Quantcast
A University Professor Wants You to Look at Porn for Science

Western University’s Taylor Kohut wants to crowdsource an answer to the eternal question, ‘Is this pornography?’

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Any excuse to look at porn is good.

A new app being developed by researchers asks users to look at pornography for the purposes of scientific research.

Professor Taylor Kohut specializes in social psychology at Western University and is working to develop an app that he hopes will map the specific characteristics of an image to determine if it can be considered pornographic and why.

"The Porn Genome Project is an attempt to gain a better understanding of content differences in pornography," Kohut told VICE.

The app has users flip through images and identify the various details. When they get bored of one, they can check out another.

The idea stems from Kohut's background in investigating the mental representations of pornography. This involves techniques like distilling concepts down into discrete, identifiable features.

"I borrowed that set of ideas and applied it to the concept of pornography," said Kohut, "and showed people different images and asked them to describe to me what they saw in them and what followed was a large list of about 800 different features in that particular study. Everything ranging from "I see a table lamp" to "I see trees in the background" to "there's just a naked woman sucking on a man's penis."

The goal of the project is to distill "porn down to its constituent elements so we can figure out what sort of porn is similar to one another and what sort of porn is very different from one another," said Kohut.

The researchers hope to develop a system of categorization that better organizes and separates porn, creating more concrete boundaries for things like violent porn versus spanking. The idea is that by understanding pornography at its most basic level.

The researchers set up an Indiegogo page to help gather donations to create the app and use a satirical approach to generate interest in the project. "We could've gone doom and gloom, 'porn is everywhere; omnipresent and destroying the world,' but we thought why don't we do something just more light-hearted," said Kohut.

Kohut explained that getting formal funding for this type of project can be tricky. His team instead developed a pseudo-research company called Proctor and Lever and a website called PornforScience.com as an amusing alternative to the usual anxiety-inducing dry, clinical vibe.

He says that in his experience, he's noticed that studies that could potentially paint porn in a negative light is favoured amongst grant and funding agencies.

"It's really hard to get money to do basic research about porn," says Kohut. "Doing porn research is kind of a controversial thing. Some people believe that people like me should be doing research in the first place. Other people take issue with the types of research that I do or the conclusions that I come to following the data that I collect."

Kohut says that he hopes that his research will eventually account for differences in porn content and ultimately benefit future research on porn.

"We all know that different sexual representations contain different elements, but those differences aren't very often accounted for. We're aware the differences matter, but we're not sure how to show that, how to test that, what differences are most important for what outcomes in part because we don't have a very solid organizational structure."

Follow Lisa Power on Twitter.