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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 16-Nov-16 11:19:11

Guest post: "What we know about porn is based on men - that needs to change"

Delivering Sex and Relationships Education made Dr Fiona Vera-Gray realise how little we know about women's attitudes towards sex and pornography

Dr Fiona Vera-Gray

Durham Law School

Posted on: Wed 16-Nov-16 11:19:11

(79 comments )

Lead photo

"At the moment, we know very little about women's sexual practices, desires, and pleasures"

Last month, the largest ever survey of UK women's views and experiences of mainstream online pornography was launched, www.womenonporn.org.

The project seeks to capture the range of women's views on mainstream online pornography - whether they use it regularly, occasionally, or not at all, have accidentally been exposed to it, or have partners who use it.

I came to this research through my experience delivering specialists Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in secondary schools and a decade spent at a London based Rape Crisis Centre, designing and delivering sexual violence prevention work with young people.

The work was important and effective, but the ways in which some of the messages were being taken up by the young people were worrying. I became aware that the focus on sexual consent and the realities of sexual violence meant that we were inadvertently feeding into something positioning women as people whose sexual selves were acted on, rather than as sexual agents who could and did act through their bodies and out into the world.

We know very little about women's sexual practices, desires, and pleasures, including their views and experiences of pornography. Combined with this, we know almost nothing about women who choose not to use pornography, or who have a relationship to pornography through a partner or child's use. Some of this may be because of the quite notorious divisions in the women's movement when it comes to porn – with some women seeing it as a vehicle for women's empowerment, and others seeing it as abusive. There is little space to talk honestly, without fear of judgement or embarrassment. But we can change that.

I became aware that the focus on sexual consent and the realities of sexual violence meant that we were inadvertently feeding into something positioning women as people whose sexual selves were acted on, rather than as sexual agents who could and did act through their bodies and out into the world.


So far, just over 500 women have had their say. Already what is clear is that women do not all think about porn in the same way, nor have they had the same - or even similar - experiences. Initial findings are clearly showing there is no singular 'women's view' on porn.

Around 70% of women who have responded have used online pornography by themselves. For the 30% who haven't, the most common reason is not liking the way it depicts women. Given this, it's interesting that it's about a 50/50 split between women who have searched for feminist porn or porn that is specifically directed at women, and those who haven't. However, it seems both camps agree that this kind of porn is hard to find.

Almost half of respondents have used pornography with a sexual partner. Some women said viewing porn was pleasurable and a useful tool for communicating sexually with their partner, while others said it was boring, or led to them and their partner feeling distracted and disengaged.

Women also have relationships to porn that aren't based on them deliberately seeking it out. Almost 90% of the women who responded have had a sexual partner who either definitely or probably used online porn. There was a fairly even split between respondents who felt fine about this, and conflicted by it.

People also stumble across porn when they're not expecting it. 85% of women have seen porn accidentally, most often through pop-up advertising, though almost 40% have seen porn on Facebook or Twitter. This is despite policies across both platforms that prohibit the advertising of 'pornographic content'.

The project is live until the end of the year so these findings are open to shift and develop. What is clear in reviewing the data so far is that there really is no single attitude, pathway, or experience of pornography for women. Instead of seeking to find out how women respond to pornography, then, it is more useful to think through what is the same and what is different amongst women's responses. And this is what the Women on Porn project seeks to do.

If you have anything you'd like to say about porn, it's easy to take part and you can do so without anyone knowing who you are.

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. You can also choose to enter a draw to win £20 in gift vouchers. Face-to-face interviews will be held across the UK in 2017, you will be paid for your time, and you can choose to participate here.

This is your chance to take part in the largest ever survey of UK women's views on mainstream online pornography. If you have anything to say about online porn, take part and make sure your voice is heard.

By Dr Fiona Vera-Gray

Twitter: @VeraGrayF

YonicProbe Wed 16-Nov-16 17:43:51

"positioning women as people whose sexual selves were acted on, rather than as sexual agents who could and did act through their bodies and out into the world. "

Too right.

I will take a look at your survey. I hope it covers some of the issues with the porn industry.

Hastalapasta Wed 16-Nov-16 19:27:41

Lots of opportunities to have your say on this survey, I appreciate that.

Bitofacow Wed 16-Nov-16 20:09:07

Well I've completed the survey! That should encourage others to make sure there is balancewink

Looking forward to reading the results.

ffon Wed 16-Nov-16 20:10:39

Done and appreciate the opportunity to contribute.

SpookyPotato Wed 16-Nov-16 20:46:36

Done! Very glad it's anonymous grin

youredeadtomesteven Wed 16-Nov-16 21:57:36

Just completed the survey, incredibly pleased it's anonymous!

FeedMeAndTellMeImPretty Wed 16-Nov-16 22:46:06

Done. I have found that gay porn can be a good way for me as a feminist to watch porn. Double the dicks and no women being exploited.

