College Has Porn on the Curriculum

Connecticut – from www.wesleyanargus.com – In 1998, “Pornography: Writing of Prostitutes,” a College of Letters class that aimed to examine “the implication of pornography in so-called perverse practices,” and consider “the inflections of the dominant white-heterosexual tradition by alternative sexualities,” appeared on the Wesleyan curriculum.

At the end of the course, students produced their own pornographic project, several of which ultimately included graphic videos of various sexual acts. In 1999, amidst the drama of the Clinton-era culture wars, the course received national media attention—much of it negative—and was removed from the curriculum by President Doug Bennet the following year.

For 10 years, porn remained off of WesMaps. But this semester, the University is taking a second chance on the study of porn, albeit in a less formal setting.

“Pornocopia: Society and Pornography,” a student forum in the Sociology Department that focuses on the relationship between society and the pornography industry, is the brainchild of Siddhant Issar ’12 and Robert Echeverria ’12, [pictured] who will co-lead the weekly Monday seminar.

Topics to be included in class discussions range from the effect of technology on the industry; the evolution of pornography, its market, and its legal regulation; and the social significance of feminist, queer, and international porn.

“We receive this message that it’s [pornography] a taboo subject, but it wouldn’t exist without society’s approval,” said Issar, a prospective sociology and philosophy double major. “People should accept that pornography exists, that it’s part of society, and that it evolves with society.”

According to Assistant Professor of Sociology and forum advisor Paromita Sanyal, the study of pornography is not just about sex.

“From many perspectives I think that this issue is very relevant,” Sanyal said, noting pornography’s relationship with economic development and globalization.

Echeverria and Issar received about thirty-five applications for fifteen available slots. They carefully accepted applicants with the intention of forming a class comprised of students with a diversity of opinions. One student had never watched pornography before, while another student’s grandfather had been involved with the porn industry. Already, one student has reportedly dropped the course over objections from their parents that such a controversial course name would appear on their transcript.

According to Echeverria and Issar, documentaries and videos with pornographic content will be shown as part of the course, subsequent to approval by Professor Sanyal.

Despite the controversial nature of the subject, students maintain that pornography can provide useful insight on society, from courtroom rulings to dorm-room viewings.

“I don’t see how it is different from any other class on a social issue,” said Abby Spector ’12, a participant in the porn forum. “We study everything about society, like the way cities are constructed, and pornography is part of that.”

Spector, a prospective Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major who appeared in Unlocked, the University’s student-run sex magazine, is eager for an open-class discussion.

“I’ve taken a lot of feminism courses here that are taught by a professor,” Spector said. “In that setting it feels as if you have to be a little more sterile and can’t say a few things.”

Echeverria, an undeclared economics and sociology double major, originally conceived of the course’s idea this past fall semester when researching for a sociology paper on the informal economy of sex labor.

After an argument over the content of his paper, Echeverria and Issar, with the best of intentions, searched the University Library database for more information. To their surprise, they found entire sections in the library sections devoted to the social significance of the pornographic industry.

“It just dawned on us that we should make a class about it,” Echeverria said.

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