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Women watch porn, too — but why?

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Women do not usually watch porn. Or do they? According to recent surveys by popular porn websites such as PornHub and xHamster, nearly one-third of the porn-viewing audience is made up of women, and that share is increasing.

First, let’s go a little into the science of the matter. The neurons that cause humans to become aroused by pornographic content are called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons make us do or feel things or actions we observe.

If we see somebody laughing or crying, for example, mirror neurons “mirror” the behavior of this other person as though we were performing the action ourselves. These neurons have been observed in human and primate species, but also birds.

Both women and men have them. However, until today, little research has been conducted on the topic of porn and women.

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One recent study carried out by psychologist Sean McNabney and his colleagues from Valparaiso University in the US state of Indiana has given more insights into the connection between women’s sexuality and pornography.

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They did research involving more than 2,400 women in the United States and Hungary to look at the question of how porn consumption is affecting women’s overall sexual satisfaction and their relationships.

There is an overall trend of more women watching porn.

The study found, among other things, that more frequent use of pornography was related to less difficulty in becoming aroused, fewer problems in coming to orgasm and greater orgasmic pleasure, both alone and during partnered intercourse.

And not only that: Women who watch pornography tend to be younger and better educated.

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The fact that the female porn audience leans to the young side was confirmed by xHamster’s survey as well, which was published in February and based on a sample size of 100,000 participants.

In all, 33.8% of the female porn consumers surveyed said they were between 18 and 24 years old. And 60% of the women in this survey stated that watching porn had improved their sex life.

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Stigmatized sexuality

A 2019 survey by Pornhub said that 32% of visitors to the site in that year were female, up 3% from the year before.

But Madita Oeming, a cultural scholar at Germany’s University of Paderborn who specializes in the study of the phenomenon of pornography, points out that caution is necessary when dealing with gender statistics from Pornhub because they are mainly based on big data. This means, for example, that a man could be using a woman’s computer to watch porn.

She says it is fair to claim, though, that there is an overall trend of more women watching porn.

Nevertheless, female viewers are still a minority compared to male consumers. The reason arguably lies within culture and society, Oeming says, with female sexuality still widely stigmatized.

“I’m not saying that men are sexually free, not at all. But the idea that women are sexually active beings, that women have a sex drive, that women seek sex not just for romance, intimacy or reproduction but also just for pleasure, is still something that is hard to wrap our head around as a culture, even in the 21st century,” Oeming told DW.

She said that 15 or 20 years ago, it would not even have been imaginable to find an article in a mainstream women’s magazine with a title like “The 10 Best Porn Sites for Women.” However, today, such topics are gaining in visibility. “Public discourse is normalizing the idea of female porn consumers bit by bit,” she said.

According to Oeming, there is a shift going on in Western culture that includes sexuality, and society is slowly walking away from gender stereotypes. “We are increasingly challenging ideas about how men and women are supposedly inherently different,” she said.

‘Sexual liberation of women didn’t change their behavior’

The evolution biologist Thomas Junker is of a different opinion, however. He is convinced that the reason for the lower percentage of women in the porn audience does not lie in society but in biology. The developments that have occurred recently within society have not changed reality at large, he says.

“Strangely enough, with the emancipation and the freer life of women in the last few decades, that has not fundamentally changed. One might think that sexually liberated women would adopt male attitudes and behaviors towards pornography, but they haven’t,” Junker told DW.

However, there has been a change in the pornographic-movie market. Today, there are probably hundreds of different kinds of pornographic movies. And about the same time as magazines started openly writing about female sexuality, feminists pornos appeared on the market.

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Junker, for his part, is convinced that “the attempt to make feminist porn was, as far as I can see now, not really a big success. At least not a mass market like pornography by men.”

Oeming, on the other hand, believes that what is labeled feminist porn is having a mainstream moment, and she sees its potential to change the cultural status of porn.

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However, she also has some misgivings about the label, fearing that it reinforces rather than breaks with stereotypes. “It is often used synonymously with ‘porn for women.’ I don’t like the idea that there is literature or movies or porn specifically for women. This is, in fact, a sexist concept,” she said.

Oeming called ita misconception that feminist porn, and feminism, are just for women: “What kind of porn you like is a question of your personal taste and of your sexual desires and fantasies, not of your gender.”

‘Part of our biology’

According to Thomas Junker, however, men and women are different and have different standards when it comes to partner selection: “Men and women use different criteria when choosing a partner. Not completely different, but they have different focuses,” he said. This is why they also have different approaches to porn movies, he maintains.

He is of the view that men respond more to visual stimuli like body shape, face and health. They want partners who are young and able to bear children, and focus mainly on things that are clearly and easily visible.

Women, on the other hand, seem more attracted by different stimuli, like touching or speaking. Women’s partners need to be responsible, to be able to help her, to have resources for looking after offspring. Female criteria for partner choice are thus not easily visible.

This is the reason, Junker says, why men watch more porn movies. “It is not acquired; it is a part of our biology,” he said.

Maybe we will never know for sure whether the desire to watch porn is acquired or a product of evolution, but it seems as though mirror neurons have certainly been more active in women lately — at least, more than ever before.

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Source: DW

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