Chauntelle Tibbals Discusses Porn Studies in Slate Magazine

Lila Gray

CYBERSPACE — Sociologist Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals sat down to speak with Slate reporter Amanda Hess about the difficulties of studying porn in a respectable, non-Hugo Schwyzer type of way.

Hess prefaces the interview, “Millions of Americans study porn in the privacy of their homes on a daily basis. But for academics, it's still a challenge to secure funding and institutional approval to take a serious scholarly look at the material.” She goes on to mention the detrimental effects that Schwyzer’s Twitter meltdown and antiporn activist Gail Dines have had on the field.

When asked what the main stumbling blocks barring porn from ascending the Ivory Tower are, Tibbals had a few ideas.

The biggest issues facing academics, she said, is the perennial lack of funding for porn-related projects, and the lack of trust between the industry and potential recipients of information of obtained through (let’s say) demographic research.

 “If your subjects can’t trust the people they’re giving information to, then the information isn’t going to be reliable or accurate,” Tibbals told Slate. “That gets at a sociology-of-sociology question regarding the dynamic between researchers and respondents. A lot of people in the adult industry don’t trust researchers for very good reasons.”

She went on to chastise Schwyzer, the Pasadena City College “porn professor” who recently admitted to using his Navigating Pornography to sate his own sexual and emotional appetite, for reducing the credibility of a oft-trivialized and criticized field.

“It’s already difficult enough to get people to take this topic seriously, to view the sex industry as a complicated entity and to think of pornography as something that people actually think about,” Tibbals explained. “I don’t know what Hugo was trying to do, but he claimed that he hoped to get in with porn people and garner some celebrity for himself.”

To contrast with Schwyzer, Tibbals points out that there are “respectable people” teaching adult content, including Linda Williams at Berkeley or Constance Penley at UC Santa Barbara.

Tibbals recently released the first volume of her ebook series “You Study What? One Sociologist's Journey through Sex, Society, & Adult Entertainment.” She has published across disciplines, in publications including Stanford Law and Policy Review” and “Porn Studies.” She told Slate law journalstend to be much more welcoming to the subject than others,” possibly because its First Amendment and workplace regulation relevancy.

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