Sex, Lies & Videotapes: College Girls & Pornography

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You’ve probably heard the go-to definition of pornography: I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. Well, it would be very, very hard not to see it. There are 4.2 million porn websites—12% of all the websites out there, to put that number in context. Searches for porn constitute a quarter of all web searches. In the U.S. alone, porn is a $12 billion industry. How big is $12 billion? That’s more than the revenue of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises combined, and almost twice as much as the combined revenues of ABC, CBS and NBC.

 If porn is everywhere and “everyone” is looking at it, why is so little said about college women and pornography? One-third of porn consumers fall in the 18-25 year old demographic and 50% of that demographic is female. Are girls not watching porn, or is no one talking about it?
 
Maybe Girls Just Aren’t Tuning In
 
“The stereotype has historically been that guys watch porn and girls don't,” said Kevin Hirst, a senior at Syracuse University. “I think that this comes from the media—what we see in movies, on TV, etc.”
 
It’s pretty clear that a double standard is at play here: we generally take for granted that every post-pubescent boy watches or has watched porn yet we gasp in shock-and-horror at the thought of a thirteen-year-old girl doing the same, even though girls mature faster than boys do. Google searches for “college girls and pornography” predictably result in porn featuring college girls (and there’s lots of it, in case any of you undergrads are looking to start on that adult entertainment career). Interestingly enough, changing “girls” to “women” produces more intelligent, actually-relevant results.
 
Based on the premise that the majority of porn consumers are male, Salon ran a story in 2006 asking "Why don't women watch more porn?" They came up with a couple answers. There’s the fact that whereas guys might see a naked girl and, well, dayenu,  women are (…surprise!) more complicated. Even if your body is turned on, your brain can be turned off. A woman watching porn is capable of rational, albeit rambling, thoughts: “That kind of looks like it would hurt…this industry objectifies young girls… why the hell is she wearing pigtails? No one over the age of seven wears pigtails in real life…” and so on.
 
Women are also easily put off by sexism often present in porn, as Angela Hu, a junior at Syracuse University pointed out. “The problem that comes with women and porn is that, in the adult film industry, women are portrayed as objects.”
 
Adrienne, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore, felt similarly. “A lot of porn is not very friendly to women because there are distracting elements [and] there is way more porn out there of men getting pleasured rather than women.”
 
It would be tough to argue that porn is never degrading, even before the actors have sex. If you’ve ever seen a female porn star and then compared her to your everyday female, you will notice…differences. Real boobs, for one. Lips that are normal lip-size. Most never actually express their own sexual desires, only cater to someone else’s. Porn can make women feel like there’s no measuring up to an impossible standard. Male porn stars, on the other hand, are usually ugly. Like, really ugly. Setting aside the issue of size, there’s little in porn that would be threatening to a guy.
 
“It’s not [that] I’m against the idea of porn. I can almost see the practicality in it: boys want or need a release, and sometimes porn is just more convenient than actually going out and finding a girl (or boy if they roll that way),” said Amanda Wolkin, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. “Even the idea of objectifying women in porn doesn't bother me so much—sure, they're treated as objects, but that's the choice of those women. Honestly, I just have never watched porn because I have absolutely no desire to. The thought of seeing two complete strangers rolling around together does nothing for me; actually, it kind of grosses me out that I would ever find pleasure in that.”
 
Girls are just more likely to want to watch an episode of True Blood (which, let’s be serious, is basically porn except with hot guys and clever dialogue) than a porno. Amanda continued, “For me, and I think many other teenage girls, we can find our "releases" in other ways—having the occasional hook-up with a boy, watching semi-raunchy but not completely pornographic TV shows or movies or even reading Cosmo.”
 
RollingStone magazine true blood stars naked with blood all over them vampire tv shows HBO
It’s not porn. It’s HBO.
 
Maybe Girls Are Watching… But Not Talking About It
 
Even though there are plenty of explanations for why women don’t enjoy porn, research has demonstrated that both men and women are equally aroused by watching adult films. Clearly there are girls who do like porn, like... Taylor Momsen! As she tells Revolver magazine in their November issue, “If it's a good sex tape, I'll watch it… I like some adult stars. I have a couple favorites.” She goes on to add, jaded teenager that she is, “But I will say this: That Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson video wasn't very good. I wouldn't f*ck Tommy Lee.” (Good for you, Tay. He probably wouldn’t f*ck you either. Because you’re SEVENTEEN.) While taking Taylor’s lead on aggressive eyeliner application or underwear-as-outwear isn’t necessarily advisable, it’s cool that she’s willing to be open about an issue most girls don’t want to touch. What’s keeping college women from openly discussing porn?
 
