When one of our own, foolishly, showed porn at a conference, and then apologised on use.perl for doing it; some of the commenters asked whether it would have been better if more female-focussed porn had been included. That was back in 2006.
Less than a month ago Matt Aimonetti gave a talk at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference entitled "CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star." which apparently started off well, with a few porn-related but funny gags, but when he moved into the topic proper "the porn references continued with images of scantily-clad women gratuitously splashed across technical diagrams and intro slides. As he got into code snippets, he inserted interstitial images every few slides..."
The commenters to the above linked blog showed the same obliviousness to the issue at hand with suggestions such as "Maybe people would have felt better with some gay porn stars mixed in?" and "there was really only one risque image of a naked man
I am stunned that this could possibly still be an issue. Matt Aimonetti defends himself by saying his wife approved of the talk and that there were only 5/82 risque images (presumably all the rest were just scantily clad women); other men say that they didn't find it offensive. A commenter says he showed the presentation to his wife who also just thought it was in good humour and claims that they are open minded, presumably suggesting that the original poster is not. All of them fail to grasp that the conference should be a professional setting, not a locker room.
Porn does not belong at conferences, or in user group talks, or in the board room. Porn, although a wonderful and fun thing, should be private; or at most - shared with close friends in an intimate setting. Neither of these conditions are what you have at a conference, user group or (generally) in the board room. Porn doesn't help keep your audience's attention, instead it distracts them. Those who appreciate the images are distracted by their hormonal reactions. Everyone else is alienated. If it's male, heterosexual porn; then the straight women, queer men and anyone who just doesn't like porn get the very clear message that they're different and not included. It's not nice to be made to feel like a sexual object in a room where it seems everyone else has just been turned on. It's uncomfortable and possibly threatening.
Women, in particular, are rare at FOSS conferences. The Golden Gate Ruby Conference had only 6 out of 200 female attendees. The highest percentage at a conference I've been to was 10%. We know we're minorities, yet most of the time everyone is awesome and clearly we belong, so we often ignore the fact that we're rare and go along thinking it's a meritocracy of ideas and code. Usually it is. But talks like these drag you back into realising that you are different and you are in the minority, and that ruins it for a while.
Including more porn to "cater" to the women and queer men is not the answer. Not only would it be impossible to cater to the wide tastes of the audience, but what appeals to some would be off-putting to others. More importantly, unless you're at a conference specifically about porn; then surely you want your audience to be paying attention to what you're saying and your main topic rather than being distracted by what's going on in their pants? It's not about hard-core or soft-core porn; or what you can or cannot show on TV at 8pm. It's not about whether you can see the same style of picture on a billboard on a major road. It's about being inclusive and respectful of your audience who have often chosen to listen to your talk instead of the other talks scheduled at the same time (or being part of the hallway track). It's always a bad idea to distract your audience's attention away from the topic at hand, but porn is an even worse way than usual, as it's almost impossible to get their attention back again and you've almost certainly upset some of them. Don't alienate your audience. The only correct solution is to include no porn.
Porn does not belong in an professional setting. It's a professional setting if a decent proportion of the attendees have their employers paying for them to be there (whether or not there's an entrance cost) or if attendees expect to gain employment-relevant knowledge from the event. If it's okay for you to have pin-ups in your office and include porn in your presentations at work then you are seriously in the minority. If you would think twice about giving your presentation to a technical audience which happened to consist of 50% women, attendees fairly evenly spanning the ages of 20 - 70, and where any one them could cause you to lose your job; then perhaps there are parts of your talk which need to be cleaned up. Just because most of your attendees are your age and gender is not an excuse to ignore everyone else. I don't care if your technology conferences are anti-professional, or volunteer run; if it's a technical conference, it should discuss technical (and related) topics; none of which need include pictures of scantily clad women or risque soft-core porn. Showing porn at conferences does make employers unwilling to send their staff to future events; and makes sponsors less willing to be associated with it also; so you've just made it harder to organise next year's event too.
Getting more women to come to a conference is a hard job; I've been doing my best (with some success) to achieve this for the Open Source Developers' Conference since 2004. Stupid talks which alienate parts of the audience make that much harder; in fact I'm not sure OSDC has recovered in that sense from 2006.