Sex Summit Interview Series: Chauntelle Anne Tibbals
We’re all getting excited about the upcoming Sex Summit and it’s been a real treat to get a preview of some of our speakers. I first met Chauntelle Tibbals when she came to San Francisco to do some research and I’ve enjoyed following her blog about the porn industry. She has lots of great things to say about porn, sex, and the media, and I’m thrilled to get to interview her.
1) Sex has been used to catch attention and sell products for a long time; but with all of the sex in the media these days, are people getting saturated with it? Do you think it’s still an effective strategy?
Actually, in one respect, no – people aren’t getting saturated at all. Largely because of changing interests and needs throughout an individual’s life course, there are always new people coming up and more and more folks looking at different products through different channels. Consequently, there are always fresh eyes looking at sex in what is ultimately a new dimension.
In another respect though, perhaps – as society as a whole becomes more and more media savvy and as savvy perspectives on sex infuse the culture, the same old sex-related tropes and sales tactics may not be as effective. So while I don’t think sex’s selling power is diminishing overall, I do think that the ways in which sex is used to tantalize and engage consumers is evolving and changing shape.
2) We hear a lot of people complaining about media becoming a substitute for sex education. What’s keeping us from creating real sex education, and what can we do about that?
Well, rather than “becoming a substitute,” I would say that commercial media is being misappropriated as a tool for sex education. And though I’m sure there are some great for-profit sex ed resources available, the vast majority of commercial media is not at all intended to be conventionally educational. But, while we as a culture would never dream of taking “real” driving tips from Dominic Toretto, we definitely seem ready and willing to take “real” sex tips from commercial media. This is a serious problem.
I think this issue and related phenomena are rooted in mysteries and discomforts we as a culture have associated with sex. And, for reasons that would take volumes to unpack, our issues with sex seem to be qualitatively greater than our issues with most other “ordinary” mysteries and discomforts. These dimensions work synergistically with a wealth of other factors (personal beliefs, cultural norms, discrimination, fear, etc), contributing to the proliferation of sex-related misinformation and miscommunications we see in society today. Consequently, we’re willing to take advice and cues from sources we would never consider in other instances – for example, driving lessons from Fast Five (2011), which stars one Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto? That would never happen! But sex ed from commercial porn? That does.
But what to do about it? My sense is to take action and engage. In this day and age, all kinds of information is readily available, as are endless options for delivering it. And if it so happens that nothing exists to meet a person’s specific needs… well, then create it! Ingenuity and need are very powerful.
Now, I know that this may sound cavalier. People have endless factors shaping endless different processes and life courses, and there are also social class, accessibility, and cultural dimensions (to name only a few) to consider. I realize that “Just go for it!” might not be an uncomplicated option for everyone. Further, I’m not a sex educator or a sex therapist and I’ve never worked with and/or advised people under the age of 18; thus, I certainly cannot speak to the mechanics of sex education in practice.
But what I can speak to is social patterns and trends, our cultural and human fascination with sex, and the media’s place therein. Commercial media works within the context of market-driven demands and for-profit goals. And though there are certainly instances wherein more responsible advertising and programming needs to happen, the fact remains that many people are currently getting sex ed info and lessons from fantasy (all while public programs continue to decline). Sitting back and waiting for this system to change is getting us nowhere. If we want “real” sex education, we’re going to have to go out and get it ourselves.
3) What’s your ideal vision of how sex could be portrayed in modern media?
Well, if you take “modern” to mean “today and in the near future,” I would ideally say “in such a way that everyone’s voices and experiences were represented authentically and equally,” but unfortunately I don’t think that’s realistic… Today, I would be happy with “authentically and accessibly.”
Although we have made so much progress in recent years, our wider discomfort with sex is still very much a part of our cultural consciousness. So while I would love to see everyone equally and authentically represented during prime time, I don’t know if we’re there yet. But I do think we’re on the right track towards more authentic and accessible representations – technology really helps with this. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’ll take baby steps toward the ultimate goal of authenticity, accessibility, and equality over nothing any day of the week!
4) What are you looking forward to most about the Sex Summit? What’s one thing you’d like to see come out of the event?
I am most looking forward to learning from others in attendance and engaging those perspectives in ways that complicate my own. Like I said, for example, I feel we as a culture and as individuals need to be more proactive with sex education… but how that actually plays out in the real world, I have no idea – I would love to learn more about sex education in practice.
I’m excited to learn from different sides of every conversation, while having the opportunity to share what I’ve experienced through my own work. And this gets at what I would most like to see come out of the event: a whole slew of people who come away with a broadened perspective… because when that happens what you really come away with is a team.
5) Can you tell us about any of your upcoming projects? How can people find out more about you?
Upcoming projects… Well, I actually just had a paper accepted – “When Law Moves Quicker Than Culture – Key Jurisprudential Regulations Shaping the US Adult Content Production Industry” – by the St. Mary’s Law Review on Race and Social Justice, so I was thinking of taking a little break from working…
Just kidding!! Actually, getting a sociology paper fact-checked and copyedited to law journal standards is pretty intense, so I have that to look forward to in the immediate future. (the paper will be available in 2013, by the way) I’m also working on a book manuscript – it’s an amalgamation of my research findings with some auto-ethnographic considerations of academia as a whole. Writing the book is challenging, but it’s also a somewhat cathartic process, so I’m loving it!!
If people are interested in learning more about these projects, or more about me in general, they can always hit me up on Twitter (my favorite thing ever!) or on Facebook. Plus, anything you could ever want to know about me and so much more about the socio-cultural significance of adult content and the adult industry are also on my website – enjoy!!
Are you coming to the Sex Summit? We’re hosting a one-day conference, full of amazing speakers, fascinating panel discussions, and more! Plus, your ticket gets you a seat at the Quickies, our erotic short film competition on October 26 at the Castro Theater, and the post-Summit cocktail party. Get your ticket before they sell out!