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In Selling Sex Short: The Pornographic and Sexological Construction of Women's Sexuality in the West, Meagan Tyler states that pornography is the same as prostitution and that prostitution promotes a harmful model of sexuality that is based on inequality, objectification and the sexual servicing of men by women. Further, Tyler argues that the model of sexuality in the West is promoted by pornography and sexology and therefore also resembles sex of prostitution.
In order to examine this statement, Tyler starts by connecting pornography with prostitution and harm. Tyler believes that the only difference between pornography and prostitution is the recording of sexual acts. Pornography is also stated as a particularly harmful type of prostitution due to increasing physically extreme sex acts and the psychological harm of filming and distributing pornography. By promoting sex of prostitution, the repercussions of pornography include harm caused through the production of pornographic material, which is an important feature of Tyler's work. Tyler states that pornography is not a "fantasy", but that real women are engaging in acts that are harmful to them. Other repercussions also include physical violence, psychological harm as well as harm intrinsic to prostitution.
Examining the fact that pornography is harmful, Tyler discusses how the industry represents pornography and the sex of prostitution. In doing so, Tyler examines the views of the AVN (Adult Video News), the history of pornography as an industry and the content changes in pornography. The fairly recent rise of extreme pornography displays the physical and psychological harm women experience in the business. The intersection between physical and psychological harm is jarring, especially so when Tyler states that women in the industry often suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and dissociation. Tyler states that extreme, violent and degrading acts are often highlighted in favorable terms indicating that violence in pornography is the norm, and that women welcome assault, thereby blurring the line between pleasure and pain.
Tyler also examines ways in which the pornographication of Western culture and the prostitution of sexuality have become normative and how they promote a harmful model of sex through production, consumption, the legitimization of pornography as a business, through a shift in academic work and through images slipping into the mainstream. The mainstreaming of pornography also includes art, music, sports and fashion.
Part of normalizing prostitution through the use of pornography and sexology includes the legitimization through medicine, sexology promoted through biology, and the emergence of Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). According to Tyler, the birth of sexology includes the construction of women as constantly sexually available. Women should therefore sexually service men and engage in coitus even though they may not feel like it. Those women who do not want to engage in sexual activity as often as their partner, are viewed as abnormal, and in need of medication to increase sexual drive. The distinctions between female illness and health are therefore used to enforce male dominance over women, and adjusting women to male sexual needs.
Tyler also spends two chapters discussing how sex therapy promotes the sex of prostitution and how pornography and sexology collide. According to Tyler, sex self-help books mirror the sex of prostitution by promoting the interests of men and the sexual servicing of men by women. Many sex self-help books are also written by former prostitutes and porn stars, further reinforcing the claim that the women in these industries are sex experts and know "good sex". Therapists often suggest the use of pornography to "enhance" the sex lives of those seeking help. By doing so, they also reinforce the subordination of women through the promotion of prostitution sex. The pornographication of popular culture, the promotion of prostitution sex and the intersection of pornography in sex therapy and sexology are selling sex short. The subordination of women, women's expected submission to the sexual demands of men and the objectification of women is, according to Tyler worrisome while promoting inequality and men's sexual interests as more important than women's.
The language used in Selling Sex Short is straightforward and easy to understand. The intended audience ranges from students and teachers in human sexuality, sociology, women's studies, gender studies and also the study of men and masculinities. The book would be of use to those in the field of sexology and sex therapy. The book is also of interests to those who simply would like to know more about the intersection of pornography, prostitution, sexology and sex therapy with popular culture. The content of the book, and the language used is at times fairly graphic. Therefore, the book is probably best suited for a mature audience.
The tracing of the history of pornography, sexology and sex therapy are very interesting and further supports the claims of Tyler, especially since many researchers and porn advocates claim that pornography is not harmful, but instead can be, and is, sexually liberating to women. The only concern I have with this book is that Tyler does not conduct her own study with women formerly or actively engaged in the sex industry. Tyler uses studies conducted by others, but does not engage in interviews of her own. Such a study can be both time consuming and difficult to undertake, and it is understandable why Tyler does not conduct such a study. However, it could further validate her main points and the statement that pornography is especially harmful since pornography promotes a certain model of sex, that of prostitution.
© 2011 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss is a graduate student in Sociology at California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.