The Porn Audience Is 30 Percent Female. Why Do So Many Women Watch?

Women view porn based on curiosity, feminism, lust, spice, and one other reason.

Posted Jun 01, 2020

When women comment publicly about porn, some say they enjoy watching, but most condemn it as incomprehensible, off-putting, disgusting, misogynous, or worse. It’s surprising that 2019 Google Analytics data show that the audience for PornHub, one of the world’s most popular porn sites (30 billion views annually), is 32 percent female. 

Corroborating evidence on female porn viewing comes from a University of Denver study of 1,291 coupled individuals. Among the women, 45 percent said they watched with their partners, 30 percent by themselves.

Who Are They? 

Sexologists generally agree that porn-watching women fall into four groups: 

  • Some feel curious about sexual technique and view porn to learn more.
  • Others experience male-style lust, feel as horny as most men, and like virtually all Internet-connected men, use porn as a visual aid while self-sexing. 
  • Some view feminist porn. 
  • And many watch to spice up partner lovemaking. 

But the available evidence suggests that these four reasons don't add up to almost one-third of the porn audience. What have sexologists overlooked? Personally, I believe it’s the surprisingly large proportion of women who have BDSM fantasies of sexual submission.

Curiosity

Like boys (and many older men), girls (and many older women) feel uninformed about sex and curious about intercourse positions, oral sex, and kinky play. They know that porn is only a few taps or clicks away on phones or computers. 

There’s been scant research on porn viewing to satisfy sexual curiosity, but studies of adolescent girls suggest that once porn has answered their questions, few return to it frequently, if at all. Consequently, it’s highly unlikely that female sexual curiosity accounts for more than one-quarter of the porn audience.

Feminist Porn

In 1984, porn star Candida Royalle (born Candace Vadala, 1950-2015) tired of its myopically male perspective and founded Femme Productions to produce sex videos aimed at women. Femme videos contain plenty of you know what, but the characters also converse, laugh, and have relationships. The sex is not fixated on the genitals. It includes whole-body massage. And unlike standard porn, there’s as much cunnilingus as fellatio.         

Two studies have compared gender reactions to standard porn vs. Femme videos:        

  • At the University of Amsterdam, Dutch scientists showed 47 women standard porn or a Femme video. The former repelled them, but the latter aroused them. 
  • University of Connecticut researchers showed college students (200 men and 195 women) three conventional porn videos and three from Femme. The men loved all six. Almost all the women felt repulsed by the standard porn, but enjoyed the Femme videos—and were more likely to twist the sheets after viewing them.         

I know of no studies that estimate the popularity of feminist porn. But before her death, I was acquainted with Femme founder Royalle, who expressed frustration about the difficulty of getting her videos distributed. Mainstream video distributors wouldn’t touch Femme, saying, “It’s porn.” But porn distributors also passed: “That’s not porn.” Royalle distributed through her website and gained some traction with sex-toy marketers. But it’s hard to believe that feminist sex videos account for more than a tiny fraction of the porn audience—let alone 30 percent.   

The Lusty Five Percent

University of Chicago investigators asked a representative 1,749 U.S. women, age 18 to 59 if, during the previous year, they’d had partner sex four or more times a week. Only a small minority did. 

Not surprisingly, that frequency was reported most by young adults (11 percent), with the proportion of highly sexual women declining with age (50 and older, 2 percent). Overall, around 5 percent of women of all adult ages said they had partner sex four or more times a week. 

A European study supports these findings. The researchers surveyed 2,599 Croatian women age 18 to 60. Those reporting partner sex several times a week—7 percent. 

A Michigan researcher interviewed 44 highly sexual women. That’s not a huge number, but this is the only such study I’m aware of. All the respondents reported intense libidos that compelled them to have lots of sex, both solo and partnered. Their attitudes paralleled those of the horniest men. It’s reasonable to presume that women with intense male-style lust would deal with it the way men do, by frequently self-sexing to porn. 

But could 5 percent of women account for 30 percent of the porn audience? Possibly, but I’d be surprised. 

Erotic Spice

Most studies show that women who watch porn usually do so with partners—before sex to pique arousal, and/or during sex to spice up erotic play. The Denver study (above) showed that 45 percent of couples have viewed porn together. Or have they? A Swedish study of 398 heterosexual couples age 22 to 67, shows that only 15 percent said they’d ever watched with a lover.  

It’s likely that a good deal of women’s porn watching can be explained by couples viewing it together. But 30 percent of the porn audience? That seems unlikely.

The Surprising Popularity of D/s and BDSM Fantasies

Which brings me to women who have fantasies of sexual submission. Most Americans consider consensual kink—domination and submission (D/s) and bondage, discipline, and sado-masochism (BDSM)—minority sexual pleasures. As far as actual physical play is concerned, that’s true. But kinky fantasies are remarkably common.

  • Canadian researchers surveyed a representative sample of 1,040 Québecoise, age 18 to 64. Among the women, 28 percent admitted submissive fantasies.
  • Belgian scientists surveyed a representative sample of 1,027 Europeans. Those admitting D/s or BDSM fantasies—69 percent. 
  • Many women have fantasies of being sexually forced/raped—see my previous blog post. In real life, they’d never want to be assaulted, but fantasies are harmless and exciting and many women go there, in some studies a majority.
  • Finally, there’s the D/s-BDSM romance trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey. It follows a naïve young woman as she becomes a brash dominant’s submissive, at first dubiously, then willingly, and finally enthusiastically. First published in 2011 on an obscure Australian website, by 2019, the trilogy had sold 150 million copies worldwide in 50 languages, making it the most popular work of fiction ever published—after just eight years in print. Women comprise the overwhelming majority of readers.

During kinky play, men and women may assume either role—dominant (dom, top) or submissive (sub, bottom). But women generally gravitate toward playing the sub—but with safe words, ironically, they’re always in full control. 

Whether or not porn explicitly depicts D/s and/or BDSM, a great deal of it contains elements of consensual erotic domination and submission. The men say things like, “Take off your dress … your panties. Now spread your legs….” The women obey, sometimes with big smiles. Or the men say nothing. They simply unzip and the willing women quickly drop to their knees.

Feminist porn also depicts a good deal of D/s and BDSM, usually with women as subs. One Femme video is titled My Surrender, and a good deal of feminist porn features women reveling in men’s playful erotic commands and domination.

Sales of Fifty Shades of Grey prove there’s a huge female audience hungry for D/s entertainment. But after women with sub fantasies read the Fifty Shades trilogy and watch the movies, where can they turn for similar entertainment? A great deal of porn.

I can’t prove that D/s fantasies play a key role in the surprisingly large proportion of the porn audience that’s female. Sex researchers haven’t ventured there. But it’s difficult to believe that the four standard explanations account for a porn audience that’s 30 percent female. Women’s fantasies of erotic submission just might supply the missing link.

Dear readers, what do you think? Do you believe that almost one-third of the porn audience is female? Why do you think women watch? And if you’re among them, why do you?

Facebook image: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

References

https://www.pornhub.com/insights/2019-year-in-review

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Daneback, K. et al. “Use of Pornography in a Random Sample of Norwegian Heterosexual Couples,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2009) 38:746.

Kohut, T. et al. “Perceived Effects of Pornography on the Couple Relationship: Initial Findings of Open-Ended, Participant-Informed, Bottom-Up Research,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2017) 46:585.

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