professor barb brents

How male ‘porn superfans’ really view women

Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Aleta Baldwin, The University of Texas at San Antonio; Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Crystal A. Jackson, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

In 2007, the pornography website Pornhub averaged 1 million visits per day. By 2018, this had increased to 92 million visits per day – or 33.5 billion views over the course of a year.

As an interdisciplinary group ofsexademics,” we’re interested in porn’s cultural role and impact. A common question we hear is whether this growth in porn consumption is good or bad for society.

Of course, the honest-but-unsatisfying answer is: It depends. But sometimes studying various aspects of porn consumption can change the way we think about it.

You might have heard, for example, that porn fuels misogynistic attitudes and sexual violence.

If this were the case, you would think that people who consumed a lot of porn would hold particularly negative views towards women.

So we decided to study a group of men whom we’ve dubbed “porn superfans” – those who are so enthusiastic about porn that they’ll attend the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. We wanted to compare their attitudes about gender equality to those of everyday Americans.

Profiling the superfans

Our study was inspired, in part, by the journalists and politicians who have said that porn consumption is at epidemic levels – so much so that it constitutes a public health crisis.

They write and speak of the perils of porn addiction and objectification, how porn encourages “hatred of women” and “sexual toxicity.”

Would this play out in the results of our study?

The 294 expo attendees we surveyed certainly differed from the general population in a number of ways.

Their average age was 44 years old. Almost half – 47.3% – indicated that they watched porn “less than once a day, but more than once a week.” Over one-third – 36.1% – indicated they watch porn “every day.” In other words, over 80% of the attendees in our sample watched porn multiple times a week. Only 34.1% of them were married, but they were highly educated: 60.5% had a college degree or higher.

A scene from the 2017 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Paul Maginn, Author provided

We compared these results to the results from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey conducted every couple of years that charts social trends.

This survey only asks whether people have seen an X-rated movie in the last year, and 37.6% of the men indicated that they had. Just over half of the men in the General Social Survey sample were married, while just 28.7% of them had a college degree or higher.

Misogyny unmasked?

But we were most interested in comparing the gender attitudes of each group. So we asked the expo attendees the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with four statements from the General Social Survey:

  1. “A working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.”
  2. “Most men are better suited emotionally for politics than are most women.”
  3. “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.”
  4. “Because of past discrimination, employers should make special efforts to hire and promote qualified women.”

After parsing the results, we discovered that male porn superfans actually expressed more progressive attitudes towards gender equality on two of the questions. For two others, they indicated just as progressive – or, said another way, just as sexist – attitudes as the general population.

Over 90% of porn superfans – compared to just over 70% of the GSS sample – agreed that working mothers can have just as warm and secure relationships with their children than non-working mothers.

For the statement that men and women should hold traditional gender roles within a family, 80% of porn superfans disagreed. Nationally, 73% percent of respondents disagree with this statement.

A similar proportion – 80% – of AVN Expo attendees and General Social Survey respondents disagreed with the statement that men, rather than women, were more emotionally suited for politics.

Although a majority of porn superfans and General Social Survey respondents – 72.4% and 74.5%, respectively – agreed that women, due to past discrimination, should get special preference in the workplace, this was the least supported statement we tested. Notably, however, this level of support is higher than a recent national poll indicating that 65% of Americans support affirmative action for women.

Porn crisis or moral panic?

These findings challenge what porn scholars call the “negative effects paradigm,” which sees porn as an inherently bad thing that cultivates harmful attitudes.

Our survey isn’t the only one that upends this way of thinking. A 2016 study based on General Social Survey data found that male porn consumers held more egalitarian views on women in position of power, women working outside the home, and abortion than those who didn’t view porn.

And while most porn is produced and consumed by men, a growing number of women – straight and LGBTQ – are producing porn and consuming different genres of porn, a trend that’s largely been ignored.

For now, it’s probably best to pump the brakes on the idea that pornography causes negative attitudes toward women. The evidence just isn’t there, and much of today’s rhetoric about pornography seems to be more of a moral panic than public health crisis.

