Hiya folks! I'm Brian Watson, reddit's resident historian of pornography and obscenity (also on twitter at @HistoryOfPorn). You might know me for some of the AMAs I've done at /r/AskHistorians under my regular handle (AMA:History of Sexuality, AMA:History of Pornography 1400-1800, and AMA History of Pornography and Libertine Literature in Europe, 1500-1850 ) or from the various blog posts I've done over at /r/history!

If you don't know me, allow me to introduce myself! I'm a historian that started out studying history of the book in grad school and for my M.A. I turned my focus to pornography and obsenity, both because I find the topic so interesting but also because it is absurdly relevant right now: we live in an era of free access to pornography for everyone, yet no one is talking about it--and when they do, they are ignorant of its history as a genre that critiqued and challenged the people in power--the church, the state, and society.

After I finished grad school I decided that I wanted to expand my thesis into a full length book, which I called Annals of Pornographie: How Porn Became Bad. I blogged my progress on my website here (I guarantee that link will go down fast) and you can purchase it on Amazon, Smashwords, Nook, and soon iBooks. I've chosen to self-publish as a way of getting it in front of mainstream publishers--a lot of agents do not want to touch it because of its subject matter--hopefully this AMA helps :)

So AMA about the history of pornography, obscenity, or sexuality! Or anything else I suppose... I don't have much of a filter.

Proof: https://twitter.com/HistoryOfPorn/status/711157689993273345 http://www.annalspornographie.com/ama-on-reddit-today-at-830am-est/

EDIT: I have to go to a party for right now, but I will be sure to get to all the questions I can over the next few days! Thank you guys for a great time!

Comments: 1030 • Responses: 74  • Date: 

fuckswithducks2178 karma

As someone who "researches" for very specific porn, I've noticed that probably due to the taboo nature of porn, it isn't considered a very precious form of media. As such, I feel like a lot of it isn't archived and a small fraction of the vast amount of it actually survives through history. What kind of sources did you study for your research and how did the barriers of pornography being a taboo subject affect your ability to gain insight about its history?

AnnalsPornographie1807 karma


Can I say I am honored that you of all people have asked me a question? I've actually thought about writing an article about your subreddit as an example of the hyper-specalization and genreification of pornography.

've noticed that probably due to the taboo nature of porn, it isn't considered a very precious form of media. As such, I feel like a lot of it isn't archived and a small fraction of the vast amount of it actually survives through history.

I cant begin to describe how right you are. One of the biggest problems that historians as a whole face is the destruction and loss of sources and material. In history of pornography we face that issue x100 because of the sensational and controversial nature of erotic work. We have lots of references to works that were deliberately destroyed by the state and the church, and some of our best examples of early pornography and obscenity only survived in one copy. An example might be the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. He wrote it while imprisoned in the Bastille, but was transferred after deliberately instating the crowds to attack the Bastille (and thus kicking off the Revolution) and the gigantic scroll of the text was lost to him and to history for over a century until it was rediscovered mostly by accident by a German doctor.

Another example is deliberate destruction. Upon his death, Henry Spencer Ashbee has the world's largest collection of pornography, and he donated it to the British Library along with his Don Quixote collection. Gibson describes what happens next:

The British Museum, informed of the Bequest on 6 August 1900 by Ashbee’s solicitors, Kennedy, Hughes, and Posonby, found itself in something of a quandary. The Trustees pointed out that the will made it clear the Museum must take all or nothing. So rich was the Cervantes collection, which included 384 editions of Don Quixote alone, so unique were some of the other items, that there could be no question of rejecting the bequest out of hand despite the presence of erotica. But what to do about the latter? …

[The Museum stated] ‘With regard to the collection of obscene books [we] have gone through the whole of them and have packed six boxes the duplicate copies. He asked the permission of the Trustees to destroy them.’ … Peter Mendes has come to the conclusion that, along with the ‘duplicates,’ the British Museum authorities destroyed the greater part of Ashbee’s collection of ‘poorly produced, illustrated pornographic fiction (particularly in English) of the nineteenth century,’ perhaps some hundred items… The loss to research is definitive because often no other copies of the works are known to have been preserved.

Undoubtedly we lost a great many examples of early porn, including, no doubt, examples of ducks in porn. :(

wsupfoo1121 karma

/u/fuckswithducks Can I say I am honored that you of all people have asked me a question? I've actually thought about writing an article about your subreddit as an example of the hyper-specalization and genreification of pornography.

I can stop redditting today, because that is the strangest thing I'm going to see today no matter how hard I look

AnnalsPornographie819 karma

you have my permission. unless that's your fetish. then you don't have it.

AnnalsPornographie86 karma

you have my permission. unless that's your fetish. then you don't have it.

DiaDeLosMuertos137 karma

Holy shit I thought it was just a name. That guy fucks with ducks?

