A Film by Chyng Sun – The Price of Pleasure

From the website of Chyng Sun:

Dr. Chyng Sun is a Master Teacher of Media Studies at New York University. In addition to her scholarly research on gender, sexuality and race in the media, Dr. Sun is the creator of the documentaries Mickey Mouse Monopoly and Beyond Good and Evil.

Her latest research investigated the disturbing trend in contemporary pornography: as the industry has become more mainstream in recent years, the movies it produces have become harsher and more extreme, more overtly sexist and racist.

With three other researchers, Dr. Sun conducted a large scale research project taking a closer look at the content of the most rented pornographic movies of 2005.

Honest and non-judgmental, Dr. Sun paints a nuanced and complex portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, liberty and responsibility are intertwined in the most intimate parts of our sexual identities and relationships. Known for creating a comfortable environment while presenting controversial subjects, Dr. Sun uses a thought-provoking multi-media presentation to inspire honest reflection and to facilitate open dialogue.


The Price of Pleasure
Pornography, Sexuality & Relationships

Running Time: 55 minutes

See trailer and clips

Order from Media Education Foundation


New York City
New York University, Tisch School of the Arts
Theater 006 (Lower Level)
6:00 – 9:00pm

Los Angeles, CA
University of Southern California

Reno, NV
Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence Conference.


US Educational Distributor:
Media Education Foundation
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Northampton MA 01060

World-Wide Television and Theatrical Distribution:
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Email: mundo@interlog.com


“When we discuss pornography in my classes, we always begin with what seem to the
wrong conversations – the actress’s choices; no harm, no foul; being pro-porn is just
being pro-sex; men don’t have to be rapists to like it – always defensive and dishonest.
I’ve been waiting for a film that was neither sanctimoniously scolding nor callously
celebratory. And finally, there is The Price of Pleasure – a film to help us really “see”
what we have been looking at, and to enable us, finally, to talk about how pornography
informs our actual lives. It’s powerful, and I will use it immediately in my classes.”
     – Michael Kimmel | Professor of Sociology, SUNY Stony Brook

“Deeply disturbing but profoundly important.”
     – Jean Kilbourne | creator, Killing Us Softly 3 and author, So Sexy So Soon

“An intense, powerful documentary that will open up painful but necessary discussions
about pornography’s role in shaping our identities, our relationships, and our culture.”
     – Rebecca Whisnant | Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Women’s
and Gender Studies, University of Dayton


Once relegated to the margins of society, pornography has become one of the most
visible and profitable sectors of the cultural industries in the United States. It is estimated
that the pornography industry’s annual revenue has reached $13 billion. At the same time,
the content of pornography has become more aggressive as well as more overtly sexist
and racist.

The film features the voices of consumers, critics, and pornography producers and
performers. It is particularly revealing when male pornographers openly discuss their
views about women and how men should relate to them, and when male and female porn
users candidly discuss the role pornography has played in shaping their sexual
imaginations and relationships. Honest and nonjudgmental, the film paints both a
nuanced and complex portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, and
liberty and responsibility are intertwined in the most intimate aspects of human relations.
At the same time, the film examines the unprecedented role that commercial pornography
now occupies in U.S. popular culture. Going beyond the debate of liberal versus
conservative so common in the culture, The Price of Pleasure provides a holistic
understanding of pornography as it debunks common myths about the genre.

The film features interviews with scholars of mass media (Gail Dines and Robert Jensen),
economics (Richard Wolff), and psychology (Dr. Ana Bridges); writers on pornography
and popular culture (Ariel Levy and Pamela Paul); producers and performers from the
pornography industry (John Stagliano, Joanna Angel and Ernest Greene); and a former
stripper/porn performer-turned-author (Sarah Katherine Lewis).


Having grown up in Taiwan, I did not see my first porn film until I was thirty years old,
when I came to the U.S. as a graduate student in Boston in 1990.

Contrary to many women being pushed to watch porn by their boyfriends, I had a shy
partner who never had the courage to rent a porn video. The few times that I reached for
the top shelf at the Video Smith in Brookline to grab a porn video, I had to endure the
torturous journey – ignoring other men peering at me out of the corner of their eyes while
I was cruising through this off limits section, holding the extra large video box with vivid
pictures for everyone to see while I stood in a long check-out line, and then waiting for
the clerk to slowly take the video out of its box and put it in a black box which everyone
knew was for porn anyway. Although this journey made me descend from a respectable
to a fallen woman, there was something thrilling and daring because I was against the
constraints set by both Chinese and American patriarchy that disapproved of women’s
consumption of porn. I figured, if not being allowed to watch porn was part of the sexual
repression, then rebelling against it must be liberating and even feminist.

However, I was conflicted when I was watching those on-screen porn women who were
often coy, infantilized, indiscriminating of who had sex with them, and they enjoyed
whatever was done to them including being overpowered. I asked myself: if these types
of images appear in a beer ad, would I immediately call them sexist? So how could I feel liberated by watching sexism? On the other hand, I wondered if I was overanalyzing a medium that was made for sexual stimulation; perhaps this should be the zone that was
free of critical examination because sexuality was not rational. Above all, it was so cool
to be a girlfriend who was perceived as taboo-breaking and adventurous. Did I really
want to ruin the fun? I felt unsettled and didn’t really have the knowledge and conceptual
tools to think it all through.

