Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-20-2019


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Will Adams

Committee Member

Russell Walsh

Committee Member

Lori Koelsch


pornography, empirical-phenomenology, phenomenology, feminism, women's studies, mythological studies, sexuality studies, women's experiences, late-capitalism, existenialsm


This empirical-phenomenological study explores the psychological dimensions of negatively encountering a pornographic image. The study includes four participants, all adult women who have had an adverse encounter with a pornographic image within the past five years at the time of the data collection. The recollected experiences of the participants were collected through written narratives as well as semi-structured interviews.

The written narratives and recorded audio interviews were transcribed and subsequently analyzed using an empirical-phenomenological analysis, a process that yielded situated structures. From this analysis, thematic elements of each structure were brought to light. Some of the thematic elements that were uncovered amidst the four narratives include, but are not limited to: feelings of anger and embodied dread and anxiety, identification with the pornified subject, feelings of being haunted by imagery, and seeking to metabolize and transform one’s experience toward empowerment.

From these situated structures, the general structure of the experience of negatively encountering a pornographic image was determined. To this traditional methodology, a further step was added, whereby socio-political and cultural themes that emerged from the data were analyzed. Some of the socio-political and culture themes which were found include: the presence of the male gaze, the vulnerability of the female body, the experience of being silenced, and the importance of storytelling and witnessing.

The study found that the experience of negatively encountering a pornographic image is a complex phenomenon that includes disruption of one’s habitual experiential unfolding, shifts (both overt and subtle) in one’s lifeworld existentials (corporeality, sociality, communality, and temporality),intense emotional reactions such as anger and sadness, and painful experiences of gendered subjectivity within a patriarchal context.

This research project offers new ways of understanding the lived phenomenon of negatively encountering a pornographic image, and it also confronts oppressive cultural forces which disregard these experiences as being shared, comprehensible, or worthy of conversation.