Roflcopter_Rego72 karma

I think your research may have thrown off your NSFW compass if that counts as only semi-NSFW.

AnnalsPornographie101 karma

You...you might have a point actually..

mattreyu1022 karma

Annals of Pornographie? Please tell me this was named tongue in cheek

AnnalsPornographie865 karma

I plead the fifth ;)

throatfrog752 karma

Have you ever tried out the "fashion or porn"-game? What did you score? If you haven't yet, here's the link: http://www.nssmag.com/fashion-or-porn

AnnalsPornographie274 karma

omg, yes, I love this. Thank you!

banjosbadfurday320 karma

Hey Brian,

What's your favorite piece of "pornographic trivia" from history?

AnnalsPornographie567 karma

The Catholic Church was actually pretty feminist and liberal for its time.

Let me explain. The Council of Trent was a major church council that formulated a response to the Reformation happening in Europe at the time. They also sought to standardize regulations around marriage and relationships, especially clandestine relationships, where men would promise women marriage and then when they got pregnant, abandon them. The Church very much hated this. To quote from my book:

The result was the Tamesti, which stated that “whereas clandestine marriages had previously declared valid, though blameworthy, all would be deemed invalid unless celebrated before a priest and at least two witnesses.” In O’Malley’s view “No single provision of the entire council affected the Catholic laity more directly than Tamesti… The approval and implementation of Tamesti meant that in the future the church recognized no marriages between Catholics as valid unless it had been witnessed by a priest.” The intention and effects of Tamesti were, in a way, feminist in the sense that they sought to protect and enfranchise women against being abandoned due to clandestine marriages.

ActuallyYeah163 karma

Trivial? Yes. About porn? Sadly no

AnnalsPornographie377 karma

fair, how about this one: the first pornographic images copied the styles of painters and artists. see here: https://imgur.com/a/s4uNu (NSFW)

poorloko111 karma

So before the Tamesti, marriages could happen in secret with no church officials?

AnnalsPornographie117 karma


rawker86257 karma

Hey Brian!

with the subtitle "How Porn Became Bad" are you talking about society's changing attitude towards pornography over centuries, or are you talking about the current state of the industry? just curious.

AnnalsPornographie355 karma

Great question!

I'm talking about the first, how it went from being a hilarious in-joke and passed around the elite and upper class who could read and used it as a way of mocking the church and society, to a type of work that had an ‘undesirous’ effect upon the general population that the Church and various states attempted to control through moral reform and legal regulation.

cosmotravella233 karma

Brian, has being immersed in porn changed your sexual desire or performance? Have you experienced diminishing hedonist returns?

AnnalsPornographie432 karma

I can't say it has at all. I'm very happy and content in my relationships with everyone around me. Actually, my friend David Ley, a medical doctor, has written extensively and critically on the idea that pornography and sex addiction are even legitimate diagnoses. Here's him at his best: http://www.amazon.com/Addiction-forthcoming-Ethical-Responsible-Pleasure/dp/1442213051

The NoFap philosophy that pornography and obscenity is dramatically worse now than it was in prior years I find a little inaccurate. Cock and Hen clubs in the 17th century often features people having what we'd call nonpenatrative sex (blowjobs, fingering, etc) and you could see people having sex with prostitutes in alleyways and people didn't think too much of it--remember, entire families shared beds and you'd be aware of how your parents made your siblings. Granted, if you find it is something taking over your life, then it is a good idea to get clear, but this doesn't mean porn is more addictive or damaging than gambling or shopping.

AnnalsPornographie121 karma

Here's the book blurb:

In a groundbreaking reappraisal of European history, award-winning historian Brian M. Watson gives the secret history of smut through the literature, art, photography, and historical figures you didn’t learn about in school. Watson combs the bawdy and forgotten corners of Western civilization to reveal the hidden story of a topic that still causes anger, arousal, excitement and scandal.

Combining an entertaining style with brand-new research, Annals of Pornographie: How Porn Became Bad explores not only the salacious history of pornography, but also explains the evolution of Western sexuality, the ‘creation’ of privacy (and public life), and the ‘invention of manners.’ The book analyzes Western culture’s tortured and rapturous relationship with erotic representation by probing the underside of its culture, art, literature, philosophy, sexology, psychology and its law. Covering everything from the fifteenth century Renaissance all the way up to the twentieth century Playboy magazine, Watson takes the reader on a grand tour of the forgotten debauchery of Western history.

Along the way, we meet a variety of colorful characters who rarely get their historical due: Lord Rochester, the royal Pimp; Pietro Aretino, the Renaissance godfather of pornography; Edmund Curll, the first Hugh Hefner; along with many other tax-dodging street pornographers and radicals who roamed the streets of London, Paris, New York, and other major metropoles. Watson takes us from the hallowed halls of the Council of Trent, where Popes and kings fought over the future of the west, to Grub Street, a narrow and disgusting London alley filled with hack writers, aspiring poets and pushers of dirty French pictures and many other sights and sounds from Western Civilization’s glorious and seedier locales.

Annals of Pornographie: How Porn Became Bad reveals, for the first time, exactly how pornography went from being beautiful to being bad.

hawtsaus41 karma

Hey just commenting on this hoping you'll respond; while I agree you can be perfectly content and watch porn, have you ever found that porn shifts your tastes in desire? Like say I binge watch midgets giving kangaroos footjobs on a whim, could it affect youroverall sexual cognition?

AnnalsPornographie86 karma

Like say I binge watch midgets giving kangaroos footjobs on a whim, could it affect your overall sexual cognition?

Well, I'm not a psychologist, but the development of fetish is something that can happen with or without modern pornography. The first person with a documented foot fetish was Retif de la Bretonne, and the fetish became named retifism. It's not necessarily caused or not by pornography.

Bernardito107 karma

Mr. Watson,

In terms of pornography as a visual medium, who would be considered as the first porn 'star', a recognizable name/face exclusively tied to erotic representation with reoccurring appearances?

AnnalsPornographie156 karma

There's many possible arguments to be made, but perhaps the first woman who made the biggest splash in erotica, sexy works, and in her own life is Nell Gywn. She was used as a recognizable person in erotic printings, poems, and stories for about 50 years.

jschooltiger104 karma

Hi Mr. Watson,

To start off, maybe you could tell us a bit about what distinguishes pornography from other sexy writing, painting, drawing, etc. For example, we know that there are plenty of depictions of people doing the deed preserved in Pompeii, in temples in the East, and we even have the "Venus" figures going back to prehistory. At what point do those turn from "here are some people having sexy times" into "pornography?"

AnnalsPornographie137 karma

great question!

for purposes of limiting my book, and because of source issues, I framed my book as beginning at the "dawn of the modern world"--that is, the renaissance. There were earlier writing and erotic painting done by the Greeks and the Romans, but they lived in a different time and had very different attitudes towards sex and representations of it.

So, with that said, the very first erotic works usually contained elements of social, religious, or political critique. For example, the works of Boccaccio contained all sorts of satire on the Church of the time, which was both a social, religious, and political power (Pope Leo led armies across Italy for temporal goals).

If we fast forward into the 18th and 19th century, writers like John Cleland with Fanny Hill wrote, for the first time, works that were purely sex and strayed away from social critique--and they escaped prosecution, which was unheard of. This is "porn for porn's sake", without the critique elements that are in writers such as Boccaccio, Aretino, and others.

Phroneo98 karma

What do you think of VR porn and how it may change the industry? Especially once peripherals arrive that sync with the video (I think they already have).

AnnalsPornographie120 karma

I don't know too much about them, but I was lucky enough to get an Oculus demonstration from a friend who is a developer. I remember reading somewhere that James Cameron was a big advocate of 3D IMAX, especially because it would breathe new life into movie theaters. There is a good chance that VR Porn and peripherals could provide a great opportunity to revive another flagging business model, and I'm really interested in how things progress. I wouldn't go so far as the guy in this documentary who says that people will prefer it over real sex.

Aeilish89 karma

Did you have a "hard" time researching and writing this?

AnnalsPornographie158 karma

it involved a lot of..difficult research that required I be very patient and delve really, really deep into archives.. especially when librarians were suspicious of my intentions or of the books that I requested.

CupBeEmpty85 karma

Did you ever have to request material about sexy librarians from librarians? I imagine that would have been fun.

AnnalsPornographie148 karma

sexy librarians from librarians?

...damn, missed opportunities.

shivan2178 karma

Was the 70s sexual revolution stopped by the accelarated STD spread or were there rather other factors?

AnnalsPornographie121 karma

Ahhh, that's generally speaking beyond my knowledge, which gets really fuzzy after 1900-50 or so. From the articles I've read, that's the generally accepted thesis. HIV and the AIDS crisis especially played a large role in stopping the revolution.

Jealousy12328 karma

I know AMAs usually only answer top level comments but I'm curious about something related to the sexual liberation of the 70s. I wasn't alive for another 2 decades but from the things I've seen one aspect of this liberation was a distancing with the concept of "monogamy". I don't have any problems with monogamy but I like the concept of open relationships which are still primarily monogamous.

As in you're in a typical monogamous relationship but also don't mind you or your partner exploring their sexuality with others as long as your primary partner is OK with it.

And it seems like such relationships were gaining traction in the 70s before everything came to a screeching halt.

