Psychological health

Who Likes Violent Porn? New Research Upends Expectations

Feminist activists and social commentators have long decried the level of aggression depicted in porn videos. The argument is that watching such videos teaches men that violent sexual behavior is acceptable. Furthermore, some assert that men who watch violent pornography may even develop a taste for aggressive sex that they did not have before.

According to conventional wisdom, pornography is produced and consumed by male audiences. From this point of view, pornography plays a role in the patriarchy, in which men seek to subjugate women, viewing them as more than sexual objects for the purpose of their sexual gratification. Thus, Internet porn content reflects the tastes of male consumers.

Given the huge amount of pornography now available on the Internet, it is difficult to estimate what percentage depicts violent content, especially given that different sites cater to different tastes. Estimates range from 10 percent to 90 percent.

This wide range is largely due to the different ways researchers define aggression. Anti-porn writers tend to cite statistics at the end of this range. This is because they count actions that could be considered playful, such as slapping, tickling, or hair-pulling, to which the woman appears to have consented.

Most men don’t like hard porn

But even if the estimates in the lower range are more accurate, the question still remains: What kind of people find violent sexual arousal? Certainly, these must be men, at least according to accepted wisdom. After all, the viewer has to sympathize with the abused actresses, and therefore they should find such content disgusting rather than exciting.

Until recently, the vast majority of pornography users were men, and these arguments made sense, even if there was little empirical evidence to support them. However, in recent years, more and more women have been consuming porn. So now the question becomes: What kind of porn do women want to watch?

Until now, the general assumption was that women would be interested in romantic scenes depicting loving couples attending to each other’s sexual needs – preferably with soft music playing in the background. With the rise in female porn viewing, a number of porn companies have started producing such “female-friendly” content. But is this what women really want?

Recent research has challenged the accepted view that men like violent porn and women like romantic porn. Surveys reveal that most men are turned away by violent porn, and moreover, at least some women report that portraying aggression against women is exciting. This suggests that interest in violent porn may not be so much a difference in sex as a difference in personality.

More women than men say violent porn excites them

To understand what type of people like violent porn, psychologist at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), Iran Shore, interviewed 122 people, roughly equally distributed between men and women. Our findings challenge the prevailing wisdom about porn preferences between men and women.

First, I found out that many men and women dislike violent porn, and insist that they be prevented from portraying aggression against women. While women were expected to dislike violent porn, this finding challenges the narrative that men only want to control women and use them as sexual objects.

Second, of those who said they were turned on by violent porn, the majority of those were women. Overwhelmingly, women were more likely than men to report that they found aggression exciting and that they actively pursued aggressive presentations in pornography. The only exception was that very few men or women expressed interest in watching videos depicting nonconsensual aggression.

In fact, the concept of “consensual aggression” was central to understanding these women’s interest in violent porn. Many of the women in this study found actions such as biting, slapping, hair-pulling, and other types of rough handling to be playful and exciting as long as the performer provides verbal or facial cues of approval.

‘Consensual aggression’ is the key

Shore notes that many of the female participants initially denied any interest in violent porn until later in the interview when they realized that the interviewer also included consensual aggression. Overall, two-thirds of the women in this study admitted that they found at least some aggression in porn arousing, and nearly half admitted that they sometimes looked for “harder” forms of aggression as well.

Importantly, these women insisted that they had already been drawn to consensual aggression and dominance before they started watching pornography. In other words, they actively sought out what they were actually interested in rather than developing a taste for it after first seeing it in pornography. Such findings challenge the narrative that viewing violent pornography creates a desire to engage in this type of aggression with sex partners.

Those women who expressed an interest in violent porn also made it clear that they didn’t like it all the time. As one respondent said: “It depends on the mood. Sometimes I like it; sometimes it terrifies me.” Rather than explaining the attraction to violent porn in terms of gender or personal differences, it seems better to think of it as the type of porn that many viewers sometimes enjoy.

Many of the women who said they liked violent porn also admitted that they often feel guilty about it afterwards. Here we see the conflict between personal preferences and social expectations.

Finally, these women also insisted that although they enjoyed watching aggression in porn, they did not want to be treated in this way by their sexual partners. Comments like this point to the fact that consumers of pornography understand that porn is a fantasy rather than a reality, and furthermore that it is an aspect of their sexuality separate from their sexuality with their partners.

The human race is complex and multifaceted. Relying on gender stereotypes about sexual preferences and banning certain actions as disgusting or decadent does little to help us understand the range of human sexual behavior. Overall, the participants in this study expressed a healthy sexual attitude, meaning that whatever consensual adults do in private life is a good thing—and nothing to do with anyone else.

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