Why do straight women prefer lesbian porn?

Heather Graham and Jessica Stroup Kiss

Lesmedia/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I’m not gay, but my porn tastes are almost exclusively lesbian. And I’m not alone.

This article contains sexually explicit material.

At this point in 2015, we’ve pretty much thoroughly debunked the myth that straight women don’t watch porn. What kind of porn we’re actually watching, however, is still very much an open question. Some research says women prefer narrative-driven, female-friendly content. According to other studies, we flick our beans to the same hardcore sex scenes dudes hunt down on tube sites.

Pornhub Insights recently crunched the numbers for its year-end review. Findings suggest straight ladies don’t enjoy watching female-driven porn or hardcore porn, nearly as much as they enjoy watching ladies get it on with other ladies:

Pornhub’s Lesbian category is the leading favorite among the ladies, with Gay (male) following close at second place….Though other classics like Teen, MILF, Threesome and Anal pepper this list as well, it’s clear that the type of sex that women are most interested in watching occurs between members of the same sex.

For the sake of comparison, men aren’t nearly as interested in watching dude-on-dude action, with “Gay (male)” placing seventh on the list of top male searches.

Although the Pornhub Insights post doesn’t differentiate between hetero and homosexual viewers, assuming these search results aren’t just coming from lesbian women—which, considering one in three adults browsing porn sites is female, they’re almost certainly not—the study raises some fascinating questions about porn and women’s sexual predilections.

For starters: Why are straight women watching so much lesbian porn? Isn’t this genre, which mostly consists of blondes with elephantine tits disinterestedly lapping at each other’s vulvae, ostensibly targeted at male viewers? And, perhaps the most puzzling question of all: Do the hetero ladies jilling off to gay porn harbor secret gay feelings, or is there another, more complex dynamic at play here?

As an ostensibly straight woman—or straight-ish, if you count the ballet dancer from a high school arts conference who looks like Audrey Tautou and whose Facebook I regularly stalk—I can speak to this trend to a certain extent. 

Perfecting the art of the porn search

I don’t watch porn very often anymore, because spending 10 hours a day interviewing porn stars and asking them about their children will pretty much kill all interest in masturbating to them. But when I did watch porn, in my teens and early 20s, it was almost exclusively lesbian porn, despite the fact that I don’t self-identify as gay.

I was weirdly, crazily specific about what kinds of women I wanted to see having sex.

Not only that, but I was weirdly, crazily specific about what kinds of women I wanted to see having sex, too. I wanted to see ladies who looked like me: wan, dark-haired, sarcastic-looking women who looked like they hadn’t been to the gym a day in their lives. 

I’d perfected the art of the porn search term to a science, too. While typing in just “lesbians” would pull up a slew of videos of straw-haired blondes unenthusiastically poking at each other’s orifices like a high school student trying to dissect a dead frog, typing in something specific, like “lesbian MILF yoga instructor” or “babysitter with single mom” or “firefighter getting it on with Pacific Islander tax attorney” would increase the chances of  your bringing up two relatively normal-looking humans. Their orgasms might have been just as fake as those of the pornified, tramp-stamped stars in most porn videos, but they were at least better at convincing me they were real.

I’ve exclusively dated men my entire life. But the fact that I preferred porn featuring my own gender has always been a source of weirdness for me—not necessarily because it made me question my sexuality, but because it just didn’t feel right. The only experience I can compare it to is being Jewish and enthusiastically belting out “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “O Holy Night” when I accompanied my boyfriend to midnight mass this year. As the first “praise Jesus” escaped my lips, I remember thinking, This isn’t who I am. This wasn’t how I was raised. But why am I enjoying it so much?

We want to watch girls get off

I’m not the only straight lady who partakes in Sapphic action online. The women I spoke with while researching this story almost uniformly said they despised straight porn, despite the fact that most of them self-identify as heterosexual.

Annabel (names have been changed), for instance, told me she preferred lesbian porn because it was “more sensual” than hetero porn. “I don’t like straight porn that’s really hardcore fucking,” she said.

“All porn guys besides James Deen are disgusto,” Maggie said. “In lesbian porn, at least I find both people in the scene attractive.”

Others had somewhat more surprising answers. My best friend Maggie, for instance, told me she didn’t watch lesbian porn because she eschewed hardcore fucking—in fact, her tastes run more to the BDSM end of the spectrum—but because she doesn’t find male porn actors attractive. “All porn guys besides James Deen are disgusto. They’re beefy and have ugly faces and are generally unappealing. In lesbian porn, at least I find both people in the scene attractive.”

The lack of attractive, non-’roided-up male actors in hetero porn—or even hetero porn directors’ tendency to avoid showing male performers’ faces at all—was something of a recurring theme in these conversations. Lesbian porn performer and filmmaker Lily Cade, who exclusively performs in lesbian movies but has worked on boy-girl shoots before, told me that when she operates the camera during boy-girl scenes, the director urges her to avoid focusing on the man’s face as much as possible. So it’s no surprise, she says, that straight ladies would migrate to girl-girl content.

