We are all guilty of people watching, but what is like to do it as a career? Rather than doing it for pure entertainment, Sociology is the study of development, structure and functioning of human society—or in Chauntelle Tibbals’ case, the adult industry. Chauntelle bares all to SGP about her journey, views and projects as a Sex Sociologist.
Thanks for chatting with me! First, what do you do, and how long have you been doing it?
I’m a sociologist, which means I look for patterns occurring in social behavior and public life. Then, I try to figure out the hows and whys behind those patterns. I generally look at phenomena related to gender, sexualitites, human interactions in workplaces, and media. As luck would have it, all the things I find interesting (in conjunction with a couple other factors) led me to looking specifically at adult entertainment – the hows and whys of porn production as a workplace; legal issues related to media representations, free speech, and workers’ rights; and how erotica operates as a cultural artifact in the wider social world. I’ve been doing this for over ten years now.
What inspired you to start working in your field, and what has the journey been like?
Honestly, I’ve been a bit of a rabble-rouser, advocate, and ally since I was a kid. If I saw something that seemed unfair or marginalizing, or was just plain old jerk behavior, I was always getting in the mix. Couple that with growing up in the LA area, starting my graduate school pursuits in the San Fernando Valley (which is part of the LA city sprawl and the porn industry’s hub historically), and digging my way through the lack of representation and/or the litany of misrepresentations we seem hell bent on repeating over and over again, and this field was almost inevitable.
The journey has been an uphill battle to say the least, but it’s also been very rewarding. I talk a lot about the entire process in my [newly released] book, Exposure. I share a lot of my biography in the book, which is kinda unusual in the world of academia and knowledge production. You see, I’m not a scholar that feels my work can be disconnected from myself. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I feel that a person’s biography is inextricably linked to their worldview. As such, the research you do and the conclusions you attempt to draw in any field are shaped by an inherent subjectivity, from chemistry to sociology to journalism. If an idea comes from a person, it comes with a standpoint.
I’m sure it’s really rewarding! What does a typical day at work look like for you?
One thing that’s great about the work I do is that there’s no such thing as “typical.” I work on so many different kinds of projects that everything is constantly moving. One thing that actually is typical of every day though – work or otherwise – is writing. I write A LOT.
We’re looking forward to the release of your book on July 7th, Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society and Adult Entertainment. What got you interested in the study of adult entertainment and encouraged you to focus your book on the topic?
Well, like I said, I spent a lot of time in the Valley growing up. I’m a naturally nosy and curious people-watcher (really, it’s problem!), so I started being nosy about the people around me. And the more I started trying to figure out what was going on in porn – how it worked and why people seemed to be so torn about it, “watching” it with one hand and completely shunning it on the other – the more I started realizing that something other than what we all were hearing was going on. The picture was more complicated than “all bad,” and many people’s voices were being pushed aside in an effort to shore up this incomplete narrative. Once I realized that that was what was happening, well, I was compelled to work towards shedding some light on a more authentic picture.
What influence do you think adult entertainment has on society and our perceptions of sexuality?
Goodness, more than I can begin to explain or even name. Think about it: in 2015, we still get held up when it comes to honest conversations about sex, be it sexual health, sex-related behaviors, sex as it supposedly relates to meaning, and so on. We deny young people basic information about their bodies, and the sex mystery doesn’t exactly clear up as we age. Now, with that context in mind, enter porn – a product produced for fantasy purposes, not education. In a world where a third of all internet searches are (allegedly) “sex-related” – thus showing us that people are clearly interested in sex in whatever form – how could the sex-related media form of porn not impact our wider perceptions of sexuality? Without context or discussion, this could definitely be a problem. The problem here though does not reside with porn as a content form or a workplace. The problem is situated in our sexually stunted culture, one that prompts us to misappropriate adult content as educational on some level.
Really well said. What is the most rewarding or fun part of your work?
The most rewarding part is when I realize my work has challenged people to think about something in a new way – not necessarily agree with me or think porn is a bundle of roses (it’s not), but to pause even for a moment and think “Hmmm… maybe my perspective isn’t the only perspective out there? Maybe there’re other ways of thinking about things that are just as valid..?” When someone gives me feedback along those lines, it makes everything worthwhile.
Have you experienced pushback from other sociologists for your focus on sexuality and gender?
In a word, yes. Here’s the thing – all people, including myself I’m sure, have the capacity to get embroiled in the values and beliefs they hold dear. As such, people often push back against ideas and work that challenges their own.
What are some challenges you’ve faced or the hardest part of your work? How do you experience and overcome slut-shaming or criticism about your field of work?
Many people still hold that “porn is bad (on multiple levels)” belief, including many in the world of academia and sociology, so push back was inevitable. Many also hold the view that only certain types of sexual expression via porn are ok. I’m of the mind though that there’s no correct way to express one’s sexuality, as long as consent is involved and kids are not, so push back is inevitable here as well.
But surprisingly, or surprisingly to me back in the day, the push back took a far more intense turn when it came to my work. I talk about it a lot in Exposure – the phenomena I call the “sex worker dividend” and the impact it has on people who work in various capacities of adult entertainment. And those who are simply observing it.
Completely! With that in mind, what advice do you have for women who might be interested in working in this industry?
For women interested in working in academia, the adult industry, writing in the public space, or doing research in the private one, do your research. This is good advice for all people looking to work in any industry, but as a woman, these are some of the workplaces I can speak to directly. Do your research, and talk to people at all levels. Ask questions and make sure to gauge and contextualize the information you get. Also, make sure to engage the process. Anything worth getting is worth learning and refining – this is something that will never stop.
What are some resources you’d recommend for readers to learn more about their own sexuality?
Well, if readers want a rough (read: depressing and difficult) lesson about how gender and sexuality are organized as an exchange commodity in society, Carol Pateman’s The Sexual Contract is a theoretical cornerstone. For young people with questions about sex, there’s no better resource than Scarleteen.com, and for those over the age of 18, adult sex ed instructionals – hardcore content produced with input from sex educators – are great. Wicked Pictures has a great line, as does Severe Sex, and Girlfriends Films has produced two that specifically address lesbian sex.
Thanks for chatting with me! Before you go, do you have any plugs or upcoming projects you’re working on that we can look forward to?
Well, right now my whole world is wrapped up in Exposure. I’m very excited to be holding a reading/Q&A/signing event at the HUSTLER Hollywood store at 8920 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood on July 16 at 7 pm. I would love it for everyone to come out and join me there! I’m also working on developing a webinar series about leveraging academic prowess in the public space. That should be available in August, so I’m super excited about that too. I’m also an unabashed lover of Twitter, and everything I’m doing is always on there at @drchauntelle. Come say hi!
Her book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment just released on July 7th! Check it out here.
All photos courtesy of www.ChauntelleTibbals.com