Photo: Greg Miller
Personally, I like my pizza deliveryman to do one thing: bring me my dinner. But mention this guy to a group of women, and, while most of us will think of cheesy pies with tomato sauce, a good number of us will conjure up that hilariously bad porn cliché, the randy fellow who's always ready to accept sex in exchange for a medium sausage and mushroom. Notwithstanding how lame the cliché is, or how simply bad most porn is (and after ten years as a professional reviewer of the stuff, I can report that much of it is very bad), the fact is, millions of women use and enjoy "explicit sexual imagery." What's perhaps more surprising, given the latest scientific research, is that more of us don't.
In the first three months of 2007, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, approximately one in three visitors to adult entertainment Web sites was female; during the same period, nearly 13 million American women were checking out porn online at least once each month. Theresa Flynt, vice president of marketing for Hustler video, says that women account for 56 percent of business at her company's video stores. "And the female audience is increasing," she adds. "Women are buying more porn." (They're creating more of it, too: Female director Candida Royalle's hard-core erotic videos, made expressly for women viewers, sell at the rate of approximately 10,000 copies a month.)
Meanwhile, science is finally buying into the idea that women are at least as stimulated by porn as men. In a 2006 study at McGill University, researchers monitored genital temperature changes to measure sexual arousal and found that, when shown porn clips, men and women alike began displaying arousal within 30 seconds; men reached maximum arousal in about 11 minutes, women in about 12 (a statistically negligible difference, according to the study). Even more compelling were the results of a 2004 study at Northwestern University that also assessed the effect of porn on genital arousal. Mind you, a copy of Buffy the Vampire Layer and a lubed-up feedback device isn't most girls' idea of a hot night in. But when the researchers showed gay, lesbian, and straight porn to heterosexual and homosexual women and men, they found that while the men responded more intensely to porn that mirrored their particular gender orientation, the women tended to like it all. Or at least their bodies did.
But that's the hitch: Even when our bodies respond to what we're seeing, not every woman feels empowered to enjoy the show. For years we've been told that we won't—or shouldn't—be turned on by porn, end of story, sleep tight. The message has come from all sides—from conservative Christian organizations ("Traditionally, women are far more likely to engage in wistful, romantic fantasies than crude scenes of people engaging in sexual acts," Kathy Gallagher, cofounder of Pure Life Ministries, has written) to the radical feminist Catharine MacKinnon (who says porn exploits and discriminates against women, and encourages rape). When everyone tells you that what you might be curious about, or even secretly like, is wrong, bad, sleazy, and shameful, you don't have to cast a line very far to land a set of inhibitions.
And, indeed, many a smart, strong, sexually self-reliant girl has popped in a porn DVD and ejected it just as quickly because she saw something that offended her or made her uncomfortable. I've heard from many women that they don't like the sense of being "out of control" they get from watching porn—that disconnect between how their body is feeling and what their brain is telling them is acceptable. I like to remind these women that porn won't make you do anything you didn't already want to do before you pressed Play on the Edward Penishands DVD.
We Hear You!