These Women Want to Masturbate, Just Not to Mainstream Porn

Is porn missing the mark for women?

 Illustrated by Marcy Gooberman

Illustrated by Marcy Gooberman

Bored to tears, Jessica Friedman did the only thing she could think of to pass the time before Thanksgiving dinner — learn how to masturbate.

Without the help of porn it took the 16-year-old three hours to finish the job, but it was worth it. “I felt so empowered,” she said.

A few years earlier, nude photographs of a black woman on her computer screen interrupted then 13-year-old Friedman’s afternoon of Internet surfing. Instead of being directed to YouTube, a typing error brought her to Redtube, a free pornography website.

Remembering how aroused she felt by the explicit photos, Friedman revisited the website to speed up her orgasm. Although the desired effect was acquired, she couldn’t shake a guilty feeling. “I feel like I’m doing something wrong when I watch porn,” the college student said. “But I do it anyway, because I like it.”

Not all women have the ovaries Friedman has to admit they get off by watching other people get it on. Despite dripping in a sex-saturated consumer culture, outdated Victorian morals continue to wrap female sexuality in a taboo blanket. But new data suggests the thread is unraveling. A study surveying the online viewing habits of Americans by phone found that 8 percent of women admitted to watching porn — increased from 2 percent in 2010, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Whether they’re actually watching more porn or starting to admit it, the numbers indicate women are digging up something that’s been buried for centuries — their sexual pleasure.

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What a girl wants

Despite low lighting and a sea of drunken students, Kayla Brock’s necklace doesn’t go unnoticed. Dangling at the end of the chain is a palm-sized vibrator, a statement piece the Indiana University student wears proudly inside Kilroy’s Bar and Grill.

There are two types of women who masturbate, Brock says, those who lie about it and those who don’t. “People who are open about it have an understanding that there’s nothing to be ashamed about,” she said.

Like previous generations of feminists, Brock opts not to masturbate to porn because of its misogynistic and unrealistic depictions of sex. Third-wave feminist Cindy Gallop fervently believes everyone would enjoy porn if they could find the right video; but without a Yelp of porn it’s nearly impossible to find.

Masturbating isn’t as good without porn, says Kathryn Isaac of Delray Beach, because porn provides a sort of fantasy and context. The downside is that when she watches Internet porn, “it takes forever because I have to find something that turns me on.”

“It’s not surprising there are women who have never watched porn,” Gallop said. “Even when they make attempts of exploration they are so put off from what they find.”

According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, “Men and women were found to vary in their preferences in pornographic materials, with men both preferring a wider range of hardcore pornography and less softcore pornography than women.” Adult sites Pornhub and Redtube found that women search for “lesbian,” “threesome” and “squirt” far more than any other category, indicating they’re more interested in watching female pleasure onscreen.

So, why isn’t the content that women want more accessible? Gallop wags a finger at the men behind the screen who dominate the industry. Mainstream porn has fallen prey to the business syndrome the advertising consultant calls “collaborative competition,” where everyone competing in a sector produces the same thing as everyone else under the assumption it’s what the consumer wants.

“The exclusive growth in extreme, violent, misogynistic porn is driven very boringly and prosaically by a bunch of white guys scared shitless because they’re not making any money doing what a bunch of guys scared shitless not making money in any industry do,” Gallop said. “They play it safe.”

Porn is like everything else, she adds, people watch what they are given. And if you’ve never had any experiences, you rely on media to show you what to do, says Bryant Paul, co-producer of Hot Girls Wanted.

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When porn became sex-ed

Raised by her single-mother, 12-year-old Sasha Aurand had no idea what a penis looked like. Her Barbie and Ken dolls didn’t have genitalia, and she never accidentally bumped into a naked man.

So Aurand did what any other curious person does — she Googled “porn.”

“I watched a woman open the door and get f*cked by her pizza man,” said Aurand, Editor-in-Chief of PsychNSex. “He just walked in and boom, he took the woman.”

She discovered what sex looked like, but the video failed to include the most important part of a healthy, sexual experience — communication.

“In porn, the voice of consent doesn’t exist,” Brock said. “It makes boys think they automatically have it.”

In almost nine out of 10 videos, a woman is hit, beaten or yelled at and always responds pleasurably or neutrally, according to a study published in Violence Against Women. “There’s no counter message in the videos that says ‘no, this doesn’t actually feel good,’” Paul said. “So, why wouldn’t you think these acts are pleasurable?”

When consent isn’t taught at home, it becomes the education system’s responsibility, Paul says. But, it doesn’t seem up to the task. The number of schools providing sexual health education declined since 2000, and nearly 90 percent that do offer it allow parents to pull their kids from the class, according to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

“We are doing our kids a disservice by allowing our moral beliefs to block us from having sexual discussions,” said Dr. Michael Rich, Founder and Director of the Center on Media and Child Health. “It’s a big part of adult life and it shouldn’t be regarded as dirty.”

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Leveraging the patriarchy

In a sleek, all black power-suit, Gallop took the TED2009 stage to address the epidemic she discovered first-hand while sleeping with younger, twenty-year-old men — porn as default sex education.

Seeking an outlet for information, nearly 60 percent of surveyed English students said they turn to porn for sex-ed. Gallop’s concern is that young women let men perform undesirable sexual acts to them, like coming on their face, because porn taught them that’s what sex is like.

But porn isn’t the issue, she affirmed. It’s that we don’t talk about sex in the real world. To counter the impact porn has as default sex-ed, she created something with the potential to be just as mass, mainstream and all pervasive in society as porn currently is — “social sex.”

In 2009 Gallop launched Make Love Not Porn, a website dedicated to making sex easier to talk about by socializing it. “Social sex is exactly what you do on Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr,” she said. “Capturing what you do in the real world as it happens spontaneously.”

MLNP videos celebrate real world bodies and female pleasure; components women have trouble finding in mainstream pornography. The first time Brock watched porn with her partner they had to flip through videos until they found actors who resembled them. “I wasn’t going to watch some blonde with fake boobs, I needed to connect to her in some way,” she said.

Whereas porn is masturbation material, social sex celebrates the awkwardness and messiness of real life, consensual sex.

“The sex we have in our everyday lives is way hotter, way more arousing, and way more surprising than porn will ever be,” Gallop said.

Opening the dialogue of sex enables children and adults to realize a standard of great sexual behavior, Gallop says. When that is understood and actively taught, society can end rape culture.

“Ultimately, we are changing the world through sex,” Gallop said.

To support MLNP’s efforts, visit ifundwomen.com.

Want to learn more about real world sex v. porn? Check out our Porn 101 Basic! Spoiler alert: porn is entertainment, not education.


Arielle is an Assistant Editor at The Tab. Ex-fat camp counselor. Objectively cute.

 

Related: 4 Porn Sites Featuring Real Attraction