University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Lecture to explore how porn shapes our sex lives

Visiting scholar Alan McKee says asking the right questions can be key to healthy, consensual sex


International expert in healthy sexual development, Alan McKee, will give a public lecture on pornography and healthy sexual consent Tuesday, Feb 7. at the University of Calgary. The public is welcome.

By Faculty of Arts Staff
February 1, 2017

Is porn a public health crisis? Are children getting their sexual education from online porn? Is society becoming "pornified"?

“There are useful and important questions we should be asking about pornography,” says Alan McKee. “Unfortunately, those questions don’t get asked very often.

"Instead, we panic about porn and assume it’s negatively impacting our ability to have meaningful sexual relationships with real people. So we leap to judgements about addiction, violence, and risk without ever asking questions about how people watch porn, and how it contributes to their sexuality as a whole.”

McKee, the associate dean of research at the University of Technology, Sydney, is an international expert on healthy sexual development, with an emphasis on how entertainment — including pornography — can be effectively used in educational and public health campaigns for safer, consensual sex. He is coming to the University of Calgary to give a public lecture, Porn Sex versus Sex IRL (in real life).

Terminology may make difference in how porn is defined

The co-author of Australia’s The Porn Report, and of Pornography: Structures, Agency and Performance (with the University of Calgary's Rebecca Sullivan, PhD, women’s studies co-ordinator), McKee has confronted all the anxious, fearful questions about pornography and offered some more positively directed ones in return.

Take the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health’s recent directive to investigate whether watching “violent online porn” affects a person’s health. McKee is currently consolidating all the contradictory research on pornography from across academic disciplines.

“A big part of this research is determining how terms like ‘violence’ and ‘healthy’ are being defined. I’ve seen violence defined based on acts like anal sex, ejaculation on the body, and digital penetration. When it comes to pinpointing ‘unhealthy’ attitudes, anti-porn scholars often include a disinterest in marriage or having children,” he says.

Research on violence and pornography sheds light on issues of consent

By contrast, McKee insists that any definition of violence must be grounded in principles of consent — enthusiastic, ongoing, and affirmative. Similarly, healthy sexual development is defined across 15 dimensions all dealing with education, understanding, communication, and rights over one’s body.

“While concerns about violent online porn target BDSM and kink practices, the reality is that these communities were the first to develop clear guidelines about asking and receiving consent for unconventional sexual relationships,” says McKee.

So, is porn sex the same as sex IRL? “Of course not. And most viewers know that, and appreciate porn as a piece of entertainment. At the same time, we can learn a lot about how to have healthy, consensual, entertaining sex IRL from porn. We just need to ask the right questions.”

Alan McKee speaks on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 3-5 p.m. in The Loft (MSC482). The lecture is free and is open to the general public.