Weissman at Wesleyan University offered a course simply called, “Pornography.” The primary focus was on pornography as “radical representations of sexuality,” with the purpose of extending knowledge of sexuality and aggression—two extreme human passions depicted by pornography.

Students were asked to “reveal their understanding of pornography” as a final project. Students submitted projects which included videos, some fiction writing, and photography: essentially making their own works of pornography. “I push people over the line, whatever their line is,” Weissman said, “but only when I think they can go there and come back.”

Constance Penley, Professor and Chair of Film Studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara, has shown her own classes pornography “as another genre of film, like Westerns or science fiction,” since 1993. Penley has spoken at several conferences about teaching pornography in the classroom (such as the Conference on Censorship and Silencing, Society for Cinema Studies, and the Symposium on American Media Communities).

Henry Jenkins, professor at MIT, has had his classes analyze photos from Hustler and clips from X-rated movies. Jenkins also contributed to the book, More Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography and Power. His chapter, “So You Want to Teach Porn,” is all about a contextual approach to teaching about pornography and erotica in the classroom.

Porn University

One might argue that putting porn in an academic setting will really help college students to look at it critically rather than just experience it for pleasure. Unlikely. Rather, these types of courses only put a university’s rubber stamp of approval on an already common use of porn among students.

A study conducted in 2007 by researchers at Brigham Young University found that 21% of male college students view pornography “every day or almost every day” and another 27% view pornography “1 or 2 days a week.”

We are seeing a major cultural shift in attitudes about porn on the college campus. James Weaver III, a professor in the Department of Communications at Virginia Tech, taught a course on pornography for years. Professor Weaver explains:

“Young men in my classroom today don’t even understand why we should be talking about it. They see it as harmless entertainment. Their attitude is, ‘It’s a free country and I’ve been watching porn since middle school on the Internet and there’s nothing wrong with it.’ Most recently, students have become radical supporters of pornography. I didn’t used to see that at all from young men. It’s a huge shift in attitude” (quoted in Pamela Paul’s Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, p.181-82).

Michael Leahy, author of Porn Nation, states,

“Porn is now the norm in our culture, and no one understands that better than today’s college students. From the rapid rise of cyber porn addiction among male and female college students to its role in influencing the high incidence of rapes and prevalence of eating disorders among college co-eds, the growing influence of porn in the midst of an already sexually charged campus culture is taking a very real toll on students’ lives.”

Leahy has traveled to over 200 college campuses and shared his personal porn addiction story to over 100,000 students. In that time he has heard from many students, receiving much praise and criticism.

 

For example, when Leahy visited McMaster University to discuss his devastating pornography addiction and offer a message of hope to the students, one student started his own pro-porn campaign. He set up his own booth in the student centre with a sign that read, “Porn is Fun” and handed out candy to students passing by. This student said, “The Porn Nation campaign heavily insinuates that pornography is a sign of a sick society. My belief is that a society without pornography is a sick society.”

Nearly 30,000 students took Leahy’s sexual addiction survey. He will be publishing the findings from this survey in his upcoming book, Porn University. He promises to give his readers some eye-opening insights into the sexual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of today’s college student. Porn University will be released in May of 2009.

Should We Study Porn

Richard Burt, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts, was accused of melding his personal interests in porn with his role as an educator. Burt commented, “It’s not that you should study [porn], but why shouldn’t you? Sometimes the argument is that porn is bad, therefore it shouldn’t be studied. That’s like saying Nazism was bad, so we shouldn’t study it.”

So should we study porn at the university? Of course. The question is not whether we should, but how we should.

The problem with Burt’s argument is that while both the Nazis and pornography should be studied, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to study them. I may be required to read Mein Kampf or listen to testimonies of Holocaust survivors, but I’m not going to build a gas chamber and get into it so I can experience it firsthand. Similarly, when studying porn I may read biographies of Hugh Hefner and interview sexual addiction counselors, but I’m not going to lock myself in a room to watch porn for a week and see how it affects me.

How Porn Effects Our Sexuality

According to a study of first-year college students published in The Journal Adolescent Health, there are many risks associated with frequent exposure to pornography. Students who watch porn often can develop a tolerance toward explicit sexual material, thereby requiring more novel or bizarre material later on to achieve the same level of sexual arousal.

Porn really sets men and women up for sexual and relational failure. Therapist Douglas Weiss says that porn gives them a “very strong chemical hit,” and alters ways of thinking about sex, somewhat like the classic “ring the bell, feed the dog” stimulus-response mechanism. Addicts thus learn to become sexually attached to objects and have trouble getting the same kind of satisfaction from sex in a relationship.

Researchers have seen noticeable attitude changes associated with frequent porn use: developing cynical attitudes about love; a diminished trust between intimate partners; belief that marriage is sexually confining; belief that raising children and having a family is as an unattractive prospect; and exaggerated expectations of sexuality.

When pixels and well-placed camera angles and sculpted bodies become a guy’s standard of a good sexual experience, it is no wonder when real relationships can’t measure up.

Feminist author and speaker Naomi Wolf travels to college campuses all over the country. Her observations are noteworthy:

Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own . . . possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?
For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn. . . .
The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up, that they can never ask for what they want; and that if they do not offer what porn offers, they cannot expect to hold a guy. The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn, and how it is not helpful to them in trying to figure out how to be with a real woman. Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike. They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness.

What do You Think about Porn? (College Video Survey)

What is your opinion? How far should college professors be allowed to go when it comes to discussing porn in the classroom?