Porn by any other name: women’s consumption of public sex performances in Amsterdam

Sanders-McDonagh, Erin (2015) Porn by any other name: women’s consumption of public sex performances in Amsterdam. Porn Studies, 2 (4) . pp. 329-341. ISSN 2326-8743 [Article] (doi:10.1080/23268743.2015.1100092)

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Women’s engagement with pornography has been a divisive debate within feminism. Much of the traditional debates have focused on pornography’s sexual and visual content, suggesting that women are objectified in pornographic representations (Dworkin, 1979), problematizing the consumption of porn and assuming that pornography is created by men for men (c.f. Gunter, 2002). There is an emerging literature, however, that seeks to explore the ways in which women consume and understand pornographic materials (Loach, 1992; Senn, 1993; Shaw, 1999; Eck, 2003; Ciclitira, 2004; Attwood, 2005; Smith, 2007), which seem to suggest that women’s responses to porn are complex, and cannot be easily categorized.

This paper intends to further these emerging discussions by focusing on an under-researched area – public sex performance. Little has been written on public sex performance (c.f. Manderson, 1992; Delany, 1999; Sanders, 2010), and much less on women’s engagements with these types of venues. This paper will draw on ethnographic research conducted in Amsterdam, exploring the ways in which women tourists engage with public sex performances, drawing comparisons between these types of shows and other types of pornographic materials. Empirical data collected in Amsterdam, focusing on women’s visual consumption of public sex performances at a well-known tourist sexual theatres that features live sex (including vaginal penetrative sex and oral sexual encounters for/by men/women, as well as masturbation and other highly sexualized acts), suggests that sex shows are positioned as legitimate sexual entertainment for men, women, and couples, and that a wide range of tourist women from different backgrounds visit these shows in substantial numbers. By attempting to unpick the ways in which women visually consume public sex performances, and thinking about this in relation to broader discussions around pornography and the literature around women’s consumption practices, this paper will argue that many of the current understandings of pornography consumption as an androcentric activity fail to recognize women as active sexual, visual agents. Women’s engagement with sex shows in Amsterdam complicates the various ways in which visual consumption of pornography might occur, and opens up questions about the social and gendered practices of watching sex.

Item Type: Article
Keywords (uncontrolled): pornography, female gaze, public sex performance, Amsterdam
Research Areas: A. > School of Law > Femgensex
Item ID: 17354
Notes on copyright: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Porn Studies on 19/11/2015, available online:
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Erin Sanders-Mcdonagh
Date Deposited: 06 Aug 2015 09:07
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 22:25

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