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NSFW, But Safe For School: Porn Studies Journal Will Launch in 2014

Author's note: All links in this article are safe for work.

If you ask a group of people to describe pornography, you'll probably get a wide variety of responses. Everything from "sexy," "intense," and "exciting" to "objectifying," "vulgar," and "immoral" can be used to describe the feelings of sexual gratification, mild discomfort, or outright disgust that the many facets of pornography inspire. But wait a minute, person in the back of the room — did you say "academic"? Sure, why not?

The publishing company Routledge announced last week that it will release a peer-reviewed journal starting in 2014 called Porn Studies. According to the publishers, the journal will be "the first dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal to critically explore those cultural products and services designated as pornographic," with particular focus on "the intersection of sexuality, gender, race, class, age and ability."

While this announcement may come as a shock to some, it's important to point out a few facts about pornography first. A recent study showed how popular this form of media really is among men and women alike, with 70% of men and 30% of women saying they watch it. But that's not all: pornography sites also get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, and a full 30% of all Internet bandwidth is used to transfer pornographic materials (And on the print side, the fact that the BDSM novel Fifty Shades of Grey is entering its 59th week on the New York Times best-seller list basically speaks for itself).

So why not discuss something so popular — and yet so mysterious in its popularity — more in-depth, with international academics weighing in on its implications on society?

For years, universities around the world have offered classes focusing on pornography. Students who sign up for these classes simply expecting to view materials from popular sites like YouPorn and RedTube could be in for a surprise. Class discussions of pornographic materials — viewed in class or on students' own time — tend to focus less on copulation itself and more on the history of sexuality, consensual sex and sexual assault, and, indeed, why pornography exists at all.

The courses focus "on giving students tools to understand pornography as a historical and contemporary phenomenon," said Pasadena City College professor Hugo Schwyzer. "Students today live in a porn-saturated culture and very rarely get a chance to learn about it in a safe, non-judgmental, intellectually thoughtful way."

Schwyzer's class, "Navigating Pornography," is a for-credit elective that focuses on "why we love porn, why some people are deeply troubled by it, and how both to make decisions about porn in their own lives and how to have conversations about porn with others." He even invited porn star James Deen to speak to his class about female sexuality. One student in particular said of the speech that "it felt really good to be in a classroom where we could openly acknowledge that women get horny too without it being unsafe or weird."

UCLA, Vanderbilt, New York University, UC Berkeley, and San Francisco State University are among the dozens of schools that offer classes like "Pornography and Evolution" and "Doing It, Getting It, Seeing It, Reading It," where students can learn about pornography as it relates to evolutionary theory, cultural norms and attitudes, and gender roles as dictated by society.

All that Porn Studies aims to do is collect all the research and discussion that is already happening around the world regarding a topic that many consider taboo, and make it less so by teaching others what it all really means. That's not to say you shouldn't be allowed to enjoy pornography for its intended purpose. Sexual expression and gratification won't go away, and they shouldn't have to as long as the acts are safe. Porn Studies opens the door for recreational viewers and academics alike to feel more comfortable discussing something that is immensely popular, yet notably unspeakable.

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