Emily Harle

How does pornography with explicit sexual consent, impact practice of sexual consent, amongst young men who have sex with women? 

Supervisors: Matthew Gibson and Farina Kokab/Stephen Williams

Emily HarleEmily’s doctoral study investigates the educational potential of sexually explicit materials. Specifically, this study explores pornography which explicitly demonstrates verbal consent, to see if this can have a positive impact on sexual practice and improve understanding of consent amongst young adults.

Sexual consent is often depicted as a ‘grey area’ and can be dangerously misunderstood, therefore research needs to be undertaken to investigate ways to improve understanding (Johnson, 2021). Researchers such as Marshall et al (2021) have previously explored how mainstream pornography, which disregards consent, can produce harmful sexual scripts which also disregard consent. ‘Sexual scripts’ are models of behaviour developed from media and culture, such as porn (Simon and Gagnon, 2002). However, pornography has also been used to model healthy behaviour. For example, HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns in Australia, 1984-2009, included pornographic images in their safer sex leaflets (Leonard, 2012). Emily’s research, in contrast to Marshall et al (2021)’s study and extending Leonard's (2012) comments, will explore the impact of pornography with explicit verbal consent, to discover if this can produce sexual scripts which prioritise sexual consent.

This project will be an interpretivist, qualitative study using a sample of pornography with explicit consent as a case study. The target population will be young men who have sex with women, 18-25, because previous studies considering the impact of pornography, have also used this demographic (Sun et al, 2014). Further research would need to be conducted following this study to investigate the impact of the case on different groups. Data will be collected via an opening and closing semi-structured interview, between which the participants will be given the sample videos they have consented to receive and watch, and will complete diary entries following each sexual experience. Data will be analysed using inductive, thematic analysis.


  • BA(Hons) English – University of Birmingham
  • MRes Sexuality & Gender Studies – University of Birmingham

Research Interests

  • Sexuality Education
  • Sexuality
  • Consent
  • Pornography


Prior to her PhD, Emily completed her BA and MRes at the University of Birmingham. Her BA English research project looked at sexual norms, taboo and stereotypes as they were presented in Victorian and 21st century popular fiction. Following this study, Emily developed her research interests in sexuality and society, and turned her focus to the issue of school-based sex education. Her MRes research critiqued current sex education provision in the UK, using survey data from young people themselves, exploring the issues they identified.  Her research addressed the topic from a sex-positive, feminist perspective.

Alongside her PhD, Emily works for an education charity, assisting with their research projects, policy development and events.  She has recently been helping the charity to produce guidance for school governors to assist them in building an RSE curriculum. She has also engaged with the Sex Education Forum, assisting with the development of their latest evidence briefing, supporting inclusive and comprehensive sexuality education.

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