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Paul J. Maginn, Associate Professor of Urban/Regional Planning, University of Western Australia; Aleta Baldwin, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition , The University of Texas at San Antonio; Barb Brents, Professor of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Crystal A. Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What happens in Vegas … why consent matters in ‘Sin City’ and other sex tourism cities

Paul Maginn, Author provided

Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Aleta Baldwin, The University of Texas at San Antonio; Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Crystal A. Jackson, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Mention the phrase “sex tourism” in conversation and most people will cringe in disgust.

Why? People often picture old Western men visiting Asia for easy cheap sex with young boys and girls.

Stereotypes of sex tourism, as geographer Phil Hubbard notes, “obscure a more complex global economy of sex”. A wide range of people, regardless of age, gender, relationship status, race/ethnicity, ability/disability and sexuality, engage in sexualised tourism and leisure activities. We do this whenever we watch porn at home or in a hotel room when on holiday; go on a “romantic/dirty weekend”; visit a strip club, brothel, swingers’ club or bdsm dungeon when on a business trip; attend a gay/lesbian Mardi Gras parade; or go to a porn expo.

Consent matters in sexualised touristic spaces. It can’t be taken for granted just because a space is hyper-sexualised. Workers are continuously negotiating consent. They can and should be able to withdraw consent at any time.

Most people who regularly engage in these practices recognise this. Venues are increasingly taking responsibility for this issue too, but there is still work to do.

In the hypersexualised atmosphere of events like the AVN Expo, consent matters more than ever. Paul Maginn, Author provided

Sexualised tourism takes many forms

As we note in our recent research paper, the touristic gaze involves more than just looking. It includes “touching or being touched (physical or emotionally), buying, moving around and talking”.

Different cities are renowned for particular forms of sexualised leisure/tourism.

Sydney, for example, is globally recognised for its Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco is arguably the tourist capital for fetishists from around the USA and the world. Paris is the tourist city for romantic getaways. And in the UK the “dirty weekend” is synonymous with seaside towns such as Brighton and Blackpool.

Other UK cities such as London, Liverpool and Newcastle, plus European cities such as Amsterdam, Dublin and Prague, are popular destinations for stag or hen parties. These may include visits to strip clubs, brothels, sex shops and casual or hook-up sex.

Casual/hook-up sex in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Cancun and Cabo San Lucas is popular for US college students during “Spring Break”. During “Schoolies Week” in Australia, high school graduates hit destinations such as the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and Bali.

But if there is one city that personifies sexualised leisure tourism and hedonistic urbanism it is the US city of Las Vegas, Nevada – aka “Sin City”. Nevada has “built a tourist industry on turning deviance into leisure”.

Pascale Nédélec notes that Las Vegas has aggressively marketed itself as a “free-wheeling, anything-goes kind of place”. Its long-running advertising slogan is “What Happens Here, Stays Here”.

Managing issues of consent

The AVN Adult Entertainment Expo represents one key node in a global network of adult-oriented entertainment expos that attract fans and industry personnel. Examples include Exxxotica (USA), SEXPO (Australia), Taboo (Canada) and Expo Sexo y Erostismo (Mexico).

The sexualised touristic gaze ramps up at the AVN Expo.
Paul Maginn, Author provided

Every January the sexualised touristic gaze within Las Vegas ramps up when the AVN Expo sets up camp at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (soon to be rebranded).

The largely LA-based adult entertainment industry relocates to Las Vegas for about a week, bringing with it performers, producers, directors and videographers. The porn community is in town for business-to-business events, to shoot porn, celebrate industry achievements at the AVN Awards – the so-called Porn Oscars – and meet and greet porn fans.

The meet-and-greet aspect is where the touristic gaze is particularly intense. In a panel we organised at the 2020 AVN Expo, performers Jessica Drake and Katy Jayne said they often felt an even more intense gaze when winding their way to their hotel rooms, restaurants and bars within Hard Rock’s broader spaces.

Admittedly the expo encourages a sexualised touristic gaze by largely heterosexual male attendees. But this in no way negates the importance of negotiated consent in interactions between fans and performers.

