Porn: It’s Not Just for Men Anymore

Some people think men have far more interest in pornography than women do. While a strong case could be made for that position many years ago, the situation now appears to be different.

In her book Defending Pornography, American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen writes: “The fact that many women find much that excites or otherwise pleases them in commercial erotica is indicated by their large and growing share of the burgeoning market for such imagery. Women, either singly or as part of a couple, constitute more than 40 percent of the adult videotape rental audience. . . .” That percentage works out to over 160 million videotapes annually.

Strossen’s view is also supported by a 1987 survey of 26,000 female readers of Redbook, a women’s magazine. In this study conducted by social scientists Carin Rubinstein and Carol Tavris, almost half the respondents said they regularly watch pornographic films.

Research by Columbia University anthropologist Carol Vance led her to formulate “Vance’s One-Third Rule” to describe women’s varying tastes in pornography. “Show any personally favored erotic image to a group of women,” she explains, “and one-third will find it disgusting, one-third will find it ridiculous, and one-third will find it hot.”

Author Sallie Tisdale gives further details about the unpredictability of women’s tastes concerning pornography. “The surprise is how many . . . women prefer the old hard-core films,” she reports. As for her own predilections, “Any amateur psychologist could have a field day explaining why I prefer low-brow, hard-core porn to feminine erotica.”

The growing female market for erotica is a reason that an increasing number of women writers, filmmakers, and magazine editors are producing sexually explicit materials. Much of the product is aimed at a female audience.

Many of the producers consider this work to be a means of educating women about their bodies and teaching them techniques for enhancing sexual pleasure. For example, Mariana Beck co-publishes Libido: The Journal of Sex & Sensibility. She estimates the publication’s female readership at 40 percent, and says “we’re . . . depicting sex as not just something that men engage in actively while the woman somehow endures. . . .”

Linda Williams, a professor of film studies at the University of California at Berkeley, approves of similar work being done in the adult film industry. “As a feminist . . . I admire the female empowerment of the new couples’ pornography as well as the woman-centered adventurousness and play of lesbian pornography. Yet personally I find both of these pornographies boring and gay male porn exciting. I won’t even begin to speculate why.”

Strossen notes that pornography often challenges stereotypic and constricting ideas about women’s sexuality: “Many sexual materials defy traditional stereotypes of . . . women . . . by depicting females as voluntarily, joyfully participating in sexual encounters with men.” Undoubtedly, this a reason why some traditionalists are so disturbed by pornography and would ban it if they could.

But civil libertarians such a Strossen view the trends as positive not only for women’s sexual fulfillment but for women’s rights generally. They know that throughout history, suppression of women’s sexuality was accompanied by suppression of their other rights to equality.

And they are aware that the same problem continues today, as shown by international comparisons. Countries that ban sexually explicit materials have some of the highest levels of discrimination and violence against women. Examples include Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China. The plight of women in those nations is deplorable.

On the other hand, nations allowing the availability of erotica have some of the lowest rates of violence against women. This is true in places such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Japan.

Other research likewise shows no consistent correlation between the availability of sexually explicit materials and rates of violence and discrimination against women. In fact, the evidence often indicates an inverse relationship.

Further, many years ago sexologist Alfred Kinsey found a positive correlation between female sexual expression and women’s intellectual or creative development. As former Kinsey Institute researcher William Simon said: “The women who manage to escape devoting their energies to repression seem to be the ones who have the most energy left for mental activities, and who also enjoy the most active sex lives.”

No wonder Philip D. Harvey writes: “Those with active and healthy sex lives are likely to be more productive as a result rather than less so.” And increased productivity promotes women’s rights and opportunities for advancement in the workplace.

The large amount of energy needed for sexual repression is also likely a reason why puritanical crusaders are often fixated on sexual matters and show little interest in many extremely serious societal problems. They apparently have little energy left over for focusing on real problems.

As always, freedom and civil rights produce far better results for both men and women than censorship, paternalism, and sexism..