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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In this study, we refer to sexually explicit media (both written and visual) as pornography because it can also serve (and has, in previous research) as an umbrella term for content types, and some scholars have indicated that distinguishing “erotica” from “pornography” depends on individuals’ perceptions and interpretations rather than concrete definitions (Attwood, 2002; Cameron, 2005; Rea, 2001; Slade, 2001).

  2. 2.

    We aimed to provide a literature review that included studies conducted with participants of diverse racial/ethnic and sexual identities. However, we note that much of the research on women’s experiences with pornography has still focused on heterosexual women and these findings are often generalized to all women. Such generalizations may erase the nuances of how women with different social locations experience pornography.

  3. 3.

    One session did not complete feedback forms because of limitations in time.

  4. 4.

    Compensation was increased to facilitate recruitment for 41+ groups.

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Chadwick, S.B., Raisanen, J.C., Goldey, K.L. et al. Strategizing to Make Pornography Worthwhile: A Qualitative Exploration of Women’s Agentic Engagement with Sexual Media. Arch Sex Behav 47, 1853–1868 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1174-y

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Keywords

  • Erotica
  • Pornography
  • Women
  • Qualitative methods
  • Feminist perspectives
  • Sexuality