> Porn: An Oral History by Polly Barton - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Porn: An Oral History by Polly Barton

Reading Polly Barton’s Porn: An Oral History, there’s an element of being very aware of the judgement that this book topic raises. Barton addresses the subject with diplomacy and depth, exploring the ethics of porn, its consumption, and how this seeps into perceived ideas of sex and relationships, through twenty comprehensive interviews. 

Barton offers an exploration of what makes porn a taboo, how it works hand in hand with intimate relationships, and its primary function – is it just for the single heteronormative white male, as popular media would suggest? Structurally, Barton numbers each of the subject interviews like a chapter (the interviewee from chapter one is referred to as One, etc.) with this also providing anonymity. By doing so, along with a quick profile of each person interviewed, the reader’s attention is held and the floor is opened up for an interesting and intimate discussion about porn.

Through instigating these conversations with people from a range of genders, sexualities, and ages, it’s clear that consuming porn is not exclusive to one section of society, though the author never suggests it is. The variety of interviewees makes for some beguiling conversation around the subject: the media or platforms used, whether or not the porn is interactive and how they engage with it, and the subject’s own preferences – is it arthouse cinema with sex scenes for example, that they tend to watch? There’s also discussion of power dynamics, assaulting and violent porn, and racism in porn. There’s a lot to unpick: each chapter is different and there are some threads and patterns that emerge in terms of trying to keep things ethical and not consume exploitative porn, or porn that can be seen to encourage patriarchal violence. Another observation from all the interviews is that very few people converse with their partners on the subject, and even in the most intimate of relationships porn remains taboo. 

Insightful yet informal, this oral history of porn is written in a journalistic interview style, tightly edited but investigative enough. Barton offers an unusual, comprehensive take on the subject and runs with it, creating a catalyst for opening up discussion. 

Porn: An Oral History by Polly Barton is out now, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

You May Also Like

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility – Emily St. John Mandel

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel has returned with ...

Track by Track: Sault – 11

The history of the long-playing record in popular music is littered with cautionary tales ...

Book review: Xstabeth – David Keenan

I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect this. David Keenan’s latest ...