Hugo Schwyzer: I Teach a College Class on How to Think and Talk About Pornography

tags: The Atlantic, history, pornography, erotica, Pasadena City College, Hugo Schwyzer



Hugo Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College.  He is co-author of Beauty, Disrupted: A Memoir.

"What do you study in a 'porn class'?" I've gotten that question almost daily since "Navigating Pornography"—a humanities course I offer at Pasadena City College—received national attention in the aftermath of a controversial classroom visit in February by adult superstar James Deen. The queries have grown even more frequent since last week's widely covered announcement that Porn Studies, a new periodical devoted to the study of "cultural products and services designated as pornographic" will make its debut in 2014.

Though the press coverage of my course and the launch of the Porn Studies journal suggest that the academic study of adult entertainment is a very recent innovation, scholars have been writing and teaching about porn for more than two decades. University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Constance Penley has taught "Topics in Film Genre: Pornographic Film" since 1993, while Linda Williams, a professor now at UC Berkeley, wrote what is widely regarded as the first modern scholarly study of porn, 1989's Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible. Today, dozens of courses on pornography are offered on college campuses across the country, taught by instructors from a wide variety of disciplines including film, women's studies, art, sociology, psychology, English, and history. These classes attract periodic media attention, either when a speaker like Deen comes to campus, or when student complaints about pornography being shown in the classroom lead to a professor being disciplined, as happened last year at both Fresno State and Appalachian State universities....



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