How women get around unwanted content in pornography so that they can enjoy it

Women utilize various strategies to navigate through the male-centric world of erotica, according to new research.

“Lots of people – including women – watch pornography, but it’s full of content that can make women uncomfortable, disgusted, bored, and derail their arousal,” remarked the authors of the study, who published their findings in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

The researchers analyzed data they collected from 13 focus groups, which included a total of 72 women and 1 bigender participant. During the focus groups, the participants were asked “Can use of erotica contribute to pleasure?” The researchers observed that some common themes emerged from this question.

The women said that viewing erotica involved the risk of seeing unwanted content that could derail their arousal or cause discomfort. “In our study, we found that there’s a host of reasons women might be turned off by pornography; it often feels inauthentic, not women-friendly, not queer-friendly, inconsiderate of the actors’ wellbeing, and it can create unrealistic expectations for bodies and ‘normal’ sexual behaviors,” the researchers explained.

But many of the women used strategies to avoid this. Some searched for pornography they deemed low risk, such as gay pornography or amateur videos. Others fast-forwarded through scenes that were objectionable or closed their eyes to listen to videos rather than watch them. Some chose written rather than visual sexual media.

“Our findings highlight how women can actually be quite active and engaged when it comes to pornography consumption (perhaps more so than people assume) and emphasize how women must often invest extra work and cognitive labor to enjoy pornography that is predominantly created for male audiences and experienced as de-arousing by women,” the researchers explained.

“Additionally, our research also has implications for research on women’s sexual arousal, which has almost exclusively used researcher-chosen sexual stimuli when assessing women’s responses. This leads us to question: if women’s ability to evaluate, choose, and alter porn is central to how women experience and engage with sexual material in their lives, how might women’s psychological, physiological, and genital sexual arousal responses be different in laboratory settings where these abilities are constrained or taken away?”

“Finally, our results highlight the ways that women agentically engage with sexual material that they nevertheless find problematic, so that they too can enjoy and find pleasure in the material they find.”

The study, like all research, has some limitations. The findings were based on open-ended qualitative questions, making the results difficult to generalize.

“It is not always the case that women must negotiate pornography to have positive experiences with it; rather, our research suggests that this is a common phenomenon,” the researchers noted.

The study, “Strategizing to Make Pornography Worthwhile: A Qualitative Exploration of Women’s Agentic Engagement with Sexual Media“, was authored by Sara B. Chadwick, Jessica C. Raisanen, Katherine L. Golde, and Sari van Anders.