Many Women Aren't Talking About Porn, And That's A Problem

 
Better porn? Yes, please.

Better porn? Yes, please.

Four women to tell us about their relationship with porn, and confirm our suspicions; we need to talk about it more if we want it to improve. 

Before we really jump into bed on this one, let’s acknowledge this one very glaring fact: We don’t know shit about women’s porn-consumption habits. 

There have been studies, of course, one of the most recent being Marie Claire’s online survey of 3,000 women in 2015. The results were surprising and illuminating, with the standout being that 31 percent of women said they watch porn on a weekly basis. A weekly basis, y’all. 

It’s an especially curious finding when stacked next to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, which found that only eight percent of women watch “adult videos.” Hmm. *thinking face emoji*

Clearly methodology and the surveyed pool factor in here. In Marie Claire's case, 83 percent of online respondents identified as heterosexual, and more than half were in a relationship. Seventy percent were between the ages of 18 and 34 (a.k.a. they’re millennials), and one would also assume their readership is fairly primed for the conversation. Especially when compared to the random 1,000-person pool gathered by Pew, whose surveys were conducted over the phone.

That 23-point disparity suggests that despite everyone knowing that a ton of people watch porn, it’s still a hugely stigmatized subject that we're not really willing to be completely candid about—women especially.

And here’s another thing we know for sure: Mainstream porn is, by and large, massively problematic in the way it has portrayed, and continues to portray, women. There’s a pervasive and often comic lack of understanding of female pleasure, and all too often, women are largely relegated to the role of a squealing prop.

So, where do we go from here? There is promise on the horizon; women like Erika Lust and Sarah Beall are killing it when it comes to creating porn that better meets the desires of women. And in general, a feminist porn community has been slowly but surely developing over the course of the last decade.

But considering the massive numbers of women who desire good porn, the conversation still clearly has a long way to go.

To keep the discussion going, we talked to three everyday, millennial women about their experiences with porn, why they love it's current offerings, or don’t, and what they think needs to happen to make it better.

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“I’m watching porn to have orgasms, not to make a stand. But ninety-nine percent of what’s out there makes me sick.”

"The first time I watched a porno was in my room in seventh grade with all my girlfriends. We laughed so hard that I cried. I’d been aroused before by sexual intimacy in movies, but it was hilarious the first time I saw porn. I didn't think it was erotic or sexy; it seemed like a joke. I didn't really start to "consume" it until I was in my mid 20s, when the search button became an option. 

I don't watch it all that often—maybe once a month, right before my period starts. I'll watch like a clip of the one or two videos I think are sexy, and then turn it off and masturbate to the ceiling fan. 

My boyfriend and I talk about it very freely. I was turned on asking him about what he likes. But we don't watch it together. I talk about it with friends too; they aren’t the shy types, and most of them are gay men. We all like the strangest porn. 

I love that it's a safe place for over-the-top fantasies, but mainstream porno is not crafted for women. The players don't usually match the idea. A lot of women love BDSM. I mean, we proved that by forcing ourselves to make it through 50 Shades of Grey.

But we don't usually dream up some video gamer without fingerprints flogging us. We also don't want to always see some woman have a dick forcibly shoved down her throat two minutes in. No. Lick our vaginas. 

I’m watching porn to have orgasms, not to make a stand. But ninety-nine percent of what’s out there makes me sick. There are so many places where it's a flawed, unfit and unfair world for women. I think we have to keep talking to each about our sexuality, wherever on the spectrum we may be. 

As for how we can create a more women-positive industry: Jobs. If we can expand the adult industries even further to accommodate more types ... maybe we'll be more 'peaceful.' It sounds stupid, but other cultures are electric with sex and passion. And we are definitely in need of more passion. Which may breed compassion and empathy so on and so on. 

Talking to each other lets us know we have allies. We have to try our hardest to not feel shame for what we like. I mean, we rallied together and saw Magic Mike and we said, 'Hey, this is crap, but we love the subject.' Give us something better."

Ray, 29, musician

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“I understand the desire to be sexually aroused, the natural curiosity to watch other people do things that are so often done in secret.”

"I’ve seen pornography before in the past, but I don’t watch it and haven’t watched or seen it on purpose in over a decade, probably.

It did turn me on. And I of course understand the lure of porn—the desire to be sexually aroused, the natural curiosity to watch other people do things that are so often done in secret. But I just feel like that stuff gets out of hand really quickly—the need to always see something new, for a dopamine hit. 

