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Not so long ago, many people treated pornography like a dirty little secret. Adult movies were kept in video stores' back rooms or sold in seedy sex shops. Erotic books, magazines and toys were created with men in mind, and women were largely ignored...unless they were nude.
But times are changing. As the Internet gained popularity, pornography found its way into more and more homes. Now, Americans spend up to $10 billion a year on porn, and men aren't the only ones supporting this highly profitable industry.
"Something's going on in bedrooms across America," Oprah says. "It has been reported that 1 in 3 consumers of online porn in our country are now women."
To find out how porn is changing and why women are more open to the experience, Lisa Ling visited adult film sets and spoke to industry insiders. Though 70 percent of women say they keep their online viewing habits secret, Lisa says there's no question that more and more women are watching and buying erotica and porn.
"It's not so much that it's gotten better. It's changing," she says. "Now there is porn that is being produced specifically for women by women, in some cases, and it just looks different. It feels different. There's more of a storyline. It's more romantic."
During her investigation, Lisa met Steve Hirsch, the Ivy League–educated CEO of the world's largest adult film studio, Vivid Entertainment. Steve says porn producers are trying to keep up with the needs of new female consumers.
"I would say that 30 to 40 percent of the market is female. Now, some of that are men who rent movies to watch with their wives," he says. "We saw this huge couples' market that was untapped and nobody was really going after."
To make porn more appealing to women, Steve says his studio began producing a different sort of adult film. "I think that there's more foreplay. There's more tease," he says. "Women, in a lot of cases, like to watch movies with story lines."
Women aren't just accessing porn on the Internet. Sex shops are still an option, but many erotica retailers are evolving to meet ladies' needs. In some cities, seedy shops have been replaced by classy boutiques.
In 2002, Kari Kriser, a mother of four, opened an upscale sex store in Chicago with her friend, Cheryl Sloane. The name, G Boutique, can stand for G-spot, G-string or girls. "Whatever you want it to be!" Kari says.
G Boutique's pink walls and frilly details help women feel at ease around sex toys, adult films and racy lingerie.
Get the G Boutique's beginner's guide to erotica.
"We opened the store seven years ago specifically for women and couples to come in and feel comfortable looking at porn, looking at toys and also buying beautiful lingerie all in one spot," Kari says. "[We opened] so you could feel sexy and empowered and beautiful and still be looking at porn."
Kari says her store attracts normal women who are looking to explore their sensual sides. "We all need that sexual part of our lives, and for so long, we felt embarrassed about it," she says. "I think that now that it's beginning to be a little bit more acceptable, we're really taking advantage of it and having fun with it. ... Whether you're married and just trying to spice up your life or you're more experienced with it, I mean, there should be something for everybody."
For the past 10 years, Violet Blue, sex columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle and author of The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn, has reviewed thousands of adult films and websites for her readers.
Violet says women who are looking to spice things up need to know the difference between porn and erotica.
"Porn is something that is a graphic sexual image that conjures up an animalistic reaction in you. You like it or you don't," she says. "Erotica also is graphic sexual imagery, but it has an extra component or several extra components that resonate with the viewer—be it artistic, be it passionate, be it something that emotionally engages you, be it something that parlays into a fantasy that you have about sexuality or the way that you relate to the people on screen."
If you're overwhelmed or intimidated by porn, Violet suggests a little online exploration. "The Internet has really made it possible for the average woman to peruse porn in safety and on her own terms," she says. "Women can engage with other women about porn online, as well."
What's best for beginners? Get Violet's film recommendations in an excerpt from The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn.
Violet says you should think of erotica as a tool in a woman's sexual arsenal. "It can be as reliable as a woman's vibrator," she says.
Throughout her career, Violet has watched countless hours of sexually explicit material, but she says she's still aroused by certain imagery.
"I'm a lot more sophisticated in my porn tastes," she says. "I know exactly what I want. I know exactly what I want to see, and I know exactly where to find it now."
When Violet sits down to watch porn for personal pleasure, she says she has a checklist of criteria. "If I don't want to pay for them, I can go online to one of the free tube sites that are basically like YouTube for porn, and I can select by genre. I can click on something [and then] click away if I don't like it," she says. "It's a much more targeted experience for someone like me."
Once you find what you like, Violet says it can benefit you and your sexual partner. "I think every woman desires to be that projected fantasy of the porn star for their lover," she says. "They like the idea of being the most desired, most satisfied woman on the planet—a woman who's getting what she wants. And they want to share those experiences with their partner."