AVN requires all people attending its expo to sign a code of conduct. Paul Maginn, Author provided

A “mix of physical, social and institutional boundaries and formal and informal rules of engagement” prevails within the AVN Expo space. Attendees – performers, media and fans – must sign a “code of conduct”. Signage around the expo space reminds patrons of the AVN’s policy of zero tolerance of anyone found and/or reported to have engaged in assault, non-consensual physical contact, violations of privacy, and verbal or physical harassment.

While this code isn’t perfect, our research found it’s part of a “mix of physical, social and institutional boundaries and formal and informal rules of engagement”. These help keep non-consensual contact to a minimum and empower the performers to negotiate their own boundaries.

A charter of consent helps

When sexualised leisure activities are an important part of a city’s tourism or night-time economy, it is critical for government officials, local businesses and advocacy organisations that represent workers in sexualised tourism to come together and develop what might be termed a “charter of consent”.

Such a charter would set out the essential “rights, roles and responsibilities” of participants. It could also highlight the repercussions for those who transgress consensual boundaries.

This charter could be widely promoted via traditional and social media, creative marketing strategies (e.g. drinks coasters, receipts, online adverts, and posters in restrooms in bars, clubs and restaurants), as well as signage in sexualised tourism/leisure spaces to remind tourists consent is paramount.

With active promotion and demonstrated commitment by regulators, such a charter would help give those on the front line of providing sexualised leisure experiences the confidence to report non-consensual or inappropriate behaviours to their employers and relevant authorities.The Conversation

Paul J. Maginn, Associate Professor of Urban/Regional Planning, University of Western Australia; Aleta Baldwin, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition , The University of Texas at San Antonio; Barb Brents, Professor of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Crystal A. Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Teaching: What I do and why

Just as I orient my research to a social justice perspective, my teaching and service are motivated in this same direction.  Throughout my career, I have worked hard through curricular development, administration, teaching and mentoring, to impart the centrality of the social justice mission, which helped create sociology, as a discipline, and is at the heart of a liberal arts education. My goal is to instill in students the confidence, skills, and critical consciousness, to produce their own action-oriented research.

Prof. Barb Brents

I have been active within my department and in departments across campus. Among my proudest accomplishments at UNLV was my central role in moving Women’s Studies from an undergraduate minor in the 1980s, to a freestanding department in the 2000s. In 2004, I was invited to co-edit the premier issue of UNLV’s Creative College Teaching Journal. I have also served as a member of the steering committee for the Carnegie Foundation/American Association of Higher Education and Accreditation Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Initiative, at UNLV.

I have achieved the most recognition from my various roles in graduate education. From 1998 to 2010, I received numerous awards for teaching and mentorship from the University and the Nevada System of Higher Education. In 2001, I was elected chair of the UNLV Graduate Council. I served on the Graduate College Executive Committee, chaired the Graduate College Student Funding Committee, and served on the Graduate College professional development committee. I was a facilitator at annual UNLV Planning Retreats, on graduate education and research, and gave a training session on professional development for graduate coordinators. I have spoken at graduate student orientation sessions and gave a workshop at the American Sociological Association’s Directors of Graduate Study Mini-Conference. I have also chaired the Outstanding Student Paper competition, for the Political Sociology section of the ASA.

As a member of the Sociology Department, I have invested heavily in my students and our graduate curriculum. From 1998 to 2001, I was the Graduate Coordinator for our department. In my years at UNLV, I have chaired 25 and have been a member of more than 60 graduate committees. I have been on so many outside committees, I have lost count, but estimate that I have been an outside advisor to well over 35 M.A. and Ph.D. committees, in departments across campus.

Prof. Barb Brents with Sociology Graduates
Prof. Barb Brents with Sociology Graduates

Serving on graduate student committees is only part of my commitment to our graduate students’ professional development. As a mentor I believe in modeling active engagement and passion, as a scholar and citizen. I strive to inspire students, to make a difference in the world, and work to become not just professional sociologists, but passionate, engaged scholars. I have always taught and advised, according to the philosophy that students learn best, take on more ambitious projects, and do better work, when they are active participants in learning. This, to me, means treating students as colleagues, in the production of knowledge. 