Even among boys, fair to say, porn is embarrassing. You might keep Vanity Fair on display next to that copy of The Economist you never actually read, but Playboy gets stashed under the mattress. If you’re looking at internet porn and someone else walks in the room, you slam your laptop shut with enough force to break a few of the keys. At the same time, though, pornography isn’t embarrassing for boys because it’s “unacceptable.” It’s embarrassing because it’s something a person does in private; humiliation ensues when the private is made public. With girls, the issue is another one entirely.
 
“I definitely think there's a social stigma with women watching porn because society expects women to act demure and classy, and watching porn for women seems like a very primitive act,” said Angela.
 
man with his shirt off with a baby reading playboy baseball hat porn bad habits naked girls dad father
Look, he’s teaching his son to read! Because of course he only gets it for the articles.
 
The it’s-okay-for-guys-but-bad-for-girls mantra comes up with masturbation, too. Everyone acknowledges that guys do it, but girls rarely, if ever, talk about it. Seems like we still haven’t wrapped our heads around the fact that there is this whole middle ground of women between virgins and whores. In fact, there are lots of women out there who are both intelligent, capable adults and sexual beings with needs and desires! I hope this information is not too shocking for our more sensitive male readers. Occasionally those are desires that need to be satisfied sans partner, hence porn and masturbation. But the idea of taking men out of the equation tends to terrify men (feeling useless, are we?) so it’s not the kind of conversation that happens out in the open.
 
“I'm not afraid to say I watch porn, but I can understand why women who do [are afraid] to say that,” said Adrienne. “People interpret you and your actions as hypersexual and then see you in a different light. Just because a woman watches porn doesn't mean she wants to have sex all the time or is a slut.”
 
Girls have been socialized since Plymouth Rock days to feel shame about enjoying sex for any purpose other than procreation, and porn exacerbates the issue: even if a girl feels sexually stimulated, her brain tells her that what she’s feeling is bad. Culturally speaking, it’s unacceptable, even if biology insists it’s natural.
 
demi moore ashton kutcher's wife scarlet letter adultery red A nathaniel hawthorne the movie sex
America has a long standing tradition of slut-shaming that goes back to a time even before Demi Moore married Ashton Kutcher.
 
“I would never tell a guy that I just met that I watch porn, just because I think it would give them the wrong impression,” Adrienne added. “[It’s] kind of like sleeping with them on the first date or something that could potentially have negative consequences. The few men that do know that I watch porn have always been surprised, and I prefer it that way.”
 
“I think that only girls think it’s weird if other girls watch porn,” said Allie Ruel, a student at the University of Pennsylvania.  “I don't think guys think it’s weird or negative if girls watch it. I think some guys would even like if [girls], especially their girlfriends, enjoyed watching porn. Girls are very quick to judge ‘slut or non-slut,’ and some things that aren’t even related, like watching porn, can be interpreted as such.”
 
“The other night, I was having a conversation with a few of my inebriated boy hall mates about porn,” said Amanda. “They were all shocked when they heard I had never watched it—did I live under a rock? Have no sexual drive? When I tried to explain to them how impersonal and unamusing porn was, they couldn't seem to grasp the concept.”
 
Have we learned nothing from repeated viewings of Mean Girls? Calling each other girls sluts and whores just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores. And for the most part, guys aren’t the judgmental ones in this situation: girls are.
 
 “Women shouldn’t [be] viewed any differently,” agreed Kevin. “I think that regardless of your gender, women and men should be held to the same standards. Nowadays both men and women look at porn. They should be treated as equals.”
 
Sources:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/personal/07/24/o.women.watching.porn/index.html?eref=rss_topstories
http://jezebel.com/5322228/why-dont-women-watch-more-porn
http://www.askmen.com/dating/heidi_250/256_why-your-girlfriend-doesnt-watch-porn.html
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/health/2003447193_carnalknowledge26.html
http://www.oprah.com/relationships/Do-Women-Watch-Porn
http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/2006/11/27/porn
http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/personal/07/24/o.women.watching.porn/index.html?eref=rss_topstories
 
Statistics from:
https://wsr.byu.edu/content/national-pornography-statistics
http://www.safefamilies.org/sfStats.php
http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/index1.html
 
Kevin Hirst, senior at Syracuse University
Amanda Wolkin, freshman at University of Pennsylvania
Adrienne, junior at University of Pennsylvania
Angela Hu, junior at Syracuse University

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About The Author

Jess (Penn ’11) left her Pleasantville-esque hometown of Berkeley Heights, New Jersey to study English and creative writing. At Penn, she has been an editor of 34th Street magazine and its blog, underthebutton.com. Jess is also the Adventure Editor of The Lost Girls travel website. If you find a way to score her Bruce Springsteen tickets, she’ll probably marry you or at least make out with you. She had a pretty deprived childhood (no TV allowed on school nights) and is compensating for lost time by consuming pop culture like Don Draper downs martinis. This summer she worked as the entertainment intern at Seventeen magazine, where she hugged Kellan Lutz. Unrelated fun fact: Jess is a book nerd who will read just about anything that is not a Twilight book. Sorry, Kellan.