German Heterosexual Women’s Pornography Consumption and Sexual Behavior (2017)

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Public Health Significance Statement:

This study suggests that greater exposure to pornography among heterosexual German women is associated with their desire to engage in or having previously engaged in submissive sexual behaviors but not dominant behaviors. This pattern of correlations aligns with sexual script theory and content analyses of dominance and submission and gender in pornography. It does not align with the perspective that measures of pornography consumption are simply proxies for factors such as a high sex drive or an adventurous approach to sex.

Sexualization, Media, & Society. January-March 2017: 1-12

Chyng Feng Sun, Paul Wright, Nicola Steffen

DOI: 10.1177/2374623817698113

Abstract

This study found that German heterosexual women’s personal and partnered consumption of pornography were positively correlated with their desire to engage in or having previously engaged in submissive (but not dominant) sexual behaviors such as having their hair pulled, having their face ejaculated on, being spanked, choked, called names, slapped, and gagged. The association between women’s partnered pornography consumption and submissive sexual behavior was strongest for women whose first exposure to pornography was at a young age. The findings also indicated that women’s personal and partnered pornography consumption were uniquely related to their engagement in submissive sexual behavior.


DISCUSSION SECTION

Recent content analytic studies of popular heterosexual targeted pornography indicate that aggressive and dominant male behaviors are “intrinsic and integral” to the sexual pleasure of participants (Sun et al., 2008, p. 321; see also Bridges et al., 2010). The present study measured women’s exposure to pornography and their interest and engagement in a variety of dominant and submissive behaviors observed in these content analyses.

The sexual behaviors that women had engaged in or said they would like to engage in were submissive more so than dominant. The majority (55–79%) had experiences of having their hair pulled or being lightly spanked; more than 30% were spanked hard and dominated in S&M; 23–25% were choked or had role-played being forced into sex, and 14% were slapped in the face. Of the women who had not tried those submissive behaviors, 30% had an interest in being lightly spanked; 22– 26% in role-playing being forced into sex or being submissive in S&M; 13% in being spanked hard; and between 2% and 6% in having their hair pulled, being choked, and being slapped. In terms of male dominant/female submissive sexual behaviors, between approximately 65% and 75% had engaged in penis worship, facial ejaculation, and anal penetration; 30% had been gagged; 25% had been called names; and 7–8% had participated in a gang bang, an ass-to-mouth, or a double penetration.

Nearly all women reported previous exposure to pornography, the majority being exposed before 16 years old (75%). Given the study’s interest in potential associations between pornography use and sexual behaviors, insights from Wright’s (2011) sexual script 3AM of media sexual socialization were applied to investigate three aspects of women’s pornography use: personal use, use with a partner, and exposure to pornography early in life.

Women’s personal and partnered pornography consumptionwere uniquely related to their engagement in submissive sexual behavior. The results also showed that while women who had higher pornography consumption, either on their own or with partners, were more likely to have engaged in or to want to try sexually submissive behaviors, their consumption of pornography was not related to their dominant behaviors. In other words, pornography use was related to women’s submissive behavior but was unrelated to their dominant behavior. This pattern of correlations aligns with sexual script theory and content analyses of dominance and submission and gender in pornography. It does not align with the perspective that measures of pornography consumption are simply proxies for factors such as a high sex drive or an adventurous approach to sex. If this were the case, pornography consumption should have correlated with women’s dominant sexual behavior in addition to their submissive sexual behavior.

The 3AMtheorizes that early exposure to sexual scripts may have a lasting impact on sexual perceptions, particularly when they are vivid and novel and thus easier to remember (Greenberg, 1988; Shrum, 2009). Further, if later encountered sexual scripts are congruent with the earlier encountered sexual scripts, their behavioral application is more likely (Wright et al., 2013). Since content analyses of pornography spanning three decades have demonstrated that male dominance and female submission is a primary message (Barron & Kimmel, 2000; Cowan, Lee, Levy, & Snyder, 1988; Duncan, 1991; Gorman, Monk-Turner, & Fish, 2010; Klaassen & Peter, 2014; Monk-Turner and Purcell, 1999), the sexual scripts depicted in the pornography that female participants saw as children were likely to be consistent with the ones they saw later in life. Accordingly, the younger the age at which women were first exposed to pornography, the stronger the associations between women’s submissive behavior and partnered pornography consumption. Interestingly, the strength of the association between women’s submissive behavior and recent personal pornography consumption was equally strong regardless of when women were first exposed to pornography. Women used pornography on their own much more frequently than with a partner. Perhaps the heightened accessibility of submission scripts resulting from these more frequent, proximate exposures overrode variation in women’s sexual script development due to differences in the age of first exposure.

This study provides support for several tenets of the 3AM, most notably that sexual media provide scripts for specific sexual behaviors and that early childhood exposure may increase the likelihood that individuals will engage in particular behaviors they observe later in life. But it is especially salient if the results are compared to a recent study of men’s pornography consumption and sexually dominant behavior (Wright et al., 2015). This study found that men who more frequently consumed pornography were more likely to have engaged in or were more interested in trying the dominant behaviors common in popular pornography: hard spanking, role-played forced sex, slapping, choking, tying up a partner, dominating a partner, double penetration, penile gagging, and name-calling. Taken together, the two studies suggest that male dominance and female submission in pornographic scripts are likely acquired, activated, and applied in many of frequent consumers’ sexual interactions, and as personal or partnered use may point to different modeling paths, that personal use, partner’s own use, and coupled use all may influence the application of pornographic scripts.

Conclusion

This study is one of the first to demonstrate a clear link between pornography consumption and women’s submissive sexual behaviors by identifying acts prevalent in pornography and by using an examination of different uses of pornography and their interactions with women’s early exposure. Pornography has been argued to be mere fantasy (Bader, 2008; Kipnis, 1996; Lehman, 2006) and a tool for women’s sexual liberation (Ellis, O’Dair, & Tallmer, 1990). It has also been argued that the pornographic images are polysemic and that the audience’s identification is unpredictable (McClintock, 1993). Thus, when women see other women being dominated in pornography, they may identify with the dominator, not the dominated, and subsequently learn a sexual domination script. However, based on this and previous research (Wright, Sun, Steffen, & Tokunaga, 2014), many heterosexual men and women appear to largely accept pornography’s script of male dominance and female submission and to behave accordingly. This power imbalance provides much to ponder in terms of sexual relations and gender inequality.