#PornWeek: The A to Z - by way of XXX - of pornography

From death sentences to Victorian obsessions, everything you never knew about porn

#PornWeek: The A to Z - by way of XXX - of pornography

Ardal O'Hanlon and Dermot Morgan in 'Father Ted' [Channel 4]

All this week, Newstalk has been leading a national conversation about pornography and how it affects people in Ireland. But just how much do you really know about porn? Here’s our A to Z of the world of pornography...

A is for... Aggression

Consenting adults are, of course, allowed to engage in any legal acts they choose to enter, but there is a worrying trend of aggressive behaviour in hard-core pornographic films. According to studies, 88.2% of the top-rated porn scenes contain aggressive acts, including gagging and slapping, with just one in 10 showing laughing, caressing or verbal compliments.


Furthermore, 70% of the aggression caught on camera is performed by men, and 94% of the time their behaviour is directed towards women.

B is for... Behavioural Addiction

While not listed in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, considered the “bible of psychiatry,” as a genuine disorder, there is a growing movement in the mental health community to recognise the dangers of what is believed to be a subset of sex addiction.

However, neuroscientists who have studied porn do not see similarities between so-called porn addicts and those addicted to drugs or alcohol. Speaking to the BBC, Nicole Prause, a former UCLA researcher, said that porn addiction is similar to others right until the point that it isn’t anymore:

“In other addictions such as gambling, when you see a cue, for people who have a problem, the brain is more responsive. In the case of porn, with people who say they have problems, their responsiveness is decreased.”

That said, there is a considerable amount of anecdotal testimony, including from Brooklyn 99 star Terry Crews, about the strain porn addiction can have on a person’s life.

C is for... Condoms

While venereal disease has always been a workplace hazard for adult film stars, the emergence of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s led to the first calls for mandated condom use in California, the centre of the American adult film industry. Successive HIV and Syphilis scandals have rocked the industry in the decades since, leading to attempts to draft legislation forcing male performers to wrap up before wrapping up a scene.

In 2012, Measure B was passed by the County of Los Angeles, requiring any scene with vaginal or anal sex be filmed with the use of condoms, strengthening state laws introduced three years earlier. But instead of having its intended effect, Measure B simply drove the industry out of the county, with the number of films produced dropping from 480 in 2011 to 40.


And the war on unsafe sex was dealt another blow last November, when California voters failed to support Proposition 60, a statewide mandate that would have ensured condoms as a health and safety measure.

D is for... Death Penalty

That’s the punishment for watching pornography in both Iran and North Korea.

E is for... Emails

Be grateful for your spam filters doing their thing, because it is estimated that the number of pornographic emails sent every day amounts to 2.5bn – about 8% of all emails.

F is for... Fanny Hill

Also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, this erotic novel by English writer John Cleland was first published in 1748, hastily scribbled by an author who needed a way to get himself out of debtors’ prison.

The book is considered the first original English prose pornography, and tells the story of Frances Hill, who recounts her life story from miserable orphan to sex-positive nymph, ending with her marrying the love of her life after inheriting a small fortune.

[Wiki Commons]

Largely ignored for more than two centuries, Fanny Hill became the centre of two obscenity trials on either side of the Atlantic in the 1960s; in the US, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, that ruled the book was not pornographic in 1966. A few years later in the UK, a publisher lost his case after the prosecution claimed the novel showed atypical sexual perversion, though the novel was allowed to be published, unedited, in the 1970s.

G is for... Greek

From which the word pornography is derived. First recorded in English in 1843, referring to an “ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus,” the word comes from the Greek pornographos, a compound of porne (a prostitute or female slave sold into prostitution) and graphein (to write).

H is for... Hotel Room Service

According to a 2017 study by Enseo, the prevalence of pay-per-view pornography as part of hotel room service packages is in steep decline, with only 1% of occupied hotel rooms streaming the explicit content. While hoteliers and pornographers can at least take some solace in the fact that 90% of streaming revenue from room service VOD still comes from porn, research has shown that when hotels switch to Netflix, 40% of occupied rooms are likely to watch something instead.


