Madita Oeming: All About Loud Criticism and Secret Preferences

Pornography has always been complicated in our society. This essay explores the secret pleasures within a society rife with taboos as well as the question of pornography’s utility.


Even today, there are limited spaces for open discussions about pornography. For many, the subject remains a source of shame or is deemed taboo. Despite frequent criticism in the media and academia, the pornography industry boasts sales in the billions. The importance of grappling with this ambivalence provides the impetus for research conducted in the field known as porn studies.

Moby’s dick and the chance encounter with gay porn as a fortune

Life can be funny. When Madita Oeming intended to research the art industry’s reception of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick using the search term “Moby Dick,” she was flooded with dildos in the shape of a whale’s penis and gay porn starring sailor Ishmael.

Intrigued, Oeming wondered why porn producers bothered to spin a story around this literary classic. After all, pornography is all about depicting sex—so what is this about? Without further ado, she changed the title and subject of her thesis from “Moby Dick” to “Moby’s Dick” and began researching pornography. She did not put this topic to rest and pursued it further in the following years. Her master’s thesis was followed by a doctorate on the myth surrounding porn addiction. Today, she gives regular lectures and seminars at universities on the subject of pornography, taboos and society. As a researcher, Oeming is thus following in the great footsteps of Dr. Linda Williams, the pioneer of porn studies in the late 1980s who brought porn onto the academic platform for the very first time.

Porn studies are finding their way into university seminars

But how exactly do we imagine a porn seminar at the university? Oeming explains that, contrary to what many people think, they don’t just turn off the lights and watch an erotic video for 90 minutes. Instead, Oeming assigns viewing orders for selected sequences, with the advice to pay special attention to certain aspects of the film. In this way, for example, you can investigate and understand how porn for women breaks with the image of conventional pornography.

The fundamental question regarding porn studies: what is porn anyways?

First and foremost, the inquiry in porn studies revolves around what porn is. In everyday life, pornography is perceived as an explicit depiction of sex in front of a camera. But doesn’t that mean that the nude pictures or the private sex films also fall under the category of porn production? For Oeming the answer is, “not quite”. To qualify as pornography, there must be a presence of public space and a certain level of commercialization in production. Interestingly, it doesn’t necessarily require explicit sex and nudity. For instance, videos depicting a man wrapped in plastic film and involved in a BDSM-style strangulation scenario are considered pornography from the perspective of porn studies. This classification is based on the video serving sexual satisfaction and being made available to the public.

Formerly deemed filthy, now a part of world literature

A historical perspective also illustrates the subjective nature of the boundaries associated with the term “pornography.” The following erotic excerpt is from James Joyce’s Ulysses:“The beautiful woman threw off her sable-trimmed cloak, revealing her regal shoulders and bulging body. An imperceptible smile played on her perfect lips as she turned to him calmly. Mr. Bloom read again: The beautiful woman. Warmth gently showered him, his flesh disheartening. Meat gave itself in the midst of rumpled clothes. Whites of eyes passed out. Its nostrils bulged for prey. Melting breast ointments (for him! For Raoul!). Double sweat from armpits. Fish-gluey slime (her swelling, arched body!). Feel! Press! Crushed! Sulfurization of lions! “Upon its release in 1922, Joyce’s work was disparagingly labelled as pornography, treated as taboo and even punished and banned. Today, it is impossible to envision schools or private libraries without its presence. No wonder Ulysses is now considered high literature, regarded as the most important work of the Irish writer and is studied at universities.From this, it’s clear that the classification of a piece of content as pornography and its treatment as taboo reveal a lot about the respective culture and the zeitgeist.

Taboos can be erotic

Pornography often involves breaking societal taboos by depicting content considered provocative by the mainstream. Conversely, the porn consumed by a society can offer a clear reflection of its taboos.For instance, according to Oeming, incest fantasies are a prevalent theme in the Western world. Clips with titles like “My Hot Stepmom”, “Sis Loves Me” or “Forbidden Family Affairs” are quite popular. It’s important to note that the clips do not document real incestuous encounters; the actors are simply portraying relatives. However, the portrayal of eroticism between relatives appears to captivate many people’s imaginations and pique their interest. This doesn’t imply a desire for real-life incest but rather suggests a fascination with witnessing something forbidden. Incest remains one of the last significant taboos in our society. It raises questions about whether such images held the same allure in ancient Egypt, where incest was not taboo at the time.

A culture’s history shapes its taboos

In the United States, for instance, a notable trend in search queries on porn websites is the term “interracial porn”, resulting in titles such as “White housewife gets kidnapped by five black guys” which often perpetuate racist clichés. Oeming suggests that the fascination for such porn in the US might be rooted in the historical aftermath of slavery and segregation, along with the enduring taboo surrounding interracial relationships between Black and white individuals.

Porn Studies Between Education and Hollywood

Oeming concludes that there seems to be an innate desire to long for the forbidden. Porn serves as a rule-free space that encourages the exploration of fantasies and the breaking of prevailing taboos. It’s crucial to note, according to her, that porn should be seen as fiction—a realm where fantasies are depicted, not a reflection of realistic sexual experiences. She draws a parallel with Hollywood films, suggesting that people watch blockbusters to immerse themselves in a world different from their own. Similarly, the sex portrayed in porn may be of a sort that individuals cannot or may not desire in real life.Oeming argues against placing an educational mandate on pornography in social discussions. Pornography, she insists, should not be tasked with conveying messages about how sex works and how one should behave, especially for young people. However, she acknowledges the challenge for young individuals in distinguishing between fiction and reality. Particularly when porn clips claim authenticity, it can contribute to unrealistic perceptions of sexuality among young people. Therefore, Oeming advocates for a more open and enlightened dialogue on pornography and taboos.

With all reservations and taboos: What good can pornography do?

Discourse about pornography often overlooks the notion of porn’s positive impact. On one hand, porn serves as an expansion of the pleasure repertoire; whether alone or with a partner, the consumption of high-quality pornography can enhance sexual satisfaction.

Gay porn is often a step towards self-discovery for homosexuals

Pornography can also offer support to sexual minorities; studies indicate that homosexual adolescents tend to consume more pornography. This consumption can be viewed as a form of virtual exploration and self-discovery, particularly through the consumption of homoerotic films, which can be understood as a kind of virtual test.

The representation of the female libido and body positivity in porn

The consumption of pornography is also enlightening for heterosexual individuals. In this realm, viewers can witness strong expressions of female pleasure. Where else, if not in porn, do you find women confidently and openly declaring, “I want to have sex now”? This portrayal of female sexuality and libido can be crucial for the understanding and development of young women. Moreover, the diversity of body types showcased in porn, compared to mainstream media, contributes positively to body acceptance and body positivity.So why not consider a more liberal perspective on pornography as part of the sexual revolution? Embracing a relaxed attitude towards pornography might lead to a more open and free discussion of sexuality.The societal perception of pornography remains ambivalent, and a definitive resolution is unlikely. Through her research, Madita Oeming provides a refreshing perspective on the contentious topic of pornography, which has captivated people for centuries.


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