Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book review: Pornology by Ayn Carrillo-Gailey

I've never written a book review (not even in school) but recently a friend of mine let me borrow a book that he thought I might find interesting, so I thought I'd write about it here. Pornology: Noun-1: A Good Girl's Guide to Porn: 2: The Misadventures of the World's First AnthroPORNologist: 3: A Hilarious Exploration of Men, Relationships, and Sex by Ayn Carrillo-Gailey is the story of the author’s journey to learn about pornography after her boyfriend accuses her of being “pornophobic.” Carrillo-Gailey takes this accusation personally and decides to prove him wrong, and with the help of her friends, she comes up with a list of things she wants to know about porn, which she names her “Porn-To-Do List.”

The book is an easy, not overly graphic read that feels like a novel as the reader follows the author through her experiences with different aspects of porn, several ups and downs in her love life, and the unwavering support of her friends. Facts about all sorts of porn-related topics are interspersed throughout this light-hearted story, which makes them easily digestible.

Some things I learned from this book:

You’re obligated to tip if you sit in the front row at a strip club.

In most states, full-nude strip clubs are not allowed to serve alcohol, whereas topless-only strip clubs are allowed. Because of this, eighteen-year-olds can be allowed into full-nude strip clubs, but not in all topless-only strip clubs.

I know less about strip clubs than almost all other aspects of porn discussed in this book (from brothels, to erotic literature, to adult men’s magazines, to sex toys, and more) even though I have little to no experience with most of these things. I’m not exactly sure why this is so.

Even though I haven’t completely made up my mind when it comes to porn, this book seemed rather fair-minded because it is about one woman’s personal experiences with learning about porn. The author started out as a complete porn skeptic, but once she started exploring porn, she began to see many benefits in it. Throughout the book, I kept some of my own skepticisms about porn, but I completely accepted that the author might have done away with all of hers. I did notice, however, that since I read the book, I now want to talk to some people I know about porn. Interesting.

Overall, I think that this is a great starter book for anyone who might be interested in learning more about porn but is a little daunted, or even embarrassed, about starting out. If anyone else has read Pornology, feel free to leave your own (brief) review in comments.


Anonymous said...

There is also Erika Lust. Do you know her?

Ali said...

Interesting. The book sounds intriguing, but I'm a little concerned that the writer's boyfriend sounds pushy (calling her "pornphobic".. no need to shame someone into sharing your interests, bf!). I've read a few books about porn and while I think it's a cool topic to explore, I find so often the authors don't ask questions that I'd like answered, like why are most mainstream strippers and porn stars female? Where is the gender variation? I'm so tired of the really essentialist and reductive argument that that female bodies are sexy and good to look at while men are "visual people". This sort of thing really contributes to very gendered standards of beauty. Over the last several years a lot of women are their vaginal lips trimmed so that even their vag looks like those in porn. Fine, if this is your thing, but it cuts out sensation at the expense of looking "pretty."

Love the porn that shows people who haven't had cosmetic surgery, not because cosmetic surgery is inherently wrong, but because it seems the norm in porn and it's lovely to see the norm challenged. Love the porn stars and writers like Annie Sprinkle who are challenging the kind of body and performance acceptable in porn, but I find so much writing on porn just maintains the status quo. Did you know that in Toronto we have a yearly Feminist Porn Awards? It's pretty cool. I definitely think that porn can be a feminist thing, but maybe it's not just a matter of a simple dichotomy of being pro or anti porn. I'd never advocate censorship or an anti-porn attitude, but I'd love to read a book/author that treats porn as valid, potentially really good stuff, but still critiques when critique is called for.

And maybe instead of calling the author of the book pornphobic, the bf could have tried to understand why she would be reluctant to look at porn. (But then again, maybe he does try to be compassionate and understanding. I haven't read it. His comment just strikes me as shaming, though maybe I'm just not getting the context).

Anyway, Amelia, this is a great blog. Very engaging! I'm here everyday. Thanks for the good reads. :)

Adília said...

"I kept some of my own skepticisms about porn..." , and probably you are right, because much porno movies are not narratives about sex, but about masculine fantasy and they don't take in acount women's desire and sexuality, they just pretend to degrade and humiliate women.

Amelia said...


First of all, thanks for the comment! I'm very glad to know another name of someone who reads the blog regularly. Made me smile. :)

And let me be clear that the whole situation with the author's boyfriend calling her "pornophobic" really bugged me, too. It was obvious from reading her story that this woman was incredibly intelligent (she graduated from Harvard and has two master degrees, if I recall correctly), and I couldn't figure out why she was with this guy. Luckily, it was that situation that prompted her to end things with that boyfriend.

I find so often the authors don't ask questions that I'd like answered...

I think this is a very legitimate criticism, and a problem I have run into frequently in my not-always-so-full-hearted attempts to learn more about porn.

This was a very well-articulated comment. I'm really glad you left it. Now I will have to check out Annie Sprinkle, and the Feminist Porn Awards (I've heard of them, but am not completely familiar).


Because my experiences with porn are rather limited, I do not feel that I can condemn or condone all of porn. I would like to believe that porn can be done in such a way as to be feminist, but I personally have not come across any. But that doesn't mean it's not out there. Even though the author of this book became a large fan of porn after her experiences with it (and that's fine), I can't say her experiences completely convinced me.

Amelia said...


I published your comment after the other two. Didn't mean to ignore you. No, I don't know of her. Is she an author? An actress? What do you know about her and why did you bring up her name?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Spanish. It could be possible that I would have made any mistakes when writing, that's why I didn't explain very much about her. And I thought that maybe somebody already knew who she was or could look her name up if they wanted to know more about who she was. I once saw an interview of her where she explained a lot of things that have to do with that post. The following is from her website.

Erika Lust, born in Stockholm in 1977, currently resides in Barcelona where she founded the production company Lust Films in 2004. She has managed to forge a name for herself as a producer, director, author and innovative feminist. Her first film “Five Stories for Her” won several international awards including “Best Script” at the Barcelona Erotic Film Festival in 2007, “Best Film for Women” at the Erotic E-Line Awards (Berlin 2007), got an “Honourable Best Mention” at the CineKink Festival in New York (2008) and “Best Film of the Year” at the Feminist Porn Awards (Toronto 2008).

Erika Lust, is also author of the acclaimed book “Porn for Women”.

Adília said...

I suppose that not all porno need to be sexist, you may find non sexist porno but it not the paradigma.
You can try to inform you about for example Candide Royalle, ex-porn actress and now a director of films non sexists.
I have some texts about pornograpfy and if you wish I can sende them to you.

Adilia said...

What you said has a name and that is: porno movies are sexist and many times mysogynist; they are reflecting and reinforcing the society where we still live. There are other ways of makink porno movies, but it is in the interest of masculine supremacy to preserve the status quo so they dot invest on them.

Amelia said...


Although I still don't feel completely comfortable with generalizations (as when you said "porno movies are sexist" without explaining which kinds), I do think it would be interesting to learn more about how and why certain types of pornographic films are invested in. I don't know too much about the inner-workings of the porn industry. I'll have to look into that sometime.