Do Women Actually Watch 'Female Friendly' Porn?

If you paid a recent visit to Pornhub, YouPorn, or xHamster, you might have seen the 'for women' category flagged with a little venus symbol.

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jul 11 2016, 12:00am

Mainstream, conventional porn follows a clear formula. Usually, it's set in a big, stucco mansion—the woman is wearing heels, the man is the hero: he takes the woman, takes the pleasure, and barely speaks a word. Female participants exist only as the pleasure point of the video. She is there to give, not receive.

Now, maybe you're into that kind of porn, and that's fine. It's easy to watch, easy to find and—on some levels—fairly inoffensive. But if you identify as a woman, you'll probably need to dig a little deeper to find something enticing.

Are [porn companies] trying to attract more female users? Or is this simply a token gesture in a medium dominated by the male gaze?

Over the past five years or so, Female Friendly categories have begun to appear across mainstream porn sites like Pornhub, YouPorn, and xHamster. They often have a little Venus symbol next to the category name, just in case you needed clarification. Their content differs from site to site: some of it, as you might expect, is all soft lighting and missionary. Some is rougher though, with liberal use of words like "ramming" in the title.

But why have these categories emerged? Sure porn companies might be responding to an increase in female users or are they trying to attract more female users? Or is Female Friendly porn simply a token gesture in a medium dominated by the male gaze?

Graph by Pornhub, obviously.

In 2015, PornHub and Redtube got together to analyse the data on female porn viewers. On average, 24 percent of their users were female, and almost all said they watched lesbian porn. Lesbian was the most searched category and term, closely followed by gay, big dick, threesome, and squirt. The For Women category managed to slip in at a respectable number eight on the most-watched list.

I ran my own unscientific survey via social media for the purposes of this article. Of the 80 female participants, 90 percent used free streaming sites as one of their primary sources of porn, and the categories they watched were extremely diverse: from amateur to lesbian, from hunk to bondage to gangbang, from facesitting to anal, hentai, creampie, and romantic to incredibly specific fetishes. Of all the categories listed, only three stood out as popular across the board: lesbian, gay, and amateur.

Around 30 percent of participants regularly watched content from the Female Friendly section, and their reasoning was similar: less aggression, a larger focus on female pleasure. One respondent said Female Friendly porn equated to "less giant cocks and less misogyny." Another said she found the "concentration on female participants enjoying themselves rather than just being receptacles" appealing.

Around 45 percent of respondents hadn't come across the Female Friendly sections, and 25 percent had tried them out but weren't interested. For those who didn't dig Female Friendly porn, their reasons were almost identical: too soft, too tame, too heterosexual, fake orgasms, too much like a Lifetime movie.

According to Ms Naughty, who's been making independent feminist porn for women since 2000, mainstream porn's attempts to cater for women is just window dressing. "They made the exterior pink but nothing really changed where it mattered: showing female pleasure and fantasy." In Ms Naughty's experience, Female Friendly porn barely differs from what you are likely to see on a free site's homepage. "They cut the guy's head off, focus on the woman's body, and ensure all the sex is open to the camera, no matter how uncomfortable it looks."

Indeed, almost every woman I spoke to had concerns about the treatment of women in the porn industry. Many talked about consent and respect, and a number who watched hardcore or rough porn had difficulty reconciling their feminist values with their porn preferences. One respondent said: "As consumers, there is really no way to know that what you consume on a free site is ethical, especially when you're into hardcore."

Watching a woman fake it in a tired sequences built entirely around men just isn't appealing.

Sex educator and therapist Cyndi Darnell says it all comes down to consent. "When all participants are willing and consciously participating in what's going on, it's fine," she says. "It's also important to remember that there is a difference between having a fantasy about doing something, and actually wanting to act on it."

According to Ms Naughty, the ethical nature of porn across the board is still a big issue in the industry. "Unfortunately there isn't yet a 'certified' stamp you can check, nor any agreement about what ethical really means," she says. She suggests doing research into the porn you consume: search for company pages, Twitter profiles, media coverage, and production ethics statements.

The people I spoke to about this topic, and the women who answered the survey, had extremely diverse viewing preferences, but one theme ran throughout every single conversation: pleasure. No matter what got them off, watching a woman fake it in a tired sequences built entirely around men—both those in the videos and those watching them—just wasn't appealing.

Romantic acrobatics. Image via Pixabay.

So perhaps the question isn't whether we need Female Friendly sections, but rather why do mainstream porn websites and companies remain so formulaic and averse to prioritising the pleasure of all parties involved? We know that the majority of mainstream porn is still created for men, whether it is lumped into the Female Friendly category or not. But is it really about what men want to watch, or is it about major porn companies holding the reins and shaping the mainstream?

Darnell argues that porn consumption is similar to media consumption across the board. "This is why mainstream media is popular: because people don't necessarily want to know about the alternatives." Ms Naughty has a similar argument: "There's a lot of repetitive tropes in porn, and a lot of directors aren't willing or able to challenge how they film it."

"There's a certain desperation in what people are producing now because so much porn is free and people are reluctant to buy," says Ms Naughty. "I think some companies went down the female friendly path because they were desperate to sell to new markets." She says that most independent feminist porn companies won't put their content onto free sites because they are trying to protect their content and avoid perpetuating the stereotype that all porn is free.

There's a reason that Male Friendly porn categories don't exist: men still make up a clear majority of consumers. It's difficult to predict when change will come in mainstream porn but until it does, the industry will continue to treat male tastes as the gold standard.

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