The contextual evaluation of research on sexually explicit materials

  • P.M. Boynton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis criticises many psychological experiments on 'pornography' which attempt to demonstrate how 'pornography' causes and/or equals rape. It challenges simplistic definitions of 'pornography', arguing that sexually explicit materials (SEM) are constructed and interpreted in a number of different ways; and demonstrates that how, when and where materials are depicted or viewed will influence perceptions and reactions. In addition, it opposes the overreliance on male undergraduates as participants in 'porn' research. Theories of feminist psychology and reflexivity are used throughout the thesis, and provide a detailed contextual framework in a complex area. Results from a number of interlinking studies which use a variety of methodological approaches (focus groups, questionnaires and content analysis), indicate how contextual issues are omitted in much existing research on SEM. These include the views and experiences participants' hold prior to completing SEM studies; their opinions about those who 'use' 'pornography'; their understanding of key terms linked with SEM (eg: pornography and erotica); and discussions of sexual magazines aimed at male and female audiences. Participants' reactions to images and texts associated with SEM presented in different contexts are discussed. Three main conclusions are drawn from this thesis. Firstly, images deemed 'pornographic' differ through historical and cultural periods' and political, economic and social climates, so 'experimental' approaches may not always be the most appropriate research tool. Secondly, there is not one definition, source, or factor which may be named 'pornography'; and thirdly the context and presentation of materials influence how images are perceived and reacted to. The thesis argues a number of factors influence view of 'pornography', suggesting SEM may be 'in the eye of the beholder'.
Date of Award1998
Original languageEnglish


  • contextual evaluation of research
  • sexually explicit materials
  • pornography
  • experiments
  • gender

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