Online Interviewing: Investigating Female Undergraduates' Perceptions of Pornography

Abstract

In 2011, Amber interviewed six female undergraduates about their consumption of online pornography. These interviews were part of a broader thesis project that sought to better understand how and why young women used pornography. Given the social stigma that still surrounds assertive female sexuality, online pornography may be a more desirable option for women than traditional media. Yet most of the previous research regarding online pornography consumption has focused disproportionately on men, with little consideration for women's experiences. In addition, much of the research that does include women tends to focus on the negative effects of pornography. This bias makes it difficult to account for women who perceive pornography as enjoyable or sexually empowering. We undertook this research project as an attempt to meet women on their own terms—to give them the opportunity to talk about their perceptions of online pornography without fear of judgment or stigma. Noting how the Internet serves as a safe space for the consumption of pornography by young women, we used online surveys and online interviews to create an environment in which the women who participated in the study could feel more comfortable sharing their private experiences and thoughts with us. While an anonymous online survey is standard procedure in the social sciences, online interviews are less common, with fewer established guidelines for researchers who wish to undertake them. This case study explores the opportunities and challenges of conducting interviews in online spaces. We begin by presenting a general overview of the project and considering some of the general methodological issues associated with online interviewing. We then recount how Amber conducted the online interviews for this project, in order to call attention to the various logistical issues that researchers wishing to use online interviews must consider, particularly when researching sensitive topics. After contextualizing the project within the general challenges of online interviewing, we identify the primary challenges encountered during the conduct of the online interviews, along with the strategies Amber used to address these challenges. We conclude with guidance for future research in online spaces, based on the lessons learned from this interview project.

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