“A mature, thoughtful book about a complex and divisive topic. No matter their personal opinions, readers will likely find observations here to inform their thoughts about pornography's creation and consumption.” —Library Journal, starred review
“Compassionate and well-balanced . . . refreshingly unbiased . . . an astute and forthright presentation of a hotly contested issue.” —Publishers Weekly
“A thought-provoking examination of pornography in America . . . well balanced and rigorously researched, featuring dozens of opinions from across the spectrum of debate . . . An intellectually stimulating read for porn fans and critics alike.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The Pornography Wars is a tour de force! Weaving together history, politics, science, and technology, Burke meticulously documents all sides of the pornography debates . . . always staying above the fray. If you want to be truly informed, this is where you start!” —Lisa Wade, author of American Hookup
“Whether you believe pornography exploits or empowers those who engage in it, you'll enjoy how Kelsy Burke deftly blends storytelling and rigorous social science research to enlighten us on this complex and often taboo subject. The Pornography Wars is relevant to anyone who is concerned about the influence that pornography has on our culture and our lives, including parents, clinicians, educators, and researchers alike. A fascinating read!” —Ina Park MD, MS, Professor, UCSF School of Medicine and author of Strange Bedfellows
“In The Pornography Wars, Kelsy Burke offers a timely and insightful perspective on one of the world's most contentious topics. She uses careful research and details from numerous interviews to convey realities about anti-pornography and pro-pornography advocacy positions, all while remaining transparent and clear about her own position and analytic frame. The writing is rich, highly accessible, and often personal. This is a provocative, extraordinary, must-read.” —Emily Rothman, author of Pornography and Public Health
“A clear-eyed, engaging, and deeply-researched study of an industry and an argument we cannot afford to ignore.” —Amy Werbel, author of Lust on Trial
“Bold and ambitious, this book argues neither for or against pornography, instead championing the importance of knowing the sociohistorical context of narratives about pornography. With a sociological lens, Burke illuminates people's messy relationships to sexual images-the anxiety and the joy, the judgment and the pleasure-all in a radical attempt to humanize people on all sides of the porn wars.” —Jane Ward, Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies at University of California Riverside, and author of Not Gay
“Kelsy Burke may have done the impossible. At a time when debates over pornography's production and consumption have never been more heated, Dr. Burke has written a book that combatants on either side of that fight would find accurate, fair, and enlightening. And that's because Dr. Burke invites both sides to explain their case. She interviews the activists, the experts, and the producers. She traces the history and crunches the numbers. Meticulously researched, yet sweeping in scope, The Pornography Wars is required reading for anyone interested in America's love-hate obsession with porn.” —Samuel L. Perry, co-author of The Flag and the Cross and Addicted to Lust
“Social conflicts over pornography are as ubiquitous as porn itself. Moving from Comstock to OnlyFans, armed with rigorous research and smarts, Kelsy Burke jumps into the fray with empathetic curiosity, complexity, fair-mindedness and nuance. A definitive and important study.” —Joshua Gamson, University of San Francisco
Can pornography be ethically created? Is porn addiction a real thing? What effect does watching it have on the brain? Sociologist Burke's (Christians Under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet) new book doesn't aim to definitively answer these questions; instead it explores their role in American society. Beginning with a summary of the United States' historical attempts to regulate so-called "obscene" material, Burke continues into explorations of anti-porn and porn-positive viewpoints, drawing on interviews with advocates on both sides, scientific studies, and her own visits to conferences, public events, and support groups. Burke is critical of anti-porn adherents who employ scaremongering to bolster their movement, but her book is a balanced presentation of pornography sympathizers and opponents and the valid aspects of their arguments; she even highlights common ground between them. Key to Burke's discussion are her stances that a person's view of pornography is inseparable from their individual experiences, and that pornography can't ever be fully decoupled from wider societal issues of gender, race, morality, and bodily autonomy. VERDICT A mature, thoughtful book about a complex and divisive topic. No matter their personal opinions, readers will likely find observations here to inform their thoughts about pornography's creation and consumption.—Kathleen McCallister
A thought-provoking examination of pornography in America.
“Rather than direct readers to a single truth about porn, this book instead challenges the myths that surround pornography itself and the people who have something to say about it,” writes Burke, a sociology professor and author of Christians Under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet. From anti-vice activist Anthony Comstock to Inka Winter, the creator of ForPlay Films, “an all-woman porn production company,” the author introduces us to a plethora of interesting characters. Beginning with her own upbringing and difficulties as a “sexual outsider, queer without yet having a label,” Burke discusses the countless debates about what constitutes porn before moving on to evaluate the arguments on both sides. The author ably unravels a broad set of social and political values that the porn debate evokes, especially the moralizing facade of anti-porn arguments: “Antipornography activists suggest that the reason women participate in pornography is that they think it is good for them when actually it is not.” It’s clear that Burke wants readers to understand that sex and pornography go beyond the individual, contending that “the capitalist system provides constraints and opportunities for the internet sex industry and for pornography debates.” She is also thorough in her deconstruction of the way that pro-porn activists deal with racial iconography and violence in porn narratives. The book is well balanced and rigorously researched, featuring dozens of opinions from across the spectrum of debate, and Burke does her best to keep her own biases in check while illustrating her expertise in the topic. “What I observed over five years of research for this book is that fighters in the porn wars do not assume that if they fight hard enough, the other side will wave its white flag in defeat,” she writes. “The porn wars are fought not because either side perceives imminent victory, but because individuals believe it is the right thing to do.”
An intellectually stimulating read for porn fans and critics alike.