It was 10 years ago that I decided to write a piece on “Mainstreaming Pornography.” I had recently gotten out of a relationship with a woman who liked porn, was turned on by porn, and was turned on even more when we watched it together. Believing this was something of an oddity, I researched the subject and discovered to my surprise that there were millions of women who were porn consumers, and that many more actually found certain types of pornography sexually stimulating in the lab.
Unfortunately, I never sold the piece. Perhaps I was ahead of my time because today, the fastest growing segment of porn consumers are females - single, married, involved - and the younger the woman, the more likely they are to have their own porn collection stashed away at home.
There is still a stigma attached to porn viewing by women (”nice girls don’t do it”) but mores in America are changing fast and if you haven’t noticed, porn sellers are making it a point to market all kinds of adult products to women. Several chain stores like Starship and Good Vibrations report almost half their walk in business comes from women.
But what of the porn industry itself? Industry analysts say that more than 70% of all adult films made still cater to the tastes of men. And while those “tastes” may not have changed much since the first guy figured out that a woman has three orifices, and that it feels good sampling all of them, there has been a decided shift in what is considered “mainstream” today as opposed to 30 years ago.
Yes, real men like anal sex according to today’s standards. This survey from 2006 revealed changes in attitude toward the act that, according to my unscientific observations, mirror the rise in popularity of anal sex porn in the 1990’s:
The survey, released last year, showed that 38.2 percent of men between 20 and 39 and 32.6 percent of women ages 18 to 44 engage in heterosexual anal sex. Compare that with the CDC’s 1992 National Health and Social Life survey, which found that only 25.6 percent of men 18 to 59 and 20.4 percent of women 18 to 59 indulged in it.
Here we have a classic case study of media influence; did the rise in interest in anal sex drive the porn industry to make more films in that genre or did the explosion of films portraying anal sex in the 1980’s and 90’s drive the curiosity seekers to try it in their own lives? This leads to a further question; what influence does pornography have on sexual practices in America?
Modern pornography - dating to the Victorian era where the camera was first employed to take risque pictures - has never been much of a mystery for men. If you’ve viewed any classic porn, you know that much if it is rather vanilla in nature. Classic woman alone, one or two women with one or two (or more) men, two women — all catering to common males fantasies and are still staples of the porn industry today. Of course, there were examples of homosexual porn as well as rare fetish porn, but by and large, the market catered to men with “ordinary” tastes in sex.
This held true through the 1970’s after the breakthrough films Deep Throat, and Behind the Green Door made it hip to take your date to the local “art house.” But the invention of the VCR changed the porn industry forever. Now, because porn consumerism exploded, even fetish and gay videos could find a niche in the market and make big money.
Today on the internet, I challenge you to invent a fetish and not already find dozens of porn titles that cater to it. Everything from head to toe, hair to ankle worship, and all the bodily functions in between now has its own sub-genre on streaming porn sites. I suppose this is progress but since I’m pretty much of a vanilla sort of fellow myself, I have refrained from investigating.
Most of these fetish films cater to men. But interestingly, women seem to get aroused watching just about any kind of pornography:
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.
Today’s internet porn recognizes the surging female audience in a variety of ways. The two biggest pay-per-minute sites — HotMovies.com and AEBN.com — feature a “For Women” genre that streams movies with more of a storyline, as well as films that realize specific female fantasies. HotMovies has a genre with movies directed by women, another fast growing facet of the adult film business.
No stats are available from the two streaming video sites regarding female viewership, but Hustler’s Theresa Flynt reports that 56% of their DVD sales are made to women.
The cultural earthquake being caused by the widespread acceptance of pornography by both sexes has yet to be measured. How does it affect our attitudes toward partner sex? Toward women? Men?
Seeing that porn is an estimated $57 billion dollar industry world wide ($10-14 billion in the US), the social scientists will probably have enough data to keep them busy for years.