Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Paul Messaris


Within the last decade, a view has emerged in governmental publications, the popular press, and research conducted in the fields of communications and film studies which regards pornography as being typified by material which is violent or which exhibits unequal relations of power between the sexes. This dissertation employs content analysis to investigate the portrayal of male and female characters and relationships in pornographic films. The investigation empirically operationalizes certain broadly defined concepts that are often used in conjunction with pornography, concepts of unequal power relations and of the subordination or de-humanization of characters. Specifically, certain observable components of unequal power relations have been postulated and investigated throughout the range of films sampled. In addition, communication patterns, demonstrations of affection and of sexual pleasure are analyzed, as well as rates of violent and abusive behavior.

Three units of analysis are employed: characters, sex scenes, and violent acts. Although the violent-acts unit of analysis made provisions for the coding of violent behavior, the sex-scene unit of analysis was defined so that it, too, would contain variable categories permitting the coding of abusive or violent acts. The sample is 32 "classic" or top-selling pornographic feature films, covering the years 1972-1985. Each film was coded by a male and a female coder. On a variety of measures, male and female characters were found to be portrayed in relatively equivalent terms. The average number of violent acts per film was 1.4. 21 percent of all sex scenes contained abuse. The hypothesis that rates of violence have been increasing in pornography in recent years was not supported.