It was 15 years later when I decided to make The Price of Pleasure: Pornography,
Sexuality and Relationships
. The Video Smith where I rented the videos was closed down
and the internet had revolutionized the production and consumption of pornography, both
quantitatively and qualitatively. Based on my own embarrassing experiences in renting
porn videos, I can understand how enticing it is to select among endless pornography
privately and anonymously, and how that rush can boost the amount one consumes.
Growing up in a conservative family, coming from a culture that is sexually repressive
for women, and having no stable relationships in most of the years in my twenties, I also
understood the attraction of pornography. My personal experiences and my
uncompromised feminist politics created tensions and generated questions about
pornography that few people from either anti or pro porn sides have engaged. But I think
my ambivalence, concerns, and struggles resonated much more with the majority of

I had studied the feminist critique of pornography, so my first task of working on this
film was actually to go analyze the opposite side in order to understand their
perspectives. In long and short interviews, I talked with 120 people overall, including
porn performers, producers, critics and the users. If I were to point to my greatest strength
in directing this film, I would say that I was a good listener. My genuine curiosity,
nonjudgmental attitude and my respect for the interviewees hopefully came through and I
have gained insights that none of the readings I had done could ever have taught me. A
20 year old male college student said to me, “Sexuality is so personal. You’ve got to be
real careful how you approach people about porn. If you try to be a firebrand about it,
you’re gonna alienate people.” When I made editorial decisions, I always thought of what
this young man said, and his words set a tone for the overall film: it is an exploration and
analysis that avoids being didactic or dogmatic.

See also:

Top 100 Anti-Pornography Videos

Chyng Sun: Rejecting Porn’s Hatred of Women Does Not Mean Embracing Government Repression of “Obscenity”
Pornography encourages people to disregard others’ pain for one’s own pleasure. Many people I interviewed acknowledged that, based on their own experience and knowledge of the human body, certain sex acts they’ve watched in films likely would have been painful for the female performers. However, they argued that since the performers were paid, it was not the viewers’ concern, and they acknowledged that they get aroused watching it. That mentality helps create a world in which a producer can brag about having originated a popular video series that shows women gagging during forceful oral sex.

Although pornography is often rationalized as a celebration of women’s sexuality and liberation, some gonzo pornographers were direct about their anger and contempt (or their imagined customers’) for women. When asked why he used certain brutal sex acts in his films, one producer replied that when a man gets angry at his wife, he can imagine she is the one being violated.

National Feminist Antipornography Movement
Jerome Tanner put it during a pornography directors’ roundtable
discussion featured in Adult Video News, ‘People just want it harder,
harder, and harder, because like Ron said, what are you gonna do next?’
Another director, Jules Jordan, was blunt about his task: ‘[O]ne of the
things about today’s porn and the extreme market, the gonzo market, so
many fans want to see so much more extreme stuff that I’m always trying
to figure out ways to do something different. But it seems everybody
wants to see a girl doing a d.p. [double penetration] now or a
gangbang. For certain girls, that’s great, and I like to see that for
certain people, but a lot of fans are becoming a lot more demanding
about wanting to see the more extreme stuff. It’s definitely brought
porn somewhere, but I don’t know where it’s headed from there.’

Video Presentation: A Content Analysis of 50 of Today’s Top Selling Porn Films (explicit language)
A number of porn defenders claim that anti-porn
activists harp on unusual, violent, women-hating examples of porn, and
unfairly downplay the existence of ‘artistic’ porn on sites like Suicide Girls. anthonyjk_6319
believes that porn sites like “Gag on My Cock” and “Anal Suffering” are
the “exception”, and that the “overwhelming majority of porn (something
like 99.8%) deals only in consenting nonviolent sex acts.”

To clear up confusion about what porn is generally about, academic researchers Robert Wosnitzer, Ana Bridges,
and Erica Scharrer, together with coders like Michelle Chang, analyzed
50 recent top selling porn films selected from lists compiled by Adult
Video News, the leading trade journal of the porn industry…

Kink.com: Bondage Porn Gone Chillingly, Cheerfully Corporate (explicit language)
powerless girls scream as they are tied up and forced to have sex over
and over. Are they screams for help or do they really just want more?”

“Spousal Use of Pornography and Its Clinical Significance for Asian-American Women”
Many female participants in the study by Bridges et al. (2003) noted a
diminution in their partner’s sexual desire for them and believed that
their partners had come to prefer the pornographic models to them…
They reported a decline in the intimacy of their relationship, a
diminished sense of their partner’s commitment to them, strong feelings
that their partners failed utterly to respect them or understand their
emotional distress concerning the pornography, and lastly, a sense that
they were living a shameful lie by presenting themselves to others as a
loving and committed couple… More often than not, the woman blames
herself for losing her partner to his pornographic interest. She
believes that if she were a ‘good’ enough woman, she would have been
able to keep her husband’s attentions and affections and her loss would
never have occurred…

I will present some observations witnessed in my clinical practice.
Increasingly, Asian American immigrant women report concerns about
spousal use of pornography… Since hardcore pornography is more
readily available in United States and on the Internet, women are
confronted with having to tolerate their partners’ consistent and ready
access to these materials. Women report a loss of intimacy when their
partners engage in Internet pornography, as well as being in severe
conflict and feeling “unclean” when asked to perform sexually debasing

I Was a ‘Self-Esteem Vampire’: A Woman’s Journey Out of Watching Porn (explicit language)
I asked myself honestly, what was I getting out of porn? The answer surprised me. It terrified me. It shamed me…

I was getting a sense of power from watching the humiliation and degradation of the women on the screen.

I was claiming power, the all-elusive power that women strive for their
entire lives, from degrading and enjoying the degradation of other
women. I had absorbed a lesson from the patriarchy: women are easy to
degrade, weaker, and more vulnerable, so much so that even another
woman can take their power. Watching women being slapped and hurt was
filling that void within me that was taken so many years before by men.
It allowed me to feel powerful and in control…

Gail Dines Presents: Pornography and Pop Culture (explicit)

A Review of Pornified: How
Pornography Is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families