How do you feel about that assessment? Do you think such relationships will become more popular in the near future with modern liberalization combined with modern sexual health technology? (IE condoms, birth control, plan b, etc)

AnnalsPornographie31 karma

I'm actually in a nonmonogamous and polyamorous situation. If you want to follow up with this question on my main handle vertexoflife I will be happy to answer it.

jschooltiger76 karma

So it's kind of a commonplace that the Web became popular once Mosaic could transmit images, because people sure do like to look at naked pictures. And building on that, it seems logical that new mediums would have been involved in recording and/or transmitting prurient content from the start. Was this true of photography as well? What are some examples of early photographic porn?

AnnalsPornographie122 karma

I am SO GLAD you asked this question! Here are some fantastic early examples of photographic pornography: https://imgur.com/a/s4uNu (DEFINITELY NSFW)

The subjects of the first images were of landscapes or objects—it was difficult to photograph nudes or people because it took several minutes to take the picture, and people had a tendency of moving, especially if said people were having sex. Regardless, where there is a will, there is a way. According to Alexandre Dupouy’s Erotic Photography, a certain optician named Noël-Marie Paimal Lebours claimed to have taken the first nude photograph by 1841 (I could not find a copy of it however!). Hilariously enough, when the first commercial photographs went on sale in France, they were available from the offices of opticians, and in the salons of high-end art dealers—not in shady backstreet alleyways (that would come later). The original nude photography was almost like a painting would be done. As Dupouy notes:

They mimicked artists and painters by making pastiches of their compositions and the use of accessories, including draping, columns and fabric. In fact, most of the precursors of photography came directly from painting. The interconnection between the two processes seemed obvious: photographers were inspired by painters, and painters made use of photography. With photography, artists no longer had to put up with models who either did not turn up or were late.

sludj555 karma

What has the history of the opposition to porn been like and how has it changed over time? Now we have quite sophisticated arguments about how porn affects women's standing in society but presumably for a long time people must have opposed it for its shock factor?

AnnalsPornographie93 karma

The opposition to the earliest erotic works comes from the authorities it targeted--the Church, the State, and society at large. For example, the 'father of pornography,' Pietro Aretino wrote a series of poems to go with some saucy images called I Modi. In it he featured famous church figures having sex with prostitutes--a very big no-no. In response, the church sent an assassin to kill him in the dead of the night--3AM when he was drunkenly riding his horse home. He survived, thankfully, and went on to write the Dialogues.

Another example might be the authors of L'Escolle Des Filles (the School of Girls)--there were parts of it that made fun of French society, and the response was overwhelming. They were fined tens of thousands of dollars, one was ordered to be executed and barely escaped and the other has all of his property burned.

noicknoick49 karma

Was it research or "research"?

AnnalsPornographie121 karma


But because you asked here is the first person to "do it for science"

Samuel Pepys:

[I’ve been] at my chamber all the morning and in the office, doing business and also reading a little of L’escholle des Filles, which is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world….[after a night of drinking with his friends] I to my chamber, where I did read through [that] lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for information sake but [he writes in code here but it’s easy to figure out] it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharger [it's his fancy code for saying he came]; and after I had [finished], I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame; and so at night to supper and then to bed. [1]

noicknoick23 karma

On a more serious note, what do you define as pornography, and what makes it different to something like "erotica?"

AnnalsPornographie38 karma

I've touched on that a bit here, but the process is generally

erotic discource (the erotic used as a way to satire kings, popes, queens, nobles) ---> obscenity (works that still maintain elements of critique but toned down a bit, larger focus on the sexuality elements, often copy earlier erotica works) ---> pornography (sex for sex's sake, censored from about 1857 with the Obscene Publications Act in England).

The word 'pornography' was brought back into use around 1850 to describe the murals they were finding at Pompeii so they could discuss what they were discovering without the lower classes finding out what was happening.

gazeless-stare46 karma

Did you find any dramatic differences in content between modern pornography and stuff from any other era?

AnnalsPornographie124 karma

To say in the very lest, I'm pretty critical of the idea that we as a species have gotten any less or more perverted over time--I see a lot really weird stuff in erotic works from 1450 even. Like check out this image, drawn by Michelangelo of gay people getting fisted in hell: https://i.imgur.com/LM83o07.png

The biggest differences in content are probably the fact that porn and erotica are now just straight sex and plot is used for just curtain drapes, whereas the earliest works had more complex setups and character developments.

derurlkoenigg40 karma

So you're saying that as time has gone on porn actors have gotten worse?

AnnalsPornographie71 karma

Depends on how you define worse. some people like their porn up front and fast. Others prefer a lot of plot in reading like for example of Fifty Shades of Grey I think has 150 pages before you even get to anything resembling a sex scene.

Nobody144141 karma

What do you find most interesting about pornography and the "kink" or fetish side of things? Or what is something you didnt expect to come up in reaearching it?

