Pornography and Its Effects: Rethinking Audience Studies


Yu-Chao Hsu、Fang-Mei Lin


This paper examines the effects of pornography. I put effects research within the entire framework of audience studies, comparing the differences of two research paradigms – behavioralism and feminist cultural studies. In the first part of this paper, I introduce various positions and perspectives concerning the pornography debate. The religious position is opposed to pornography on the ground of upholding morality and social order. Liberalism speaks for freedom of speech, thereby endorsing the existence of pornography and criticizing the practice of censorship. Radical feminism asserts that pornography expresses male domination.

In The second part of this paper, the research findings of behavioral studies are examined. These findings point out that pornography has the following effects on audience: reinforcing rape myth; being desensitized to violence; less satisfied with the appearance of one’s own partner.

The third part of this paper advocates a broader scope of audience studies, including four dimensions: context, text, decoding, ideological effects. Using the concept of the male gaze developed by feminist psychoanalysis, I argue that pornography reinforces men’s active looking position, thereby depriving them of haveing the experiences of looking at men and being looked at by women. The ideological effects of pornogrophy is conceptualised as aggravating male solipsism, which lacks the experience of inter-subjectivity.

Finally, this paper argues that, in dealing with issues of media regulation and policy, the focus should be on negotiations and choices of values, rather than on accumulating evidence of harm as is narraowly defined by positivist science.