Arts & Pop Culture

LADIES LOVE PORN

By ARIELLE CRUZ

“I finally signed up for a PornHub premium account today. It kept asking me, so I just did it. I don’t know how I feel about it,” he laughed. “I mean I don’t care, it’s not like I won’t use it. Cameron already has one.”

“No I don’t.”

“Yes you do, don’t even lie.”

Everyone laughed. They continued joking about whether Cameron really had a premium account or not.

This was part of about a five-minute segment of conversation at a friend’s house the other night. Nine guys live in the house, so there is an unspoken, well, sometimes spoken, understanding that some, if not all, of them watch porn. This is a fact that surprises no one. Guys watch porn. It’s a thing.

What isn’t a thing is women watching porn. That’s just weird. For some reason, there is a general consensus in the female community that it is something we just don’t do, unless we’re watching it with friends as something silly or educational, or watching it with a significant other or fuck buddy or what have you to get aroused or pick up some new moves. The concept of women watching porn alone in the way that men do is as taboo as well … men watching porn isn’t.

This isn’t to say that women don’t actually watch porn. Of course they do. But for a lot of women it is hard to talk about if they do, because you never know how your admission will be received. What if your friend is really is against porn on some moral level and you leave the conversation with a friendship forever changed? Better not to take the risk.

Whenever I have had conversations with friends about porn the conversation has been weird. Not uncomfortable weird, but the kind of weird where we end up talking about it as if we were talking about one of us shoplifting. There are hushed tones involved, secrets being divulged and new limits set for our friendship. But when my guy friends talked about it, they were just hanging out in a room with a couple of us girls.

Here’s the thing though, a lot of women watch porn. According to some ratings from Nielsen in 2007, as many as 13 million or more women watch porn every month. Hell, Oprah even has a list of porn recommendations, a “starter kit” as she called it, written by Violet Blue, the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn. Yes, I said Oprah. The concept that a lot of us still have, that watching porn is uncharacteristic, is completely untrue, we’re just afraid to admit it.

In February, Cosmopolitan published a survey in which they asked 4,000 men and 4,000 women about their porn habits. And guess what? Seventy-three percent of the women they surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 said they watched porn, and 25 percent said they watched every few days. If the survey is correct, it is women in that lower age bracket who are watching more than older women. Look around, because that’s us.

Of course, women watching porn isn’t necessarily an argument for porn in general. In fact, there are a lot of women who really are against porn and everything it promotes. There are also a number of organizations against porn that are trying to fight the prominence of what they call “porn culture.” They blame porn for violence and for young men’s incorrect assumptions about what sex is, or should be like, in real life. And maybe these people have a point about this. Sex in porn can often be quite different than sex in real life, especially when you break the seal of the weird fetish stuff. There are so many categories of online porn available that they are impossible to count. To quell some of your curiosity, some of the immediate genres that pop up on your standard, free, top of the Google search, sites (eg. Pornhub, YouPorn, etc) include MILF, Threesome, Big Dick, Teen and Multiracial. There are more, but I think you get the point.

But this problem isn’t unique to porn — it includes popular TV shows’ depictions of sex as well. In Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, she talks about exactly this concept, “Everything I saw as a child, from 90210 to Bridges of Madison County, had led me to believe that sex was a cringey, warmly lit event where two smooth-skinned, gooey-eyed losers achieved mutual orgasm by breathing on each other’s faces.” This isn’t even taking into account some of the niche Showtime and HBO shows that have gone in and out of popularity over the years for adults and high schoolers alike. Watching Mary Louise Parker and her Mexican drug king lover fuck on Weeds was some of the most violent, borderline non-consensual stuff I have ever seen. And I wasn’t even old enough to see a rated R movie at the time. 90210 and Weeds and Gossip Girl or what have you, in addition to porn, though obviously in a different way, have all contributed to a warped image of sex in the minds of pre-sex-having individuals. Porn is not singularly to blame in the case of confused expectations.