AnnalsPornographie82 karma

oh now there's an interesting question. hmmmm.

one thing that's interesting to me is that in the earliest works they try to cover every single aspect of sex and sexuality--Aretino's Dialogues contain just about everything he could think of for positions and such--see the last couple of images in this album: https://imgur.com/a/qzqUO

kink, fetish, and pornographic genre really started and got underway after the first laws were passed against obscene content in the 1850's--it was a way of selling material and the genres of "schoolgirl" "flagellation" "oriental" and such were the foundational genres. Things began to get even more hyperspecalized after that fact, and developed into the genres we know today--some of the weirder ones I've found (weird to me) are ones like balloon porn, ovipositor hentai, and others.

As far as a good history of kink and BDSM can I recommend this fantastic blog and book a friend has put together? : http://historyofbdsm.com/

scirocco41 karma

Holy Cats!

I used to run a little website called bianca, and we had a whole community of Looners... A sub war broke out between the poppers and the (??), where the poppers liked, obviously, the popping part, whereas the other group was interested only in the expectation or anticipation of the pop.

All of this extended to champagne corks and other sorts of unexpected yet anticipated popping type objects.

Wow.... And I thought maybe the Looners were limited to only a few people back in the early days of the web.

Was it common elsewhere or did you dig that deep?

AnnalsPornographie54 karma

I used to run a little website called bianca

only on reddit... but for real, thanks for explaining it in this way. That is definitely the same conclusion I came to, that there were some people turned on by anticipation, others by the pop. But no, I definitely dug deep. I've seen some shit.

Nobody14415 karma

Balloon porn? Well, you learn something new ever day i suppose XD

AnnalsPornographie24 karma

they...don't even have sex..it's just naked or dressed women bouncing on balloons.. I don't know..

scirocco8 karma

Oh no... They do have sex (at least as reported).

Surely there are more techniques, but one way was to put the balloon between the two people and at some point it would pop.

Or not pop. I suspect the 'danger' and anticipation was a large part of the thrill.

These were real people though, not generally a porn sub, more a fetish place. They did have porn though.

AnnalsPornographie10 karma

Obscenity is a word with an interesting history, especially depending on if you're using it legally or not. It entered the legal domain as "obscene libel" with the Edmund Curll (first Hugh Hefner!) case in England. But the obscenities in this case were obscenities against the church and the state in particular, not necessarily with images or pure sexuality--sex wasn't the issue so much as insulting Church doctrine was. But then the concept becomes more regulated and understood as representing sexual material in the later 1700s and so. And in France, obscenity is always understood as representing visual and not written material, they do not formulate a legal conception of written obscenity.

As we get into the twentieth century it begins to be used against works like Playboy, Hustler, and James Joyce, thus becoming a item that is struck down and protected more often than unprotected.

My book traces the history of erotic discourse/dialogue - > obscenity -> pornography and how things changed and differed.

yolakalemowa38 karma

What do you think of the nofap movement and yourbrainonporn ?

AnnalsPornographie110 karma

I talked about this here

I don't think they're necessarily bad, they're just as fine as any movement that pushes for self-control, but they do it in a rather unscientific and misleading way, and have been attacked for that from many sources. Furthermore, in most cases they are arguing that porn today is fundamentally worse today than in the past. They're wrong. I have some lovely Marquis De Sade and Aretino for them to read if they want to continue in this argument--it's not a good argument historically speaking.

Also, these movements, even though they're often supported by people who seem to be very pro-science and agnostic or atheist sound remarkably similar to victorian anti-masturbation tracts that declared masturbation would give you hairy palms and make you pale and sickly and destroy you and furthermore it was against God's laws. There's a certain amount of irony there I find amusing.

Bobtobismo38 karma

Hi Brian, this is a very interesting topic, especially in America the sigma around pornography is staggering. Have you seen the "porn kills love" movement? and does your book touch on the affects of porn on the individual or mostly the affects of the overall society and culture? Also a little bit more fun of a question, are you married or dating and has the focus of your schooling being porn affected your social life at all?

AnnalsPornographie120 karma

I touched on this a bit here.

I don't really think that porn kills love, or that porn is somehow worse now than it was in prior years. However, what I do think is that we need to do a better job of teaching children that porn is very often fantasy and should not be regarded as real life--because the USA does not have comprehensive sex ed, children often learn about sex and sexuality from porn before they learn about it from their parents, and therefore think porn is real life and how real people have sex.

My research and education has not affected my dating life, and I have had very happy and involved long-term relationships. :)

dontbesuchajerk30 karma

What was your first encounter with pornography?

AnnalsPornographie103 karma

Fair question! I believe I was 12 or 13, I was spending most of my summer on Warcraft III playing the old RP or Risk BattleNet games. In one of the main chatrooms there was a spambot saying CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES OF NAKED BRITNEY SPEARS.

Well, as I said, I was a 13 year old teenage boy...sooooo. Anyhow, it was [unfortunately?] not a picture of Spears, but of some paysite with a very naked asian woman squatting down in full glory and the site started playing a loud moaning. I panicked and pulled out the computer plug because my parents were two rooms away.

