Is Erotica Just ‘Porn for Women’?

Is Erotica Just 'Porn for Women'?

Porn that women want to see is porn for women.

That’s my stance, and I’m going to talk about it in detail because this topic annoys me.

But first I’m going to define some terms. Commonly people differentiate ‘erotica’ as being basically the softcore literary alternative to ‘mainstream porn.’ Women like the soft & tender indirect imaginative approach; men just like moving pictures and grunting. I, personally, tend to use ‘porn’ and ‘erotica’ interchangeably in casual conversation, which, as it happens, isn’t inaccurate. 

The term pornography comes from the Greek words for ‘prostitute’ and ‘to write.’ Pornography means depictions of the sexual act meant to arouse. My writing is meant to be arousing, therefore it is porn. So there. But I also refer to it as ‘erotica’ because I think the word ‘erotica’ is kinda pretty and I’m weak to pretty things.

So, are women just not stimulated by visual images? According to the science…. either they are less stimulated by pornography, or they’re more stimulated than men by sexual images

(Not to mention the added complexity of LGBTQ+ persons and their preferences! Which weren’t the focus of either study I’ve linked.) 

So, basically, we don’t know definitively. That first study states “Sex differences in response to visual sexual stimuli are widely acknowledged, although poorly documented. A common presumption in society and the media is that men respond more strongly to visual sexual stimuli than do women. Pornographic magazines and videos directed at men are a multi-billion dollar industry while similar products directed towards women are difficult to find.”

The second admits “It may be that there is no real gender difference in concordance, but the current methods of assessing self-reported and genital sexual responses attenuate concordance estimates in women or increase concordance estimates in men.” Essentially, as I understand it, there are so many potential variables that the results may only be able to be replicated by those people in that particular sexual experiment.

(Also note that as far as I’m aware, no scientific study has been done studying, say, women’s sexual response to porny fanart.)

The fact is that at the end of the day, it is a basic fact that many, many women do watch, enjoy, consume and create pornography: mainstream porn, indie porn, porn comics like Smut Peddler, hentai… and you can’t ignore the proliferation of porny pictures that cascade through fandoms on sites like Tumblr. It doesn’t matter if they’re a minority (which seems unlikely) because there’s a lot of ’em.

I think women are visually stimulated because they’re humans. Sight is an extremely dominant sense for our species. And men like stories, because they’re human. Creating stories is a natural action we do every day. 

Also, I’ve got anecdotal evidence that plenty of men enjoy written porn/erotica. The continued popularity of sex scenes in mainstream fantasy (think A Song of Ice and Fire) written by men attest to the fact that men like a good raunchy storyline too. 

Here’s some more anecdotal evidence: I’ve talked to dozens of women and genderqueer folk about porn. The overwhelming responses to the question, “How do you feel about mainstream porn?” are:

  • the sex acts depicted are boring and repetitive
  • camera angles and lighting chosen are unattractive or focus on the wrong thing
  • storylines are poor/acting is poor
  • in fetish porn, there are too many ‘undesirable fetishes’ (for example dd/lg, small penis humiliation) making it hard to find arousing content
  • the men are too unattractive
  • too heterosexual & white
  • ‘dirty talk’ is unappealing/disrespectful

Now, I’ve certainly seen mainstream porn I’ve enjoyed, but in general I can see where these complaints come from. Obviously, I have similar ones (not to mention my niche interest in fantasy settings). And in the case of ‘undesirable fetishes’—people have wildly different tastes and opinions. Sexuality’s a personal thing.

So, here’s the tl;dr: pornography is for everyone, but not all pornography is for everyone. It’s too simplistic to say ‘women like erotica, men like porn.’ It’s not a useful statement, it’s not proven to be true, and it’s a myth that can only do harm.

Got your own story about porn, erotica and where you feel you fit in? Tell me more in the comments! Also check out my What kind of erotica do fantasy geeks want to read? survey.

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