But whether we like it or not, or morally think that it’s gross or not, our generation is using porn more and more to experiment with sexuality. They (or we?) are sending nude pictures, and taking them, at a higher rate than other generations, and PSAs telling us simply “not to do it” are like an abstinence policy, it just doesn’t really work. Not talking about porn may be worse than just embracing it. In addition to the awkward “When you do have sex, use a condom, son or daughter,” talk, maybe parents need to start having an, “…and if you watch porn, you know, just if you do, just remember that what you’re seeing on your screen isn’t always real life,” talk. We never really had that.

The same Cosmo survey mentioned earlier also found that three out of four men say their preferences for women in real life are the same as their physical preferences for porn actresses. Seven in 10 also said that they watch things that they wouldn’t do in real life. This is compared to a mere seven in 50 women who say they watch things that they wouldn’t do in real life. It has also been noted on some sites that women tend to like watching porn that is more realistic. It isn’t a secret that there is sexism in porn, and as Amy Schumer jokes, no woman wants to see the last minute of porn because we all know what is coming (pun intended) — the guy cums on her face. Some of the women in porn are treated in ways that other women don’t like, and don’t particularly want to see. Though that hasn’t stopped women from enjoying slightly more atypical videos like Gang Bang and “Eiffel towering” (you guessed it, when a girl has sex with two guys at once and consequentially becomes like the top portion of the Eiffel tower. They even talked about it on Scandal.) Men and women are drawn more to slightly different kinds of videos. According to Buzzfeed, “Threesome” is the second most popular search for women on Pornhub, with the fourth being “Gangbang.” Neither of these searches is even in men’s top 20 searches.

That being said, a lot of porn tends to cater to a male audience rather than a female audience, and some of the porn out there is just terrible to watch. “Sex in itself is not degrading,” as Abiola Abrams stated to Canada’s National Post, but some images of sex can be, and it is those degrading images that are really the problem. In response to this, a sex toy shop in Canada named Good For Her began the Feminist Porn Awards back in 2006. Each year porn actors and actresses, directors, production companies and more make their way to Toronto to watch and talk about more “ethical” porn. Rules for films to qualify are as follows: “1) Women and/or traditionally marginalized people were involved in the direction, production and/or conception of the work. 2) The work depicts genuine pleasure, agency and desire for all performers, especially women and traditionally marginalized people. 3) The work expands the boundaries of sexual representation on film, challenges stereotypes and presents a vision that sets the content apart from most mainstream pornography. This may include depicting a diversity of desires, types of people, bodies, sexual practices, and/or an anti-racist or anti-oppression framework throughout the production. And of course it must be hot!”

In theory, that sounds pretty awesome. The questions now are, are these guidelines enough to make pornography production more acceptable? And is one small movement enough to make any kind of difference in the industry? We will have to wait and find out. But according to a writer at Vice who attended, “Feminist porn is a movement that spends as much time defining itself as it does producing content. This is probably necessary, since pornography, as a whole, is still widely considered exploitative.”

Maybe it is this popular perception that porn exploits women that keeps women from admitting to watching it. But from the sound of this article (and some information from a little further research), there are a lot of production agencies nowadays that work to create porn that isn’t exploitative … fair trade porn, if you will. So maybe the problem with porn isn’t that “it’s porn,” maybe part of the problem for women admitting to watching porn has to do with the industry, and the standards it sets for itself.

One of the best ways to explain this issue is with a genre of porn sites called Porn for Women. What does that even mean? Gentler porn? As we now know, women watch all kinds of porn from lesbian to gay to Gangbang to Big Dick, so what in the world is porn that is specifically for women? Maybe if women start talking about porn just a little more, and maybe admitting that we watch it a little more, we can demand that there be porn that is simply called porn and doesn’t warrant a separate genre — porn that everyone can admit to watching because it is respectful even when its “nasty” and exhibits women’s agency even when they are being “had.” Why should we wait for porn to magically be better to admit to watching it? A large percentage of women are watching now, so let’s just stop playing coy with porn. The word has been written exactly 68 times in this article, more than I have probably ever said it out loud in my life. Let’s talk about it.

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