Sex

When Women Use Porn

New research examines how porn affects women’s relationships.

Posted Oct 12, 2020

Whenever there’s a discussion about how porn use affects relationships, the narrative typically as follows: Men, who are obsessed with sex are irresistibly drawn to porn, and because of their interactions with it, they lose interest in their wives and girlfriends, who resent having to compete with the tight bodies and voracious sexual appetites of female porn stars. Men are cast as the transgressors and women as the victims.

And yet, data show that about a third of all porn users are women. Granted, women report less frequent porn use on average compared with men. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that a sizeable minority of women are regular consumers of pornography, and this fact challenges traditional notions of how porn use affects relationships.

To date, little research has been conducted on the impact that women’s pornography use has on their overall sexual satisfaction and relationship quality. This gap in the literature is what Valparaiso University (Indiana) psychologist Sean McNabney and his colleagues attempted to address in an article they recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

For this study, McNabney and colleagues recruited over 2400 women in two countries, the United States and Hungary, to respond to a survey assessing a wide range of sexual issues. In particular, they were interested in five sexual outcomes during partnered sex and masturbation with porn. Specifically:

  • How difficult it is for them to become sexually aroused.
  • How difficult it is for them to reach orgasm.
  • How likely they are to reach orgasm.
  • How long it takes them to reach orgasm.
  • How pleasurable the sexual experience is for them.

The data paint a picture of pornography use in women as just one aspect of changing sexual mores in Western society. For instance, women who use porn tend to be younger and better educated than non-porn users. They also had more open attitudes about sex generally and masturbation in particular.

Interestingly, women who frequently masturbated to porn expressed greater distress when they were unable to reach climax with their partner. It’s well known that women tend to have greater difficulty attaining orgasm compared with men, and for years sex therapists have been advising their female clients to learn how to stimulate themselves to orgasm first. It could very well be that women who use porn have come to expect to reach climax, as opposed to those who don’t use porn.

On a related note, women who frequently used porn reported less difficulty in becoming aroused or having an orgasm during masturbation. They also were more likely to reach orgasm compared with women who only occasionally used porn to masturbate. The researchers conclude that porn can provide a form of education for women trying to learn more about their own sexuality.

Much of the concern about porn use is the possibility of it having a negative impact on sexual functioning and relationship satisfaction. Among the women in this study, however, those who used porn frequently also reported better outcomes in partnered sex as well. There was no evidence for any harmful effects of frequent porn usage.

Likewise, frequent porn usage wasn’t associated with relationship satisfaction, either. That is to say, there’s no evidence from these data that using porn has a negative effect on relationship quality. Nor do the data suggest that women are using porn to make up for deficiencies in their relationship. Rather, what the data show is that women who are satisfied with their sexual relationships report having an easier time getting aroused, reaching climax, and overall they enjoy their sexual experiences more, whether those are partnered or solo.

Because data were collected in both the U.S. and Hungary, the researchers were able to look at cross-cultural differences. For instance, women in the U.S. reported more frequent pornography use than did those in Hungary. At the same time, American women also reported more difficulties in getting sexually aroused and achieving orgasm, whether they were engaged in solo or partnered sex.

It’s interesting to speculate on the reasons for these findings. In general, Europeans hold more open attitudes toward sexuality than Americans do, and sex education in their schools also tends to be more comprehensive. It could then be that young American women turn to pornography for sex education, and they also experience more sexual dysfunctions because of the negative messages about sexuality that they receive in their culture.

Although there is much fear about the harmful effects of pornography, both among professional psychologists and the lay public alike, one would be hard put to find any evidence of harm in the data these researchers have collected. Instead, what these data show is that women’s use of porn is associated with other positive aspects of their sex life and partnered relationships. That is to say, women who have positive attitudes about sex in general not only experience greater satisfaction with their partnered sexual relationships, they also know how to meet their sexual needs on their own.

In sum, there’s no evidence among these women that frequent porn use leads to problems in sexual or relational functioning, nor were they resorting to porn to make up for what was lacking in their relationships. Rather, the data show that women with positive attitudes about their own sexuality tend to be happier in their partnered relationships and also are more likely to use porn as well.

These open-minded young women use porn as one component of their healthy sex lives.

Facebook image: ShotPrime Studio/Shutterstock

References

McNabney, S. M., Hevesi, K., & Rowland, D. L. (2020). Effects of pornography use and demographic parameters on sexual response during masturbation and partnered sex in women. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 3130. DOI:10.3390/ijerph17093130