I is for... Income Inequality

Despite claims made by a Belgian advert campaigning for equal pay for women that the only industry they would earn the same as men is porn, figures suggest there is still a massive amount of disparity in the adult industry. It’s just that this time around, it’s male performers who get the raw end of the deal.

It is claimed that the most popular female pornstars, when filming the most explicit films, can earn as much as $4,000  per scene, compared to their big name male counterparts getting only $1,500. But according to data journalist John Millward, who conducted a large study of performers in the industry, despite actresses demanding bigger pay packets, they have fewer roles to choose from, with 96% of the most prolific porn performers being male.

J is for... Jenna Jameson

Jameson is arguably the most famous and richest porn star in the world, despite having retired from appearing in films in 2008. Starting out as a beginner in 1993, the Las Vegas native went on to appear in 187 films, directing four as well.

Jenna Jameson arrives at the 2013 Grammys with Tito Ortiz [Jordan Strauss/AP/Press Association Images]

Proving herself to be a canny entrepreneur, Jameson founded her own adult-entertainment company in 2000, with ClubJenna expanding over the years to become one of the biggest in porn, with revenues valued at $30m.

In addition to her work in porn, Jameson has also become a prolific figure in mainstream popular culture, appearing in mainstream movies and television shows. Her 2004 autobiography, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, spent six weeks in the New York Times bestseller list, and was translated into German, Swedish, and Spanish.

K is for... Kim Kardashian

Ten years ago, Kardashian was not a nobody, but she was not a household name. She was Brandy’s stylist. She was opening a store called Dash with her two sisters. She went to her clients’ homes and helped them clean out their closets, taking whatever they didn’t want and selling it for them on eBay. That’s what she told E! in 2006.

Then her ex-boyfriend Ray J leaked their sex tape online in March 2007, unknowingly offering one of the most entrepreneurial families in America, with an incredible capacity to understand the value of their image, a launch pad for global domination.

Forbes says Kardashian earned $51m in 2016. “Not bad for a girl with no talent,” she told the magazine.

L is for... Le Coucher de la Mariée

Also known as Bedtime for the Bride or The Bridegroom’s Dilemma, this 1896 seven-minute long silent French film is considered to be the first erotic film and was directed by Albert Kirchner under the pseudonym Léar.

Held in the French Film Archives, the quality of the film has deteriorated to the point that only two minutes of footage remain. In it, a newlywed woman asks her husband to wait for her to remove her clothing before they can consummate their marriage, with the wife going on to perform a striptease for him while both look at the camera.

M is for... Money

While some estimates claim that the online porn industry makes more than $3,000 per second, Business Insider reports that the industry has an annual turnover of more than $100bn. Mid-sized adult film studios can expect to clear about $350,000 a month for their productions, though this is roughly 50% of the money they were banking before the global recession – not to mention freely uploaded amateur porn and piracy – cut swathes out of their bottom line.

N is for... Nuptials

Divorce rates double when people start watching porn.

O is for... Obscenity


The Censorship of Publications Board of Ireland, the national body charged with determining whether or not to ban books, banned its first one in 18 years in 2016. Jean Martin’s The Raped Little Runaway was ruled obscene after being submitted for consideration by an anonymous member of the public, despite it being out of print.

Regardless, anyone with a copy had better not consider putting it up for sale. The punishment for distributing a banned text in Ireland? A fine or up to six months in jail.

P is for... Presidential Elections

According to researchers, voting for the winning candidate in the US presidential election makes men more likely to want to watch pornography.

Based on a study of testosterone by two Rutgers psychologists, the research showed that the popularity of pornography in traditionally red and blue states increased in the days immediately after the electoral successes of George W Bush and Barack Obama, when they each claimed the presidency.


As well as a boost in testosterone, the psychologists argued that people who voted for the winning candidate might simply be in a better mood and this more likely to desire sex.

