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One in 3 women regularly watches porn

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Marie Claire got down and dirty on women’s porn-viewing habits.

One could be forgiven for thinking that men are the sole consumers of Internet porn. It seems tempting to believe, given the regular appearance of concerned articles about porn addiction (which may not even exist) and the effects of porn on men’s sexual behavior. If this disproportionate focus annoys you, then you may be interested in the outcome of a new study that puts the spotlight on women’s NSFW viewing habits.

Marie Claire and The Conversation host Amanda de Cadenet teamed up to survey 3,000 women about their porn-watching habits and the results certainly bust some dominant myths.

Not only do 31 percent of respondents say they watch porn at least every week, but 66 percent say they never watch it with a partner. “Here’s what jumped out at us …your relationship to porn is mostly about you—your sexuality, unencumbered by a partner,” she wrote. This finding contradicts the belief, she continued, that “women feel threatened by [porn] or watch it reluctantly in order to please their partner, and that millennials’ sex lives will be ruined by childhoods bombarded by online sexual images.” 

Contrary also to the idea that women tend towards erotic literature rather than visual mediums, 90 percent of respondents said they watched porn online, as opposed to only 40 percent who said they read adult books. When asked by the Daily Dot, writer and sex educator Lux Alptraum concurred, noting that watching porn online is “incredibly discreet – no one has to know what you’re doing.” Alptraum continued, “It’s made it more appealing for women, who face a greater social stigma for consuming adult content.”

There persists a social narrative that women’s sexuality just isn’t as visually based as men’s—yet a 2006 study found that, just like men, women’s brains produced stronger electrical responses when viewing erotic pictures as opposed to neutral images. Even more interestingly, experiments have found that women’s response to pornographic images is more fluid. While men showed the strongest physical responses to pornography that aligned with their sexual preferences (gay men responded to gay porn, straight men responded to images of straight couples), women of all sexual orientations responded to the whole spectrum–heterosexual, lesbian, gay male porn, and even footages of bonobo apes mating.

Still, Alptraum is skeptical. Regarding the Marie Claire survey, she cautioned:

It’s hard to know how accurate the data you’re getting is because women have historically been under pressure to understate the amount of sex they engage in. [Or] you might feel the pressure to overstate; you want to be the ‘cool girl’ who watches porn and is up for anything. There’s no way of knowing how honest people are about it.

Self-reporting can indeed be an unreliable method; the above experiments found that women self-reported feeling lower levels of arousal when their bodies were actually showing higher levels. 

Similarly, some respondents to the porn survey may have understated their usage. Rachel Hills, author of The Sex Myth, said she thought the numbers were actually pretty low. Women watching porn should be “utterly unsurprising,” Hills said. “Most women like sex. Many women are aroused by images of sex. That shouldn’t be a revelation in 2015.” 

Image by Tiffany Pai

Catherine Scott

Catherine Scott

Catherine Scott is the author of 'Thinking King: The Collusion of BDSM, Feminism and Popular Culture.' Scott's work has been published in the Telegraph, the Guardian, Ms. Magazine, and Salon.