For what it's worth, I don't have an asian fetish as a result of this.

Adverlation50 karma

Whaaaaat. That was my first encounter, same ad and everything. Was playing runescape while my parents watched a movie in the other room.

AnnalsPornographie26 karma


ionoyo30 karma

Hi Brian,

What is the TL;DR for why Porn Became Bad? Thanks.

AnnalsPornographie65 karma

The short story of 'How Porn Became Bad' is this: the printing press made reproduction of ‘immoral’ texts and images remarkably easy and cheap. When this was joined with increasing middle- and lower-class literacy, it created ‘type’ of work that supposedly had an ‘bad’ effect upon the general population that the Church and various countries attempted to control through moral reform and legal regulation.

But the long answer is so much more entertaining and ridiculous.

hardasoakthickasrock27 karma


AnnalsPornographie63 karma

here's a question I was hoping for!

this is a 17th century dildo: https://imgur.com/DBg6s0d

you'll notice theres a bit in the top that unscrews and looks like a plunger. this is important. The higher end dildo models were expected to be able to be filled with fluid so they could "ejaculate" which was seen as essential to female pleasure. here's an image of one being used (NSFW):https://i.imgur.com/Q4eHpfv.png

and here's a song about one being used--a "fine dog with a hole in his head"


narky125 karma

What are your thoughts on Bill Margold getting all the attention ??


AnnalsPornographie53 karma

I knew this question was coming!

Bill is such an awesome dude. He does modern stuff, like history of Holywood and such, and I think he's been in a few pornos himself. If you haven't read his work, it's really funny.

If I work really hard on my moustache and my tan I can become him.

hardasoakthickasrock24 karma

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck. Why?

AnnalsPornographie113 karma

Ducks can fuck you up. I once got whacked by one as a child and nearly broke my arm. I'll take the 100 horses and become Godzilla among them. Horses panic as a group, you'd probably only actually have to kill 10 or so.

DakiniBrave40 karma

You suspiciously seem to have a lot of knowledge on this topic...

AnnalsPornographie118 karma

I've been a redditor for a long time and I've thought about this a long time..

hardasoakthickasrock21 karma


AnnalsPornographie29 karma

Unfortunately, some of these questions are impossible to answer, or beyond my expertise, but I'll try to explain why:

  1. In some ways, this depends on gender, class, and time period. When was it most acceptable for upper class men in England? Probably around the time of Charles II. But it was still rejected by churchmen and tried to be controlled. But among women? Probably the 1970s, but then again lower class women had much more freedom of their sexuality in the 1600s. Or France and Italy were also very different.

  2. It was both chastised and encouraged depending on the people and the place in time. Generally it was seen as acceptable among men, especially upper class ones, until the late 1700s. I'm not sure its possible to measure sex despising/acceptance among countries--the churchmen in all countries despise it..except in some cases they argue for prostitution. Young men were for it...except in cases where they created Vice Societies like Anthony Comstock. I wish there were easy answers, but as with much with history..it's complicated.

  3. I'm in favor of dating applications to some extent, so long as people go into it and educate themselves on the potential impacts and influences of the apps (endless 'window shopping' for example). I'm not sure how they would have played in earlier times.

johnolive18 karma

What do you do in your free time?

AnnalsPornographie52 karma

I answer questions at /r/AskHistorians under my main handle, and I recently presented our project at the American Historical Association. I also teach college and work at a stamp and coin company to help pay off student loans. In my other free time I read a lot (switiching off between shitty scifi and fantasy and academic books), run (do?) triathalons, and spend time traveling. I just came back from 5 days in Iceland that were fantastic despite shitty weather.

deedee2525220 karma

I bet you are fascinating to have as a dinner guest. If you are ever in NH holler.

AnnalsPornographie33 karma

that's where i live tho! I mean, I teach at New England College ;)

Urdu44673216 karma

Have you been to the sex machine museum in Prague? They claim the porn film they show is the oldest surviving filmed porn in existence. Is this true? It's black and white with an old timely soundtrack dubbed over top.

Bubba_odd15 karma

What is your all time favorite piece of porn? film and pictures.

AnnalsPornographie21 karma


Earliest surviving pornographic film!

agezuki14 karma

Hey, thank you very much for the AMA. I have a question regarding the reception of porn. The onania, Tissot and others address masturbation as epidemic in both genders. Also a lot of paintings from artists from the Netherlands show women masturbating. But I can't find information on the use of pornography between 1800 and 1920 (from onania to Freuds discussions). When do you think porn became a male thing in public discourse? It seems to me that started with the feminist sex wars (Dworking etc.).

AnnalsPornographie19 karma

But I can't find information on the use of pornography between 1800 and 1920

You should take a look at my book maybe ;) but also the works of Lisa Siegel for Governing Pleasures. Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815–1914. It's academic but has some great looks at reception, and I cover it in my book.