I am lucky to have had some very bright and committed students, and they have been high achievers. I have co-authored one book and four publications with students; presented 14 papers with students at national and international professional meetings; and many undergraduate students have presented papers, developed in my classes, at professional conferences. I have collaborated with students on several grants, and I encourage my graduate students to develop work in single-authored papers, and many have published from their research.

One of my advisees received a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Award. This was the first, and up until a few years ago, the only such award received by a UNLV graduate student. One received the Beth Hess Memorial Scholarship award from the ASA, SSSP & Sociologists for Women in Society. Another student was UNLV Graduate and Professional Student Association President. Two received a University and Community College System of Nevada Regents Scholar awards. Three of my students have received UNLV fellowships, three have received awards from the UNLV College of Liberal Arts, and others have received smaller university level scholarships and departmental awards.

The work I do, with graduate students, has also allowed them to produce research, central to debates on the politics of sexuality. Recently, two students have published or have forthcoming articles in the journal Sexualities, based on their M.A. level research. I am currently working on a collaborative project with students, examining tourism and the adult entertainment industry.

Prof. Barb Brents with Current and Former UNLV Grad Students
Prof. Barb Brents with Current and Former UNLV Grad Students

Over the years, the graduate and undergraduate students, I have mentored, have taken to heart the call for public sociology, through activities as diverse as organizing their own collective internships, using research from my classes for social change (for example, research on Nevada campaign financing, and a student project on summary eviction processes in Clark County, all of which helped influence policy). Because of my, now, deep roots in the activist and policy communities, I have been able to connect people to a variety of projects, which have assisted local grassroots and local government initiatives.

Most recently, I connected a graduate student with a particularly sustainability-minded ‘bureaucrat’, in local city government, on a project for my political sociology seminar. The project grew to a working group of students and faculty, researching aspects of urban sustainability, and culminated with both the City of Las Vegas and the regional growth commission funding the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area Social Survey, one of the city’s first serious surveys, designed to assess social sustainability at the neighborhood level in Las Vegas. Together, I have worked with undergraduate and graduate students on causes as diverse as sex worker rights, peace and justice, civil liberties, environment and a variety of women’s issues For this work, I have been recognized by the Las Vegas Centennial Committee and Southern Nevada Women’s Political Caucus, and was one of 256 women who have made a difference in 100 years of Las Vegas History, honored on the ‘Wall of Women’.

Barb Brents accepting GIST Distinguished Award
Prof. Barb Brents accepting GIST Distinguished Award

Students have gone on to engage in activities, ranging from nonprofit work, to more traditional academic outlets. Students have become faculty members at the University of Nebraska, California State at Northridge, and University of Minnesota at Mankato, as well as some who have taken on more applied jobs, such as founding a women’s political action committee, in New York, and various positions in Las Vegas in research, government, corporate diversity and philanthropy. 

~Barb Brents

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Welcome to my world!

I have to say it! The admittedly clichéd, but sincere, desire to “change the world” drives my sociology. My work before tenure sought to understand the power dynamics that create laws, particularly the role of business and economic institutions, in creating social policy. I have always sought to be an activist, by putting these insights into practice, both inside and outside traditional political institutions, in the community, in teaching, and in research.

Prof Barb Brents

Prof. Barb Brents, UNLV Department of Sociology

But, my sociology has been profoundly affected by living in Las Vegas, where the objectification of women seems so blatantly transparent, yet complex and contradictory inequalities, tied to sexuality and gender, beg for fresh examinations. My feminism, activism and scholarship have turned to research on sexual commerce. Sexuality has been relatively ignored by political and economic sociology, yet it has become an important part of our economy and a powerful force for social change. Both my teaching and my research examine how struggles surrounding sexuality reveal contemporary forms of race, class and gender inequalities. I, now, see my work as at the forefront of a small, but growing, number of scholars interrogating the political economy of sexuality.