MissiAmphetamine Thu 17-Nov-16 07:13:51

Damn, I tried, but it's only accepting responses from women in the UK. For the record though, I'm from NZ, I'm in my late 20's, and I'm married to a man in his late 30s who never watched porn much, but nowadays finds it boring and/or disturbing enough to not bother anymore.

I find all porn intellectually and ethically repulsive (although sometimes it prompts physiological arousal,) abusive and exploitative, objectifying of women, and warping of sexuality.

Squirter Thu 17-Nov-16 07:19:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Bitofacow Thu 17-Nov-16 07:27:45

Squirter. grin

libprog Thu 17-Nov-16 09:57:53

supply and demand. i don't really see how this is a sexism issue. also, certain sites by now have "for women" categories. and the part they are acted on rather than act as agents, again, there is plenty of contrary evidence to that. which goes back to supply and demand, they aren't hard to find as it wrongly says, there just isn't a lot of it compared to the rest. If you now say well there is nothing we like, that just means there is an open, untapped market out there.

libprog Thu 17-Nov-16 09:59:03

FeedMeAndTellMeImPretty

But you are happy for men to be exploited?

Xenophile Thu 17-Nov-16 13:50:37

Will do this later. Porn is by its very nature exploitative of women and helps to codify and enforce rape culture. Watching the filmed rape of women, most of whom will go on to develop both mental and physical health problems is probably not a high bar for a progressive society to set for itself.

MephistophelesApprentice Thu 17-Nov-16 13:57:29

70% enjoy it? Looks like the de-stigmatisation of female sexuality continues apace.

user1479216930 Thu 17-Nov-16 14:15:23

I enjoy watching porn and watch it at least once a day if not more. I know very few women who do not enjoy porn. This idea that women watch porn with a partner only is ridiculous and encourages this idea that women don't masturbate or only use porn to spice up their sex with their partner.

I don't consider sex to objectify women. The women in porn films get paid and it is a job to them, same as the men. As long as porn is legal and does not involve rape I see no issue with it whatsoever. Men watch porn all the time, so do women. Let's not keep pretending women are innocent little beings.

I'm considers quite elegant and posh to my friends and family. I'm certainly not dysfunctional or weird in any way. I just enjoy arching porn, and I feel not an ounce of guilt for enjoying it.

user1479216930 Thu 17-Nov-16 14:16:38

And I bet a lot more than 70% enjoy it. Certainly in my age group of 18-25.

libprog Thu 17-Nov-16 14:25:20

Xenophile

What is the logic for that? I might as well say my firm is exploiting my mind. And what nature? It shows two people having sex? If I dominate my partner in bed, am I exploiting her? What about the other way round?

And by saying that, you are implying women are necessarily in a position to be exploited and men are necessarily in a position to exploit. You are essentially assuming women are weak, that sex is always about females being exploited - are you sure about that?

M0stlyHet Thu 17-Nov-16 15:48:05

Done. I too liked the survey design with plenty of space for comments and reasons for answering.

YonicProbe Thu 17-Nov-16 16:26:01

Not sex, lib. Porn.

libprog Thu 17-Nov-16 18:03:59

Yes, but what does porn depict? Sex. Are you implying that sex cannot ever be displayed as it is in reality? I agree that that at the bottom line, kids or teenagers that view porn where a man or multiple men dominate a woman is not healthy. But to take that and condemn porn in its entirety is wrong.

FeedMeAndTellMeImPretty Thu 17-Nov-16 18:14:10

Libprog I don't watch anything where anyone appears not to be enjoying themselves. With men you can tell that they are sexually aroused and that they have enjoyed it by the time it finishes. That is not clear in any way from women in porn - and in some cases their lack of enjoyment is the real draw for some viewers based on the titles.

I have no way of knowing whether those men are really quite happy doing nice things to each other's bodies, but it's certainly a far cry from most of the other porn available and yes, they may be acting, they may have other partners and are not actually gay best buds, but I feel much more comfortable with that than any other genre.

Obviously I don't HAVE to watch anything, but if I choose to watch legal, apparently consensual sex, in which both participants show high levels of arousal and enjoyment, I find it more of a turn on and I don't feel guilty, which was a main focus of that survey.

As well as not wanting to see women exploited, I don't find them attractive, so would rather watch two men.

VestalVirgin Thu 17-Nov-16 18:32:25

I don't watch porn, and I never attempted to find feminist porn. The idea of watching strangers have sex is just icky to me.

Has anyone mentioned smutty fanfic yet? Because I think that is something you have to take into consideration if you want to know more about female sexuality.
(Many women prefer gay male pairings in smutty fanfic, too.)

YonicProbe Thu 17-Nov-16 18:33:36

The porn industry is damaging, just as prostitution is damaging.

. I'm not here to waste my pixels changing your mind if you disagree, lib. If you are interested to learn more, Gail Dines has done some good work.

sillage Thu 17-Nov-16 20:07:14

"Women also have relationships to porn that aren't based on them deliberately seeking it out."

That's seems a needlessly wordy, twisty way to avoid saying "Women have porn forced on them."

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