News at Medicine - December 2017 - Graduate student among funding recipients

Graduate student among funding recipients
December 19, 2017
Valerie Webber, from the Division of Community Health and Humanities, recently received a grant for her research project, Public privates: Measure B, pornographic sex, and the ethics of public health. It was part of the federal government's announcement of nearly $2 million for 34 diverse research projects led by Memorial.
According to Ms. Webber, policy makers, lobbyists and special interest groups everywhere are increasingly framing pornography as a public health hazard for performers and for society. For performers in the industry, this has led to attempts to enforce condom use in the making of pornography. For society it has led to many countries, including Canada, to research the public health impacts of pornography and passing, or are trying to pass, resolutions that declare porn to be a public health concern as well as laws to block pornographic content. 

“This evokes concerns around public health ethics, which struggle to balance private individual rights and freedoms while ensuring the greatest possible public collective good.” Ms. Webber said.

Ms. Webber, whose supervisor is Dr. Fern Brunger, has 15 years’ experience working in the adult industry and has found that her personal experiences and those of her peers are not mirrored in the conversations that are happening about pornography. “Part of my work is trying to reconcile those conversations being had by non-sex workers in the public domain with the conversations and experiences that are meaningful to those of us actually involved in the industry,” she said. “And thinking about how these discourses inform and are informed by popular ideas about sex, gender and sexualities, particularly non-dominant ones.”

“Framing certain issues as matters of public health is a powerful way to push forward moral imperatives under the guise of health,” she noted. “That said, I do think that many of the people using this language are genuinely concerned about the place of sexuality in our culture, but targeting pornography as solely responsible for these concerns grossly 
oversimplifies sex, sexuality, and the relationships people have between sexual media and their own sexual beliefs and practices.” 
The Canadian Standing Committee on Health recently released their final report concerning Motion 47, a mandate to investigate the public health effects of 'violent and degrading' pornography. Ms. Webber co-authored one of the submitted briefs:
Ms. Webber, who published an honours thesis in the journal Sexualities from her undergraduate degree, also completed a masters in medical anthropology from McGill University and a masters of public health at the Faculty of Medicine. The manuscript she wrote based on her medical anthropology masters research was recently accepted in the journal Sexuality & Culture. She also published a piece in the journal Porn Studies and recently co-edited a special section on pornography and public health for Porn Studies due out next year.
Ms. Webber’s goal is to advance the fields of public health ethics and porn studies by examining the ethical implications of conversations that frame pornography as a public health crisis, and how this shapes the lives of pornography professionals and sexual subjectivities in general.
She received the grant as one of two recipients of the SSHRC Joseph–Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program.

For the full list of Memorial researchers receiving SSHRC support visit: