Most modern pornography depicts scenes of external ejaculation onto another person’s face or body, commonly known as a “cumshot,” which has raised questions about why this act in particular is appealing to viewers. Some have proposed that external ejaculation is rooted in men’s desire to dominate or demean women. But new research, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, provides evidence against this theory.
The study found that both women and men viewed images of external ejaculation more positively when they were accompanied by facial expressions indicating pleasure. Additionally, men’s judgments of such images were unrelated to their levels of psychopathic personality traits.
But how did researchers become interested in external ejaculation?
“I have been interested in the perception of external ejaculations in pornography since the late- to mid-1990s, when I worked on the book ‘Warrior Lovers’ with Don Symons where we discussed sex differences in erotica and sexual fantasy,” explained study author Catherine Salmon, a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands.
“Some academics and lay people have suggested that the goal of pornography is to degrade women and have used the external ejaculation as an example of such. However, I didn’t find this convincing, as there are a lot of external ejaculations in gay porn without any women around. In addition, I had read an article in Playboy by James Petersen and he made an interesting point: ‘What makes ejaculating on the outside degrading…while ejaculating inside… sacred? …masturbating guys ejaculate on their own bodies all the time and not one says ‘Oh God, I just degraded myself.'”
“So Jessica Hehman and I decided to conduct a study assessing what factors influence people’s perceptions of images containing external ejaculations to either a male or female face, one of our predictions being that signs of the recipient of the facial enjoying the sexual activities would predict participants having a more positive or less negative (depending on your perspective) view of the images,” Salmon said.
“We also were interested in seeing whether scoring high on Dark Triad traits would predict more positive views of the images (sort of the flip of the other prediction) regardless of the recipients affect (or maybe even more positive when the recipient affect was negative).”
The researchers used Amazon Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform to recruit a sample of 201 women and 196 men who lived in the United States. The participants ranged in age from 19 to 77 years. Approximately 44% identified as heterosexual, 36% identified as bisexual, and 20% identified as homosexual.
In the study, the participants viewed and rated a series 18 explicit images on a seven-point scale, which ranged from “very negative” to “very positive.” The images depicted either a man or woman receiving a “cumshot” and displaying either a positive, negative, or neutral expression. The participants also completed assessments of religiosity, Dark Triad personality traits, disgust sensitivity, self-perceived mate value, and sociosexuality (openness to casual sex).
Women, on average, reported fairly negative perceptions of the images, while men on average reported having more neutral perceptions. But both male and female participants viewed the images less negatively when a woman displayed a positive expression compared to when a woman displayed a negative expression, which indicates “that enjoyment of viewing external ejaculations is not about men enjoying degrading women,” the researchers said.
“For males, the strongest predictor of more positive/less negative reactions to the images was that the recipient was of their preferred sex (females for heterosexual males and males for homosexual males) and was displaying positive affect in response to the external ejaculation,” Salmon told PsyPost.
“Females overall viewed the images more negatively, but their responses were predicted by a wider range of variables (including short-term mating orientation) than the males.”
“There was no evidence that males or females scoring higher in psychopathy had more positive perceptions of the images, regardless of affect, again suggesting that degrading women is not a main focus for consumers,” Salmon continued. “Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly), narcissistic males had more positive views while narcissistic females had more negative views.”
As expected, those who reported being more sensitive to disgust were also less likely to have positive perceptions of the images.
Surprisingly, however, the researchers found that more religious women tended to have more positive perceptions of the images. “However, this was quite a small effect and might be spurious,” Salmon and her colleagues cautioned. There was no link between religiosity and perceptions of the images among men.
“A number of studies out there (Grubbs’ work among others) have suggested that religiosity can influence pornography consumption (and increase guilt), so we had added that variable to this study and did find a small effect for females but not in the direction we expected,” she told PsyPost.
“So, this is actually a question that we think needs to be addressed further, if it replicates in future work and if so whether assessing membership in specific religions might clarify this or whether highly religious females might hold certain views about female roles in heterosexual relationships that might involve female submission to male desires.”
The study, “Pornography’s Ubiquitous External Ejaculation: Predictors of Perceptions“, was authored by Catherine A. Salmon, Jessica A. Hehman, and Aurelio José Figueredo.