For the last 15 years, I have been involved in research, exploring the politics, culture, organization and labor, in Nevada’s legal brothel industry. Despite their uniqueness, I was surprised at how little research had been done on the brothels. Kate Hausbeck and I began a large ethnographic project, collecting data and doing early analysis, which culminated in several publications. The article ‘Violence and Legalized Brothel Prostitution in Nevada’, in Journal of Interpersonal Violence, is much cited for our finding that there is little violence in legal brothels, lending credence to the conclusion that legal indoor sex work is relatively safe for sex workers, and that legalizing prostitution may be a way to challenge global sex trafficking. The article ‘Marketing Sex: American Legal Brothels and Late Capitalist Consumption,’ in Sexualities, analyzes sexual consumption and furthers the argument that adult-oriented businesses are using mainstream, traditional forms of business organization and marketing. This article was reprinted in the most recent edition of Sex Matters: The Sexuality and Society Reader, by Stombler, et. al.

state of sex book cover

The State of Sex

The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex and Sin in the New American Heartland (Routledge Press), is the culmination of a decade-long research study of Nevada’s legal brothels. As far as I know, it is the largest and most comprehensive study of legal prostitution. Co-authors, Crystal Jackson, Kate Hausbeck and I, look at the context, history, organization and work in the brothels. The study of prostitution has been highly contentious, debating primarily whether prostitution is work or necessarily coercive. Our comprehensive approach shifts the focus from individual women’s choices, and puts it on the economic dynamics that drive gendered inequalities, gendered politics and gendered work, in this particular arena of consumption. We find that while prostitution may be unique in some ways, for good or for ill, the organization, consumption and work is much more similar to late capitalist interactive service businesses, touristic consumption and work than we typically believe.

I am now working to extend these insights and further use the sex industry as a site to understand the intersections of culture and economics. Recently, collaborative research, with British scholar Teela Sanders, resulted in the article ‘The Mainstreaming of the Sex industry: Economic Inclusion and Social Ambivalence’, in Journal of Law & Society, comparing Las Vegas, Nevada, and Leeds, UK, to show how neoliberalism effects the mainstreaming of sexual commerce. Other works in progress include studies of: the construction of ‘market morality’ in political debates around sexuality; the relation between tourism, consumption and sexuality; heterosexuality in the sex industry, the emotional and bodily labor of selling sex; and consuming sex. I am building on collaborations overseas and with other UNLV scholars, on a longer-term interdisciplinary project, for the study of globalization and sexuality.

Barb Brents Researching on Location

Prof. Barb Brents with Kate Hausbeck and Crystal Jackson

My academic research on sex work, sexual markets and sexual politics extends past work on social policy, political violence, and social movements. An article with colleague Robert Futrell ‘Protest as Terrorism: The Potential for Violent Anti-Nuclear Activism’, in American Behavioral Scientist, analyzes the potential for violent activism among protesters, drawing on my own research and activism, in anti-nuclear movement. I also include, in this dossier, an article written with graduate student Deo Mshigeni, ‘Terrorism in Context: Race, Religion, Party and Violent Conflict in Zanzibar’, in The American Sociologist, drawing on his research with a potentially violent youth wing of the minority political party in Zanzibar, where globalization and Islamic fundamentalism have impacted racial identity.

Las Vegas aka 'Sin City'

Las Vegas aka ‘Sin City’

I am also engaged in collaborative work on the political economy of contemporary culture, through a multi-year study of sustainability and community, in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Area Social Survey is a collaborative project, with the LVMASS team (graduate students and two other Sociology faculty), the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission, and the City of Las Vegas. The project gathers neighborhood-level data on the attitudes, knowledge, and opinions of Las Vegas residents on neighborhood, environmental and social sustainability issues.

~Prof. Barb Brents

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Hello World!


I’m Barb Brents, and thanks for visiting my website! Rest assured new blog posts and op-eds are coming soon! Please check back regularly for updates. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter, and subscribe to my new YouTube channel – content forthcoming too!

In the meantime, have a great day!