If all pornography were just two consenting adults in a relationship having sex on camera, I would feel differently. But so often, I think there is darkness, obsession, addiction—things that can pervert something beautiful and natural. 

I do believe sex is beautiful and important and special. And I feel like porn makes it less special. And it so often destroys relationships and sexual health. And to be honest, I worry about the women involved. Admittedly, I don’t watch because of my religious convictions and upbringing.

That’s not to say that I don’t ever feel sexually tempted or lustful. It’s just that pornography isn’t a part of that, or my life in general."

Selene, 39, writer

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“The drawback of porn is bad porn, which gives porn a bad name and thwarts its true potential.”

"I’d say I started consuming porn in my teens. I think most kids remember somebody bringing a swiped Playboy to school to gape at when you’re younger, but I didn't pursue that kind of content for anything other than shock and awe till my teens.

It was also much harder to truly "consume" when I was young, because the internet was still getting that stuff figured out.

Nowadays, I’ll watch porn maybe once every few months. That's not porn's fault so much as my own drive, though. Partners and I have occasionally watched porn together, but I prefer to use it alone.

I'm not a fan of the way women are portrayed in mainstream porn. It's hard to look at heavily augmented bodies and not think that those decisions are based on really limited and unhealthy views of what women should look like. The kind of sex depicted in mainstream porn is also usually very male-gaze, with women's pleasure being secondary and unconvincingly "narrated."

I definitely prefer porn that depicts something closer to "real" sex, which is believably pleasurable for everyone involved. I'll admit that recently, I've had it pointed out to me that if I want better, more "feminist" porn, then I should put my money where my mouth is.

But with porn being so easy to access online, it takes a conscious effort to go out and buy feminist and ethical porn.

Porn is a tool, just like anything else you might use for pleasure by yourself or with others, and can be a way to explore that discomfort or anxiety and potentially address it. But our culture still has a lot of hangups about sexuality.

If more porn was made that actually looked like the sex we have, and want to have, in all its myriad ways (because what I see in mainstream porn is not the sex I want to have), it could really serve that purpose. The drawback of porn is bad porn, which gives porn a bad name and thwarts its true potential.

As far as what we can do to reduce the stigma of women watching porn—oh God, I don't know. Smash the patriarchy? It's really a small symptom of a much bigger problem, where women aren't allowed to own their sexuality.

I guess on a smaller scale, a first step would be for women to be more open—at the very least with each other—about their use of porn. I think the more we normalize it, the less it will shock."                                                              

Amanda, 32, archivist

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“A big part of destigmatizing porn is a better societal understanding of sex work.”

"I started reading erotica on gURL.com when I was in middle school. I would search the message boards for stories, some of which I still think about. I saw porn for the first time at a friend's house when I was 15.

A group of us watched an "instructional" porn from the ‘70s, it was gross and hilarious and decidedly un-sexy. I started watching porn online near the end of high school, when I had my own laptop. 

I watch porn at least once to twice a week. Sometimes I'll read erotica if I'm feeling pretentious. I discuss masturbation with guys I'm dating, but not my porn-watching normally. I don't go out of my way to share with partners what I'm into watching, but I would if they asked. 

My last boyfriend was very sexually conservative, so I kept my porn-watching from him completely, even though we lived together. One time he left his version of porn up on his computer and it was so tame it made it clear to me that it needed to be a secret on my end. 

I know what type of porn my friends like and we've chatted and laughed about the differences in our preferences, how long it can take to find the type of porn you want to watch, and so on. It often takes me a while to find what I want to watch—it's easy to be disturbed by the sexual violence, racism and taboos that are common in porn. I identify as straight but often watch lesbian porn, to avoid seeing men who freak me out.

There's certainly a difference in what porn sites run by men deem "lady porn”—bouncy music, rooms full of natural light, no stripper heels, they're moving really slowly—which I find annoying and reductive.

But there is really cool alternative porn that's made by women, that doesn't assume that just because for women, it needs to be “porn light.” Women like [NSFW] @cummanifesto and @scientwehst are super interesting to me as far as creating porn that seems at once smart, sexy, and feminist.

I think porn can help reveal to you your own sexual preferences in visceral ways that perhaps women have a harder time admitting to themselves. A big part of destigmatizing porn is a better societal understanding of sex work itself. The more we recognize the human need for porn and legitimize the service that women (and men) who work in porn provide, the more the product can be seen as less shameful.

Phoebe, 27, art director

Answers edited slightly for clarity and length.

Words: Deena Drewis
Photo: Sam Burton