Behind Closed Doors: What We Don't Say About Women and Porn

I was reading an article from the Deep Dives editor about a collection called Sexting the Interwebs recently, and it made an interesting point: When the government (and more often than not, the media) talks about women and porn, they're not talking about how we can meet their demand for good content or how it might alter their expectations of a sexual partner - we're talking about how to protect them from it, almost as if they don't watch. The thing is, though, that they do. Ohhhh, they do. Millions of women watch porn, and the percentage is growing every day. But as important as it is to ask "when is mainstream porn going to reflect that?" may be, it's not the only implication a large female viewership has. 

It might be reminiscent of that cliché Spiderman quote, but I fundamentally believe that responsibility and freedom go hand in hand; or rather, responsibility and accountability. As women, we want and deserve more sexual freedom: The freedom to be sexual beings without condescension or condemnation, the freedom to expect the sexual pleasure that men have long been permitted to expect, the freedom to watch (or participate) in porn or other sexual scenarios without being spoken for like children - but that means we must also hold ourselves accountable to the standards we hold the male population to. 

When, for example, does porn give straight women unrealistic expectations about sex? It may be predominately marketed toward men, but it certainly teaches us that all men are well-endowed and get hard the second they have a sexual thought - and that they can stay that hard for thirty minutes straight regardless of the kind of physical stimulation they're receiving. We are conditioned to expect men to be experienced, uninhibited, and expressive, able to dominate us in the bedroom but also cuddle and woo us when the sex is over. In many ways, the narrative is similarly frustrating to the one we give women: You must be everything at once. 

And when are we making cynical or sweeping generalizations about men? Do we always expect them to be selfish lovers, bro-dudes who lust after every woman in their lives despite having significant others, a demographic that is relatively unconcerned with a woman's pain or pleasure? The media in all its forms - movies, TV, magazines, porn - gives us an unrealistic expectation about how sex with men will be as well, and I have no doubt they suffer for this just as we do.

It's difficult to find statistics for female vs. male viewership for anything but tube sites like PornHub (women make up 25 to 30 percent of the bunch), but I would guess that women often direct their attention toward more niche sites and make up an even larger chunk. (Consider my coverage of indie porn, for example, which I find particularly gratifying to watch for many reasons.) But even at 30 percent, female consumers make up a huge chunk of the porn pie, and as such, need to be considered a valid demographic from both sides: We deserve porn that is inclusive, realistic about the way our anatomy works, and frankly, actually marketed to us. But we alternatively need to consider how our over usage of porn (because, as I say time and time again, moderate porn consumption is not bad for you at all) and the way men are portrayed in the media negatively impacts our sex lives and relationships. 

Image via Pornhub Insights

Take the link between porn and masturbation, for example - we see a great many articles about how a man who relies too much on porn and self-pleasure to satiate himself can have trouble getting aroused and getting off with a partner, but the same is true for women. All of our brains can rewire to need hyper-novel stimuli, and we can all simply get used to the way we touch ourselves, making us somewhat unresponsive to anything else. Many women already struggle with having orgasms, but those of us conditioned to only come a certain way when we're fantasizing about certain things will struggle even more. I've certainly listened to Dan Savage give advice on how to break that cycle enough times on his excellent podcast to know I can't be the only one.

Then there's our own self-esteem: I can personally say that I've felt unwanted, unattractive, or to some degree, betrayed, when a partner didn't stay rock hard while he was going down on me or just didn't feel like sex one day, and I didn't consider for a long time that perhaps my expectations were fabricated by a stereotype. Considering that an accumulating wealth of new human history findings suggests that women are, in reality, just as sexual if not more so than men, assuming that the males in our lives should be constantly on 24/7 isn't healthy for us - or the men who have had to swallow the pill and believe they should be that way, too. 

After a frustrating youth of having many partners that didn't care much whether or not I had an orgasm, I blamed the way we learn about sex for the gender orgasm gap, and I do still think it's the main culprit. Providing the kind of realistic schema for a healthy sex life isn't just about teaching female anatomy to men or about helping us all from healthy physical responses to the way sex really is, though - it's also about teaching women how to take accountability for their own pleasure whether or not their male partner immediately offers up the stimulation they need.

Lux Alptraum (shout out to Fleshbot's previous owner) wrote about this in one of her recent newsletters, saying that perhaps straight women aren't getting as much pleasure in part because they expect it to be entirely facilitated by their partner. It's a mixed bag, of course - some people are only in it for their own orgasm, and we certainly do socialize men to focus more on being the recipients of pleasure than the administrators - but it's worth some reflection. I think many straight women such as myself could spend more time touching ourselves or directing a hand, toy, or penis toward where it needs to go during sex, whether or not it's administered intuitively by our partners - who, if they're attentive enough, will probably be able to pick up what we're putting down over time anyway, if you catch my drift.

So perhaps it's time, like Richa Kaul Padte of Deep Dives says, to include women in the porn conversation. Not just as victims of it or people who need to be protected from its effect on men, but as the real consumers they are. Perhaps, for example, if we did, we would be able to glean that there's something significant about so many women watching lesbian porn beyond the ever-fetishized "bisexual exploration" voyeurism. 

Image via Pornhub Insights 

Perhaps when framed that way, we might consider that cunnilingus and clitoral play are in higher demand than we find in most straight, mainstream porn, no? Many female directors and producers (Joanna Angel, Jacky St. James, Mason, Lucie Blush, Erika Lust, the list goes on) have already stepped up to begin creating the kind of inclusive content that can satisfy all genders, and we're slowly beginning to see more and more of this wonderful porn shake up mainstream content, but we need the rest of the world to understand that yes, women are watching porn, too.

Just as we should reflect on how we market (or, more relevantly, don't market) porn to its eager female consumers, so should we reflect on the positive and negative ways it contributes to their psyches and sex lives. After all, gender equality is a two-sided coin. 

Tagged in: behind closed doors, women and porn

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