By, Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author.
If you’d asked me this question a couple of years ago, I would have said “no.” But the times they are a-changing: just as female infidelity is on the rise, women are catching up to the guys in other ways, too - including a propensity for porn.
As a sex therapist and founder of the website Good in Bed, here’s what I’m observing:
– More couples are enjoying porn together, with women often taking the lead in choosing the material.
– More women are using porn to get themselves in the mood for sex or to enjoy their sexuality on their own.
– More women are using porn to learn new sexual techniques or to explore sexually adventurous situations.
– More women are using porn to satisfy a general curiosity about sex overall, and
– More women are comfortable and confident in asserting their opinions on the subject.
In short, women are increasingly using porn for pretty much the same reasons (and pleasures) as men. Meanwhile, guys are increasingly surprised to discover that their female partners are interested in porn - and tend to be even more surprised to discover what they’re watching (I’ll get to that in a moment).
So what’s going on? Why the apparent change? To be honest, I’d always been of the mind that men and women are somewhat different when it comes to porn, for both biological and sociological reasons:
On the biological side, I’ve often said female sexual desire is more complex than male desire, and that porn rather clearly illustrates that difference: In men, visual stimulation leads quickly to sexual arousal, and with that chain of arousal often comes a desire to be stimulated to orgasm. In that sense, arousal and desire are very closely related, and it’s one of the reasons that Viagra has been so successful with men: Give a guy an erection and he basically wants to use it. In men, porn initiates the “sexual-circuit” very quickly.
That’s not to say that women don’t respond to visual stimulation either, or that that stimulation doesn’t lead to genital arousal, but that arousal doesn’t always trigger desire in women the way that it does with men.
When I talk to guys about their porn use, many describe a lack of pre-meditation. For example, a guy could be hanging out on his computer, checking out his favorite sports site, when up pops an ad with a sexy woman in a bikini and, bang, next thing he knows he’s trawling porn sites in search of sexual release.
With women, however, the use of porn or the desire/decision to have an orgasm is often less opportunistic. A woman may see something super-sexy, and recognize it as sexy, and even arousing, but that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily going to stop what she’s doing to stimulate herself to orgasm. (By the way, if you don’t agree with any of this, please chime in below in the comments - sexual desire is by no means a one size fits all model: everyone is different and topic of women and porn is a highly debated one.)
On a more sociological level, generations of women have been told that porn is evil: that it exploits, objectifies, and degrades women, and that a woman who enjoys porn is a betrayer of Women. Some may still feel this is true, (and there are plenty of women who feel uncomfortable with porn), but there are also plenty of women who would beg to disagree and look at porn as a fairly innocuous form of erotic escapism that’s a personal choice and not a big deal.
Additionally, many women have contended that porn, until fairly recently, was never really created with female customers in mind; that porn was designed to appeal to men and lacked elements that were more organic to female sexuality, such as foreplay, intimacy and erotic storylines.
Well, today there are many porn sites geared toward women. In fact, there’s even a regular Feminist Porn Awards that recognizes erotic entertainment that is smart, sexy, and appreciates women as viewers.
Combine a recognition of a female audience with the rapid proliferation of easily accessible Internet porn, and it only makes sense that more women are enjoying porn. (By the way, if you’re a woman and you’re interested in dipping a toe - or perhaps nose-diving - into the world of porn, I suggest checking out the work of Violet Blue and her book, "The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn." Or if porn isn’t your thing, but you’re interested in some hot erotic literature, take a look at the anthologies that are edited by Rachel Kramer Bussell.)
As it turns our women may be able to enjoy porn with less guilt, or at least with less grief from their male partners. In my experience, women tend to worry a lot more about their man’s porn habits and what it means to their relationship, whereas many of the men I’ve spoken with tend to be intrigued by the idea of women and porn - especially since women are much more likely to enjoy porn that does not directly reflect their sexual orientation.
One study at Northwestern University, for example, examined the effects of porn on genital arousal and concluded that men responded more intensely to porn that correlated to their particular sexual orientation, whereas women tended to be genitally aroused by a much broader spectrum of erotic material. Who knows –- perhaps the enormous variety of material offered by the Internet will end up playing more to the spectrum of female desire than male desire in the long run?
For the moment, it would seem that women are not watching porn nearly as much as men. Recently, a researcher from the University of Montreal set out to study whether pornography had an impact on guys’ sex lives. He searched for men in their 20s who'd never consumed porn, and guess what? He couldn't find a single one. I can still show you plenty of women who have never looked at porn - but perhaps not for long.
So do women like porn as much as men? You tell me.