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Study Explores the Effects of Watching Porn on Young Women’s Sex Lives

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Jun 27, 2019

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It’s not the watching of porn that makes women unhappy, but the mental replay of porn ‘scripts’ during real-life intimacy that lowers self-esteem.

A new study exploring the effects of watching pornography on young women’s sex lives suggests it’s not the viewing of porn itself, but rather thoughts of porn during intimacy with a partner that coincided with insecurity about appearance and less sexual satisfaction. The research, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, suggests heterosexual women’s relationship with pornography is more complex than the solely negative link widely believed.

The study found young, college-aged women were more likely to incorporate porn-styled mental scripts into their real-world sexual experience, which contributed to greater insecurity and poor body image in the moment of sexual intimacy. By contrast, the study authors’ previous research focused on young men’s experiences with porn, which found their porn watching was associated with less enjoyment of sex, but had no effect on perceptions of personal sexual performance or body image.

The study also revealed interesting trends in women’s attitudes toward porn among the first generation to come of age in the era of porn-on-demand online. “Young women seem to follow two divergent pathways in almost the same proportions: either they incorporate pornography into their sexual practice, although relatively infrequently, or they avoid consumption after early encounters,” the study concluded. This could be related to the age at which these women were exposed; nearly one-quarter was exposed to porn before the age of 13. Early exposure, before gaining the cognitive ability to engage with porn, has been linked to negatives such as sexist attitudes among men.

The new study serves to reconcile two previously disparate facts: (1) that at least some women enjoy watching porn, and (2) that watching porn can make women feel bad about themselves. The findings suggest it’s not the watching of porn that makes women unhappy, but the mental replay of pornographic ‘scripts’ during real-life intimacy that lowers self-esteem.

Could the solution, then, be to replace these scripts with something more empowering? It’s no secret that heterosexual pornography skews aggressive toward women in its depictions. “While men may readily see themselves as subjects within a script designed and depicted for their pleasure, female consumers may have to learn to accept themselves as targets of violence/aggression in order for the script to become active in their sexual scripts. In other words, because the script may be discordant with her own bodily experience, a woman may have to do a bit of [conscious] processing,” as opposed to experiencing in-the-moment intimacy, the study explains. In other words, getting into the mood of sex via a pornographic concept of sex can, well, take you out of the mood.


Related on The Swaddle:

Research into Porn’s Detrimental Effects Is Conflicting


It’s the exact problem feminist porn has been trying to solve. At it’s most idealistic, feminist porn seeks to enshrine the values of feminism — equality, consent, mutual respect, fair compensation — within the pornographic arts. At it’s most basic, feminist porn seeks to include more storylines and more equal depictions of women’s pleasure.

“The most important message is that female pleasure matters,” Erika Lust, a Swedish director, producer, and screenwriter of feminist porn, told Rewire in 2017. “Not because male pleasure doesn’t matter; it does too! It is because we’ve been watching for decades a type of porn that completely ignores women’s sexuality. I want to represent women who assert sexual agency, I want women to feel positive after they’ve seen my films.”

That’s the kind of porn that might, one day, quite literally flip the script for women, enabling them to enjoy their real-world intimate encounters, even if a movie is playing in their head.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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