What do we know?

 

I've been reading the literature around women and pornography, trying to get a sense of what we know and what we don't.

This is so far what I think that we know:

 

1. ‘Women’ do not have a single response to pornography

Pornhub’s most recent statistics say that women account for 1 of every 3 visitors to Pornhub, and give a detailed breakdown of women’s behaviour on the site. But all women do not think about porn in the same way, nor have they had the same - or even similar - experiences. Two of the biggest studies particularly examining women’s views and use of pornography (one in the UK and one in Canada) found that there was no single attitude, pathway, or experience of pornography that could be classified as ‘women’s’. Instead of seeking to find the way that women respond to pornography, it is more useful to think through what is the same and what is different amongst women’s responses.

 

2. Women have a range of relationships to porn

Just as there is no one response to porn for women, there is no one relationship. Some women have tested out pornography alone, with friends or with sexual partners. Some start and stop their use at different stages, and for different reasons. We know very little about women who have never used pornography (porn refusers) and recent research in the U.S. has suggested women may be adversely impacted by the porn use of previous male sexual partners, but not affected by the use of current partners. Women’s relationships to porn are not stuck. They move between positions and may sometimes hold positions that appear contradictory.

 

3. Most women who use feminist or alternative pornographies also use mainstream porn

Though most research and thinking about women and pornography focuses on alternative pornographies, drawing a hard line between this and mainstream porn is more complicated in practice. A study on feminist pornography consumption among women conducted in 2015, found approximately 90% of the sample used mainstream porn alongside feminist pornography. We need to know more about women’s access of and exposure to mainstream online pornography, rather than only focusing on the possibilities present in alternative representations.

 

4. Women can feel ambivalent about porn

A study of working class women and pornography use in 2006, found that participants held distinctly ambivalent attitudes toward pornography. On one hand, most of the women enjoyed and valued porn films for entertainment, sexual arousal, and sexual education. On the other, they experienced occasional feelings of
contradiction and discomfort, arising from being uncertain about the well-being of the women in porn and/or their own personal experiences with sexual violence.

 

5. The range of women’s views about pornography is rarely public

Feminist debates on pornography (often divided into ‘pro-porn & anti-porn positions’) have obscured access to the range of views, practices, and experiences of pornography amongst women. Little research has been done asking women directly about pornography, including their reasons for using or not using online porn, and the range of experiences and opinions they may have in between.

 

This last one, the range, is what I'm hoping to capture in this project. The survey is a necessarily blunt instrument so whilst it aims to capture in the main the different relationships women have to online pornography, it cannot capture the complexity. It's that latter part that I'm hoping to explore in the research conversations. To try to understand more about the multiple positions women can and do occupy.

FVG