Q is for... Quality Control

Despite the porn business being one of the most successful in the world, celebrities rarely want to be associated with anything linking them to pornography.

In 2015, Taylor Swift made headlines when she moved to protect her brand by buying up Internet domains with her name in them that implied there could be adult material ready to stream, asserting her control over TaylorSwift.porn and TaylorSwift.adult.

R is for... Rape and other sex crimes

A number of studies have made the claim that increased amounts of pornography available to the citizens of a country could actually lead to fewer sexual assaults in that country – though this remains a highly controversial opinion.

Taking the Czech Republic as an example, American researchers examined what happened when the country emerged from communism and legalised pornography; comparing reported sexual assault rates for the 17 years before and the 18 years after, the legalisation of porn appeared to be associated with a decrease in sex crime.

Similar studies charted similar results in Denmark, Japan, China, and Hong Kong.

S is for... Softcore

Meaning pornographic movies that do not feature scenes showcasing penetrative sex, such as 2000’s Video Centrefold, featuring a cameo performance from none other than the US President, Donald Trump.

As reported by Buzzfeed News, Trump appears in a non-sexual segment of the film where he is seen, accompanied by several Playboy playmates, opening a bottle of champagne and spraying the foam at a Playboy-branded limousine on a New York City street.

T is for... Taboo

As in, the ultimate taboo when it comes to the industry, that of child pornography. Despite it representing a tiny fraction of the online business, Online MBA still claims that 116,000 searches for ‘child pornography’ are made every day.

Furthermore, the US National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children reviewed 22m images and videos of suspected child sexual abuse imagery as part of its victim identification programme in 2013, showing a 5,000% increase since 2007.

The consumption of pornography can be safe and legal, but all child abuse imagery is illegally and must be reported.

U is for... Unique Users


According to Google’s Double Click Ad Planner, one of the largest porn sites in the world receives 4.4bn page views a month by 350 million unique visitors, three times the page views of CNN or ESPN.

V is for... Victorians

A repressed bunch, no doubt, but there is a solid argument to be made that the Victorians essentially invented modern pornography, and proved to be very fond of flagellation.


According to Deborah Lutz, author of Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism, middle and upper-class men in the British Empire were expected to be in complete control of their emotions, servants, and wives, with their inner tensions boiling over in pornography – half of which featured men being whipped or beaten by women.

Other Victorian pornographic obsessions included lesbianism, homosexuality, and the eroticisation of death.

W is for... Workplace

Rates vary across the world, but a 2014 study coming out of the US claimed 63% of men and 36% of women admitted to having viewed porn while at work. The phenomenon even reached the hallowed halls of NASA, where six employees have been caught out – one of whom began his work day searching for ‘Teen Boobs’ and ‘Bubble Butt’ on his phone.

Closer to home, a 2015 study in the UK claimed one in 10 British employees admit to watching porn at work, still higher than the global average.

X is for... X-Rated


First introduced by the Motion Picture Association of America in 1968, the adults-only rating was originally launched without any association with porn, simply meant to mean that a movie was intended for someone over the age of 18.

But the rating was adopted by the producers of a pornographic film named Starlet!, who used it as a marketing tool. At the time, beer was commonly rated for its alcoholic potency with a number of Xs, and so the producers of the film mocked up a phoney MPAA rating as XXX, implying their film was so hardcore it was above and beyond even the X-Rating. It quickly caught on as a trope meaning that the now defunct X-Rating, along with XXX, have become associated indelibly with porn.

Y is for... Yearly

According to some estimates, the US porn industry produces a new film every 39 minutes, but the truth is it is absolutely impossible to put a figure on the number of films produced every year, especially given the rise of amateur porn.

Z is for... Zealots

The writer Salman Rushdie, who has spent his entire career questioning the repressive theocrats of Iran, argued in 2004 that a free a civilised society should be judged by its willingness to accept pornography.

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