When do you think porn became a male thing in public discourse?

Well, yes, the feminist wars with Dworkins and others played a huge role in cementing it in a modern mind--but in many ways pornography has been written for and by men since the very beginning with Pietro Aretino. We only have limited examples (maybe a handful) of examples of female interactions and reception to porn. I cover these in my book, but in many ways a history of porn is a history of masculinity.

VehaMeursault8 karma

How did your editor not notice that massive typo in the title? We all know what I'm referring to ;)

AnnalsPornographie17 karma

No idea what you're talking about ;)

hardasoakthickasrock7 karma


  1. Did pick up artist culture exist back in time period you discuss of "Annals of Pornographie" in the way it does today, was it similar or different to the Libertines for example.

  2. How did manners come about by the 'invention of manners,' as in what purpose do they serve and do they curb back sexuality or heighten it? I'm referring to "Annals of Pornographie".

  3. Who in your opinion was the greatest seducer during the time period of "Annals of Pornographie". Who are the runners up. How about today, do you see any seducers worth noting now.

AnnalsPornographie22 karma

Hey there!

  1. Pickup artists, are, luckily, only a modern creation. Generally speaking, over the 500 year period of my book, male figures more often practiced prostitution than practiced anything resembling pick up "artistry." Plus, attitudes towards sex and discussion of was much more frank the farther back we go, especially among lower classes and in social atmospheres.

  2. Manners, especially table and societal manners developed in the 1700s and 1800 as a way for polite society to distinguish itself from the uneducated lower classes. Utensils became more accepted, and individual plates as well as sneezing and farting out of public company. It also pushed topics of sexual matters out of polite conversation and into the bedrooms.

  3. I suppose the only person I know that would prize themselves on being a libertine seducer would probably be John Wilmot, Lord Rochester, but he got syphilis and died at a young age, so I suppose that didn't work out so well for him. I'm not sure about seducers of this era, though I have to say that pickup artist culture in generally is very toxic to both men and women, prizing people just for their genitals.

astrakhan426 karma

Are you as disappointed as I am in the decline of punny porn titles?

AnnalsPornographie8 karma

Yes. :(

hardasoakthickasrock3 karma

Are you for or against masturbation? How often a day? To porn or without?

What are your opinions on friends with benefits b/w man and woman.

AnnalsPornographie18 karma

Well, on a personal level? That's all I can really speak to in this case, I don't know the research behind those topics. I think masturbation is fine so long as it's not taking over your life like some people on NoFap seem to argue that it is doing to them. Friends with benefits is fine too, so long as everyone is clear on what the relationship is and communicates ope and honestly about their feelings and what they want.

jazz4sunnydays2 karma

Hello Professor Watson! What constitutes a fetish? Can it be a "normal" object such as a boob? And if so, why don't we view these normal sexual objects as fetishes.

AnnalsPornographie17 karma

A "fetish" is something that is usually required by someone in order to orgasm--this differs from kinks that are preferences or from Kink as a whole, which usually implies the BDSM culture.

A person with a foot fetish, for example, is likely to not be able to orgasm without feet being involved. Fetishes are obsessive (and I'm not saying this in a bad way) preoccupations over one particular physical aspect or psychological item.

hardasoakthickasrock2 karma

What are some aphrodisiacs that you came across in your research?

AnnalsPornographie3 karma

The Marquis de Sade was imprisoned for using Spanish Fly on a prostitute (which does have some aphrodiasiac effects but also negative ones), but other ones that were preserved nuts, olives, strawberries, chilies, figs and cherries.

assholewithdentures2 karma

Mr. Watson, my question is not so much about the history but looking more to the future. The internet has revolutionized the way people access and experience porn / sex; do you think this revolution has been a good or bad thing for society in general? what are your thoughts on the current state of modern pornography and where do you think it goes from here? Thanks!

AnnalsPornographie3 karma

see my answer here and let me know if you have followup questions: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4b2xdt/hi_reddit_my_name_is_brian_watson_and_i_am/d15r0m5?context=3

Generally speaking, I tend to be on the neither bad nor good side, perhaps leaning towards the good side after consideration that increased porn consumption lowers incidents of rape and the fact that porn was a protected and special element of the upper classes and I like sticking it to the upper classes. :)

hardasoakthickasrock2 karma

Are facials (glazing woman's face) a recent phenomenon (last 100 years) in porn, or were they popular in the past as well?

AnnalsPornographie10 karma

This is a bit out of my realm, but as far as ai know, a male orgasming on a female face is a older cultural thing that originates from japan as a traditional sign of submissiveness and respect. It was incorporated into Hollywood as the 'money shot' because it looks cinematically appealing.

