Pornotopia is a term coined by the critic Steven Marcus to describe the idealised, imaginative space of pornography,[1] and used more broadly to describe a fantasy state dominated by universal sexual activity.[2]

Daniel Bell saw the hedonistic promotion of pornotopia in late capitalism as paradoxically undercutting the very virtues of bourgeois sobriety upon which capitalism was originally built.[3]


Pornotopia is characterized by its freedom from the normal social restraints of place and time - as Marcus put it, "It is always summertime in pornotopia".[4] External reality is either split off entirely, or its problems dissolved under a tide of sex.[5]

Narrative flow will hang on a tenuous line[6] - a picaresque adventure allowing for multiple encounters,[7] or perhaps a Sadean multiplication of all possible combinations of persons/orifices.

Beginnings will be sketchy, but, as Marcus argues, "it is an end, a conclusion of any kind, that pornography most resists":[8] one reason Susan Sontag singled out The Image as transcending its genre, was precisely its finely structured conclusion, retrospectively illuminating all that had gone before.[9]


Characters in Pornotopia are typically ithyphallic, ever ready for sex, and with an almost omnipotent capacity for renewal and further action.[10]

They are also largely invulnerable. Thus in the Story of O, just as the chains never rust in her fairytale-style chateau,[11] so too the inhabitants are never damaged by their ordeals, and never lose an iota of their allure in a triumph of the imaginary over the reality principle.[12]


  • Marcus's concept of Pornotopia has been criticised for basing itself too exclusively upon a brief period of experience drawn solely from Victorian Britain.[13]
  • 21stC online-Pornotopia has been described as an arena of homosocial solace for lad culture, at the phantasised expense of their female counterparts.[14] Certainly Pornotopia to feminist eyes can appear as a place where no woman would like to live;[15] but perhaps that is to underestimate what sex-positive feminism has revealed about comparable female fantasies of omnipotent control and unlimited gratification.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 272-6
  2. ^ Pornotopia
  3. ^ Daniel Bell, The Winding Passage (1991) p. 302
  4. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 276
  5. ^ Linda Williams, Hard Core (1989) p. 239 and p. 170
  6. ^ T. Lovell/J. Hawthorne, Criticism and Critical Theory (1984)
  7. ^ Edwin Morgan, 'Introduction' Alexander Trocchi, Helen and Desire (1997) p. vii
  8. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 282
  9. ^ Susan Sontag, 'The Pornographic Imagination', in George Battaile, Story of the Eye (2001) p. 84-6 and p. 109-10
  10. ^ Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (1971) p. 275-6
  11. ^ Jean Paulhan, 'Essay', in Pauline Réage, Story of O (1975) p. 163
  12. ^ Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1992) p. 202
  13. ^ Harrison, Brian. "Underneath the Victorians". Victorian Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (March 1967), pp. 239-262.
  14. ^ Pornotopia
  15. ^ E. Baruch, Women, Love and Power (2012) p. 199
  16. ^ Nancy Friday, Women on Top (1991) p. 105 and p. 292

Further reading

  • E. Goodheart, Desire and its Discontents (1991)
  • R. Poynor, Designing Pornotopia (2006)

External links

  • The Victorian Pornotopia
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.