“The vast majority of boy/girl porn is made to appeal to male sensibilities. To the extent that it has a narrative, it’s designed to appeal to guys’ fantasies,” she told me in an email: 

“It centers male pleasure, but it often doesn’t really show off the guy. He’s an avatar for the viewer, a disconnected dick you can pretend is yours. … So if you’re a straight girl looking for eye candy, you’re not really getting that in most boy/girl.”

Cade also believes most male-female porn doesn’t feature a strong interpersonal connection between performers. “To most women, including myself, sex is about connection,” she said. “The emotional component—feeling this other person’s energy—is an important part of sex that is missing from most porn. Lesbian porn, theoretically, is about female pleasure. A lot of it’s fake, but at least within the constructed world of the movie you’re watching, girls are getting off.”

Because lesbian porn is exclusively about female pleasure, many filmmakers like Cade depict sex acts that women enjoy in their own sex lives, which aren’t typically seen in the average wham-bam five-minute Pornhub clip. Maggie, for instance, says she enjoys watching the same stuff she gets off to in bed, like “fingering and pussy-licking, mostly, and not scissoring as much.”

We want different kinds of sex acts

My friend Maya says she watches lesbian porn because she’s “really into, like, the making out and dry-humping, which is very scant in straight porn and goes straight to BJs.” She also says she watches it for the “boob stuff,” or breast play, which is what she enjoys in her own sex life. 

She finds this content by typing in search terms like “girls kissing boobs pretty.”

In lesbian porn, they’re “guaranteed to focus” on it, she says, whereas in straight porn, “you never know what they’ll do and what they’ll skip.” (Hilariously, she says she finds this content by typing in search terms like “girls kissing boobs pretty.”)

That said, even though lesbian porn is more lady-friendly in terms of the range of sex acts it depicts, it’s not so lady-friendly in terms of the range of female bodies on display in front of the camera. While queer performers like Cade and companies like Pink and White Productions feature a wide range of female and non-gender-conforming bodies, the fact remains that the vast majority of so-called “lesbian” porn is not made for lesbians, or for straight women, either. It’s made for straight men, who want to imagine themselves, and their penises, in the middle of the action.

One of my colleagues at the Daily Dot, a woman who self-identifies as gay, speculates that the reason why straight women prefer lesbian to straight porn has less to do with the emphasis lesbian porn places on female pleasure, and more to do with the trope of two hot ladies making out for the benefit of male onlookers. The way she sees it, a straight lady projecting herself onto a lesbian porn scene is akin to that girl in college who always got drunk and made out with other women, to the delight of her frat-boy friends.

“I think there’s something performative about ‘straight’ lesbian porn that might appeal to straight girls, since they’re likely aware of enduring male fantasies that revolve around two women fucking,” she says. “‘Lesbian’ porn presumably made by men seems so tangled up in the male gaze that I’m not sure there’s room for female pleasure from where I’m standing.”

My friend Arianna, who is straight and occasionally gets off to lesbian porn, feels similarly. The lion’s share of porn, she says, “is not for [women] to begin with,” regardless of whether they’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between. “I don’t think lesbian porn for women is really a thing,” she says. “The whole industry, in my mind, is for hetero and gay men.”

It resembles the sex we want to have

It’s understandable why so many women would seek an alternative, even if it doesn’t perfectly align with their sexual interests.

As someone who covers the adult industry, I don’t necessarily agree with Arianna; intellectually, I know that porn is not a monolith, and that there are plenty of men and women who make porn for people of all ages and genders, that appeals to a big beautiful range of sexual orientations and desires. 

But as a woman, I know firsthand that this porn is really hard to find. I know it takes time and effort. And considering we live in a world that doesn’t necessarily encourage women to expend this time and effort to fulfill their own sexual desires, it’s understandable why so many women would seek an alternative, even if it doesn’t necessarily perfectly align with their sexual interests.

While it’s awesome that women are fantasizing and experimenting with their sexuality, just because you’ve gone to church once or twice in your life doesn’t mean you’re a convert, and just because you masturbate to lesbian porn doesn’t mean you’re quite ready to go to the other side. 

“Watching porn isn’t the same thing as fucking somebody,” Cade said. “They’ve done studies that have shown that women are kind of aroused by any depictions of sex, even sex they wouldn’t necessarily want to have themselves. It’s hot to watch people feel hot. It’s not hot to watch people have sex they clearly aren’t enjoying.”

If nothing else, what I’ve learned from talking to women about porn, not to mention my own adolescent experiences desperately searching for something, anything, that remotely resembled the sex I wanted to have, featuring the people I wanted to have sex with, too many women feel that porn falls into the latter category. But now that we’ve definitively proven that women actually do masturbate and watch porn, here’s hoping that’ll start to change.

Photo by LesMedia/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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