Alon Lischinsky's research and teaching


The body in online erotica

Conference paper: Lischinsky, A. (2016, September 5). Textual constructions of desire: the body in online erotica [Paper presentation]. 6th Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis Across Disciplines Conference, Catania, Italy

Pornography has become an increasingly visible part of cultural life over the past 50 years. Visual and written representations of sexual activity, formally banned as obscene, are now commonplace across a range of media, and this “pornification” has given rise to heated discussions about acceptable forms of sexual knowledge, sexual freedom and sexual representation (Atwood 2010). But while scholarly work on porn has led to increasing awareness of the diversity of its forms, it has largely remained focused on the visual genres of photography and film. Explorations of the language of contemporary porn are scarce and uneven (Wicke 1991:75; for rare exception, see Johnsdotter 2011; Marko 2008).

Such an omission is unfortunate because linguistic representations are uniquely useful as evidence for contentious issues, such as the mysogyny often attributed to pornographic representations. Porn has often been criticised for its male-centric perspective, in which females appear primarily as objects for male action (e.g., MacKinnon 1989; Jensen 2007), but it is difficult to devise principled tests for such objectification in visual materials (McKee 2005:280). Textual analysis, on the other hand, offers a range of analytic devices to explore how male and female bodies are labelled, described and evaluated, and strategies of this kind have profitably been used to explore the discursive construction of desirability in specific historical periods (Virdis 2015). Nevertheless, the assumption that contemporary “pornographic texts [continue] representational practices that demean women” (Jeffries 2007:16) has rarely been subject to detailed empirical examination.

In this paper, I extend this line of research through an examination of the referential and predication strategies used for the representation of body parts in a large corpus of online erotica. A sample of the 500 most-read stories (approximately 1.5 million words) was collected from, one of the oldest and largest erotic fiction repositories online. Using both standalone tools and the online Sketch Engine, a list of terms denoting both female and male body parts was collected, and their collocational and colligational preferences compared.

objectification, fragmentation, agency, erotica, pornography, online fiction, porn studies, corpus linguistics, corpus stylistics, corpus-assisted discourse analysis