Do Women Use Porn? Fifty Shades of Yes, They Do

Once upon a time, pornography was viewed primarily by men. In fact, the relatively small amount of pornography that existed catered almost exclusively to a male audience. Playboy did not publish articles for women, and not a lot of ladies wrote letters that began “Dear Penthouse.” And neither of those magazines printed pictures of nude men. Even the magazine Playgirl, which ostensibly catered to women, was enjoyed mostly by gay men – who at that time did not have a lot of other pornographic options.

So what was out there for women, you may ask? Well, there was Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the D.H. Lawrence novel first published in Italy in 1928 – notorious from the start for its depiction of the physical and emotional relationship between an upper-class woman and a working class man (very taboo at the time), not to mention its explicit descriptions of sex. In fact, the reason the book was originally published in Italy was that it violated obscenity laws in the author’s home country of England. (The first unexpurgated UK edition did not appear until 1960!) Following Lady Chatterley, as the 20th century progressed, women were treated a variety of “bodice rippers” (mostly Harlequin romance novels), where the sex scenes faded to black before the action really started.

So, for a very long time there was almost no deeply sexual erotica aimed at a female audience. Men got hardcore; women got romance novels. However, over the last 10 years or so that has changed rather significantly. Recognizing an untapped demographic, pornographers are now creating pornography for women – and they’re doing so with astounding success. The most notable example of this is the infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey book series and movie. The books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, and the movie, despite extremely bad reviews, grossed more than $80 million on its opening weekend. (There’s not a male-oriented porn franchise anywhere that doesn’t envy those numbers!)

Do Women Use Porn? Fifty Shades of Yes They DoIn case you’ve been living under a rock, “Fifty Shades” is the story of billionaire industrialist/bondage enthusiast Christian Grey and his mousy, naïve, English literature-loving sexual protégé, Anastasia Steele. Essentially, it’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover with the finances reversed plus a lot more whips and handcuffs and, in the book at least, much lengthier and more graphic depictions of sex. So…highly sexualized porn for women.

Nevertheless, porn aimed at women – even when it involves explicit sex, as “Fifty Shades” does – is much more about the emotional connection than the actual sex act. In fact, reader reviews of “Fifty Shades” (on sites like Amazon.com) rather strongly suggest that the franchise’s mostly female following is far more interested in Christian’s eventual transition from unemotional master to caring lover than in the ropes and pulleys in his pleasure dungeon. In this way, “Fifty Shades” exemplifies how women typically respond to pornography – revealing that they are usually far more interested in eroticized relationships than objectified sexual body parts (which is what men nearly always go for).

How many of women are using pornography? Frankly, it’s difficult to know for sure, as studies on porn usage are difficult to conduct. Without doubt, the best research has been done by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, with the results chronicled in their book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts.” Ogas and Gaddam examined 400 million Internet search engine requests in 2009 and 2010 to see what people were really looking for online, finding that 13% of all requests were porn-related. After separating male and female searches, they concluded that “On the Web, men prefer images. Women prefer stories.” So, generally speaking, men are into highly objectified body parts and women are into sexualized relationships (as with “Fifty Shades”). Unsurprisingly, Ogas and Gaddam’s deductions mirror the findings of earlier research. One such study, conducted in 2000 (the infancy of Internet sexual activity), found that women tend to prefer relational activities, such as chat rooms, while men tend to prefer purely sexual activities, such as viewing and masturbating to pornography.

That said, “Fifty Shades” and other jacked-up romance novels don’t cut the mustard with some women, who find themselves looking at and enjoying hardcore pornography in much the same way as men. In fact, Ogas and Gaddam found that 6% of all women say their number-one reason for going online is to look at hardcore pornography. And these women are quite clear about the fact that if and when they’re looking at porn, they are interested in sex and little else; they’re chasing an orgasm, not a fantasized relationship. In one study not conducted by Ogas and Gaddam, a woman states, “There are plenty of women out there, including myself, who are aroused visually in the way that men are, and we have some sexual and emotional characteristics that more closely follow the typical male pattern. [I use porn] for the rush of orgasm, and sometimes to self-medicate my feelings.”

Interestingly, among sexually and romantically compulsive users of the Internet, research reveals that women are far more likely than men to progress from online sexuality to real-life sexual and romantic partners. In one study this was true for approximately 80% of the women but only 30% of the men. So it does appear that most women do go online looking for some sort of real world connection, whereas men typically go online for a purely sexual experience. It is also clear, from the research discussed above, along with sales figures for “Fifty Shades” and similar offerings, that women do indeed both use and enjoy pornography – even if it typically takes a different form that male-oriented erotica.

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