JoeGCG1 karma

Hey Brian, thank you for this AMA, I totally admire your work. I have a question for you: Why aren't there many shemale porn scenes where the guy or girl, or another tranny, finishes the tranny off? It's like, the tranny always jerks off alone to finish. Is there like an unknown rule of performers not having contact with tranny cum? For example, in thousands of shemale porn scenes I have seen, at most, only 12 times, I have seen a guy making the tranny cum with a handjob while fucking her.

AnnalsPornographie6 karma

I'm afraid that's a bit beyond my expertise. May I suggest you get in touch with Bailey Jay or many of the other transsexual stars on Twitter?

salt-the-skies1 karma

I'll buy a kindle copy for support, but if you hit any measure of success with publishers, do you intend to release a hard back?

AnnalsPornographie1 karma

if I get a publisher it would definitely be in hardback :)

hardasoakthickasrock1 karma

What is something or some fact that you found particularly interesting in your research about sex throughout the 500 years your book covers that you thought was pleasantly quirky or surprising?

AnnalsPornographie2 karma

See my answer here: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4b2xdt/hi_reddit_my_name_is_brian_watson_and_i_am/d15mhy4

Also, I loved reading about how Cock and Hen clubs--basically singles bars of the 1600s and 1700s--had rather open sexual activity going on.

hardasoakthickasrock1 karma

What kind of things were interesting of Cock and Hen clubs? Open sexual activity, what do you mean by that orgies or what?

AnnalsPornographie1 karma

From the surviving records, what we would describe as nonpenatrative sex. Think blowjobs, handjobs, fingering, cunnilingus, although Place gives the impression that in dark corners more might have been happening.

kojkajao1 karma

I have a question that i didn't get any satisfying answer to.

What exactly is the difference between hardcore and softcore pornography other than showing it/not showing it, like in film making and such? and what's the logic behind producing softcore if hardcore is just as available and with more content?

AnnalsPornographie4 karma

Hardcore pornography has things called 'primary obscenities'--that is they show things like penises, vaginas, and full on sexual act instead of just stuff under a blanket or suggestions, or so on.

and what's the logic behind producing softcore if hardcore is just as available and with more content?

Personal preference, really. There's a market for both.

AnnalsPornographie2 karma

Hardcore pornography has things called 'primary obscenities'--that is they show things like penises, vaginas, and full on sexual act instead of just stuff under a blanket or suggestions, or so on.

and what's the logic behind producing softcore if hardcore is just as available and with more content?

Personal preference, really. There's a market for both.

JBLfan1 karma

So then, got a favourite porno?
Why do I feel like your answer is yes and the reason is because of the piece of history it goes with?

AnnalsPornographie2 karma

Why do I feel like your answer is yes and the reason is because of the piece of history it goes with?

yes :p

ummmm, well, favorite book or favorite movie?

hardasoakthickasrock1 karma

Were STDs more common in the past? How did people prevent or deal with them?

AnnalsPornographie4 karma

This is a Very Large Question, and so I will try to answer it in a general way, with general brushstrokes. Unfortunately for their sufferers, STDs were much more common in the past, and what's more, they were more devastating as people did not have a good understanding of germ theory nor how to treat STDs. For example, the preferred treatment regimen for syphils was highly-poisonous mercury treatment, which involved bathing the affected member in mercury, drinking mercury and inhaling it. All of which was extremely carcinogenic, and if you watch Johnny Depp's The Libertine, which is based on Lord Rochester, you get a good feel for how destructive and ineffective the treatment was. It wasn't until the 1700s that condoms began to be available, but the first types, silk and lab's gut did not protect against most STDs, it would take French Rubbers to do that, and they would not come until later.

[deleted]1 karma


AnnalsPornographie1 karma

Was it, though...

KnotSafe4Work1 karma

Why the hell is it so hard to Jenna Jameson porn online? (Free that is)

AnnalsPornographie1 karma

She probably has a good legal team!

june606-8 karma

As a long-term member of Reddit I was unaware that this website now had a 'resident of pornography' on staff.

My first question to you upon reading this post is are you doing this on a voluntary basis or is Reddit paying you money to accept this employment?

If you are some kind of advisor to Reddit, I find it extremely offensive that you promote your own materials so freely. How is that anything but a silent endorsement from Reddit and how is their free speech message furthered by such a deal?

AnnalsPornographie10 karma

As a long-term member of Reddit I was unaware that this website now had a 'resident of pornography' on staff. My first question to you upon reading this post is are you doing this on a voluntary basis or is Reddit paying you money to accept this employment? If you are some kind of advisor to Reddit, I find it extremely offensive that you promote your own materials so freely. How is that anything but a silent endorsement from Reddit and how is their free speech message furthered by such a deal?

It's a joke--I'm flaired at /r/AskHistorians under my main handle as an expert in pornography and obscenity. It's a callback to the unidan mess of him being "reddit's resident biologist."