Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1853–1868 | Cite as

Strategizing to Make Pornography Worthwhile: A Qualitative Exploration of Women’s Agentic Engagement with Sexual Media

  • Sara B. Chadwick
  • Jessica C. Raisanen
  • Katherine L. Goldey
  • Sari van AndersEmail author
Original Paper


Women often expect to encounter negative, problematic content when they consume pornography, yet many women use and enjoy pornography anyway. Some research has centered content type (e.g., sexist/violent vs. nonsexist/women-focused) as a key determinant of women’s pornography experiences, but this precludes the notion that women are active, engaged consumers of pornography and minimizes women’s role in shaping their own experiences. In the present study, we explored how a sample of sexually diverse women in the U.S. (aged 18–64; N = 73) worked toward positive experiences with pornography via active negotiation with negative content, using a secondary analysis of focus group data on women’s sexual pleasure. We found that, although women often experienced pornography as risky, many women used it anyway and actively employed strategies to increase the likelihood of having a positive experience. Women’s strategies were similar across sexual identity and age groups, but the heteronormative, youth-oriented portrayals of sexuality in mainstream pornography presented unique concerns for heterosexual, queer, and older women. Results have implications for how women can be conceptualized as active, rather than passive, consumers of pornography as well as for how women’s agency might influence women’s arousal responses to sexually explicit stimuli in research.


Erotica Pornography Women Qualitative methods Feminist perspectives Sexuality 



This study was funded by faculty discretionary funds.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara B. Chadwick
    • 1
  • Jessica C. Raisanen
    • 1
    • 4
  • Katherine L. Goldey
    • 2
    • 5
  • Sari van Anders
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Departments of Psychology and Women’s StudiesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Departments of Psychology and Women’s Studies, Program in Neuroscience, Science, Technology, and Society Program, Reproductive Sciences ProgramUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of BioethicsBaltimoreUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychology and Behavioral NeuroscienceSt. Edward’s UniversityAustinUSA

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