kirstyn seanor: The Politics of Porn

By Charlotte Emeljanow

kirstyn's hometown: Georgetown, Ontario

kirstyn seanor is putting the politics of porn at the foreground of their research.


kirstyn seanor doesn’t just watch porn… they’re making a thesis out of it.

When threats to Ontario’s sexual education program transformed something that was meant as an entertainment product into an educational resource, kirstyn was all the more convinced of the importance of studying porn.

As a third-year PhD candidate in the Library and Information Sciences (LIS) program, kirstyn’s thesis work looks at the user-tagging of pornography. Visual databases, like Pornhub, are searched using tags, or descriptive terms added by users based on what they see as most important. kirstyn theorizes that by looking at what people choose to tag when uploading and viewing pornographic content, we get some evidence about how people approach sexual content, which might say something about sexual assumptions in society more broadly.

They hope to fill the gap in research caused by the taboo nature of the subject.

“I’m trying to dodge, as much as possible, the question of, ‘Is porn good or bad?’ I’m more concerned with that fact that porn is a thing, and it exists in a context where people don’t talk about it,” they said.

The 30-year-old’s life experience has involved ample exposure into the world of sex and pornography. From a family that talked very openly about sexual subjects to a part-time job at a porn shop, kirstyn says the topic has been one they’ve found interesting for a long time.

“Some things, like concerns around safer sex practices or sexual performance, were things people in the store likely should have talked to doctors about; but a lot of people are uncomfortable around doctors, or think sexual issues aren’t ‘legitimate’ health concerns, so instead they’d talk to me, as I was this non-threatening retail worker.” - On their past employment in a porn shop.

“It’s always so fascinating when you hit a point in your life and can look back at the things that got you there”.

The idea to study pornography first came to kirstyn on a drunken walk home from the Grad Club. However, they’ve since fallen in love with academia and the ability to focus on a topic they wouldn’t be able to look at anywhere else.

Fun Fact

Aside from the aesthetics of it, seanor prefers their name to be lower-cased because “we are not really proper nouns, we’re these dynamic changing beings.” (Plus, danah boyd did it first.)

"FIMS really feels like my home now. I get to talk about the stuff I like with people who like similar stuff.”

After completing their PhD, kirstyn hopes to continue fostering their love for academia by working in an academic library. However, they knew from the beginning that choosing to study taboo subject matter might limit their job opportunities later on. They hope to take what they are learning and share it with the world through sex work and porn advocacy.

kirstyn is surviving four years of research by focusing on a field they are passionate about — porn. They say their go-to advice for anyone interested in doing a PhD is to “just do it because you want to do it.”

“There are so many conversations about like ‘oh, what do you do with that?’ and I’m like ‘well, I get a PhD…’ that’s kind of the point in and of itself.”


Profiles in the Meet Our Students section are written by students in the Master of Media in Journalism & Communication program, who are enrolled in MMJC 9604 - Professional Writing.