Is Porn Good for Women?
Research highlights the potential positives of pornography for female viewers.
To even ask the question of whether women watch porn is relatively rare, but to extend this question to whether porn watching is good for women is even more infrequent. Usually we are far more concerned about the effects of watching porn on men than women.
But the question of whether watching pornography enhances the sexual experiences of women (during masturbation or partnered sex) was recently addressed by psychologist Sean McNabney and colleagues with a community-based sample of nearly 2,500 women (mean age = 29) answering a survey questionnaire. Below I review the findings, and explore whether, counter to everything we might believe, straight women are more into lesbian porn than are straight men.
First, as opposed to women who refrain from watching porn during self-stimulation, women who use porn during masturbation were more likely to report having the following characteristics:
1. young and pre-menopausal
2. sexual minorities
3. high levels of interest in sex with two or more sex partners
4. persistent anxiety or depression
5. masturbate more frequently and easily
6. likely to reach orgasm
McNabney and colleagues also explored an existing assumption that greater reliance on “erotic materials during masturbation is associated with poorer relationship outcomes.” Quite strikingly, their findings were the opposite. Women who were frequent viewers of porn:
1. became more easily sexually aroused
2. reached orgasm more certainly with a longer latency to orgasm
3. reported more pleasure with their orgasm
It appeared that women used pornography “to enhance orgasmic response and pleasure … with no deleterious effects on sexual functioning during partnered sex.”
An additional question—“What are women watching when they tune in to porn?”—was answered in a recent Pornhub report. It indicated “lesbian” is the most popular category for female viewers—151% more popular with women than with men. This might be surprising because one common stereotype is that men are extremely aroused by watching two women having sex; we seldom hear about what watching two women having sex does for women.
Traditionally, it is assumed that young women who make out with each other at a bar or fraternity are doing so as a showpiece for men—their sexual encounter titillates men (at least straight men) and eroticizes women. Sociologist Janelle Pham noted this public “performative bisexuality” enhances the women’s desirability and prestige, garnering the desired male attention. But the McNabney research suggests this portrayal might not be the only factor that motivates women to engage other women in public sex. Rather, perhaps they are motivated by the pleasure of the sexual encounter for them, whether men are watching or not.
Is the lesbian porn men watch, made by men for men with an emphasis on penis-in-vagina intercourse, what straight women watch? This is not likely. Women are more apt to be turned on by lesbian porn written by women for women with more episodes of clitoral stimulation, with a range of body types, non-penetrative sex, and emotional, romantic aspects.
Given the potential value of porn for the sexual satisfaction and health of women, we should perhaps be encouraging them to watch porn, which would entail knowing more about what women are watching. Why don’t we?
Ritch C. Savin-Williams, Ph.D., is Director of the Sex and Gender Lab at Cornell University.