Courting consumers and legitimating exploitation: the representation of commercial sex in television documentaries

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The explosion of sexually explicit imagery in popular culture in recent years has been widely noted. On television, this has led to the birth of a new genre, a pornography-documentary hybrid. This article examines the kind of stories about sex that have emerged in this new generic space at the beginning of the twenty-first century and makes the case for retaining a central focus on gender as a relational matrix in feminist responses to both television and pornography. The article begins by sketching the classic feminist positions on pornography and considering how recent shifts in pornography research have limited the nature of feminist enquiry in a way that is broadly consistent with the normalising of pornography in mainstream culture. This provides the context for an analysis of docuporn that examines the stories the genre tells about commercial sex, arguing that, in the absence of an on-screen “john,” these programmes court the viewer as a present and future consumer, negating the gendered inequalities and exploitation that make commercial sex, in its currently dominant forms, possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-50
Number of pages16
JournalFeminist Media Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2008



  • pornography
  • prostitution
  • buying sex
  • documentary
  • television

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