Women are turning to porn after watching Fifty Shades of Grey, according to a Canadian university study – but can porn really cater for a female audience? 

Fifty Shades of Grey has got women flocking to the cinema in droves. In just a matter of weeks it has taken $500 million worldwide and is now Universal Pictures most successful adult-rated film of all time. In book form 100 million copies have flown off the shelves in the four years since it was first released. It has even inspired its own sex aids, including a glass massage wand, anal lubricant and spanking cream.

And it’s not just E.L. James  and the suits at Universal Pictures wringing their hands with glee, as they look at all the money flying into their bank accounts. A recent study by Canada’s University of Waterloo showed a spike in porn consumption among women after watching the film at cinemas. Internet giant PornHub also reported a 200% increase in search terms such as ‘submission’ and ‘domination’ from women since the film’s release. Women are now the fastest growing demographic of porn consumers, perhaps in part due to this influential series.

But can the porn world cater for its new female fanbase? Despite the massive increase in female viewers the industry largely serves men. More than that some claim it is deeply sexist. Emily Brown is a nineteen-year-old artist and feminist. She doesn’t like the way the industry portrays women on screen. “They’re not natural looking. That’s not how most women look. It’s some sort of weird, hybrid woman that appeals to what men think they want. And men think they want that because they’ve seen it in porn films.”

There are also connections between teenage porn consumption and the omnipresent ‘lad culture’ that has beset university campuses up and down the country, something that Emily can see. “They grew up watching porn and now there’s this whole behaviour towards girls, of how we should act and how we should look. It’s definitely affecting lad culture, because that wasn’t a thing ten years ago.” Porn, by serving up women as mere objects to wank over, has fostered a dehumanisation of women – they are no longer people but things to be obtained, used and discarded.

Elzabi Rimington is doing a combined Master’s and PhD in Web Science at the University of Southampton. She is researching the virtual body: video-game avatars as self, cipher and sex object. She is particularly interested in gender representation and feminism, and is a member of the university’s Feminist Society. She believes porn can be very damaging. “I think it is deeply degrading to women and that the industry is extremely exploitative, and the pleasure of watching it doesn’t make that okay.”

“Sex shouldn’t be performative,” the twenty-four-year-old continues. “It is a sometimes meaningful and sometimes just fun act between two people, and the idea that you are doing it for a non-existent voyeur, because you are trying to look sexy is sort of ridiculous when you extract it like that.” When viewed in that way porn does seem rather absurd, and yet women are increasingly turning to video sites like PornHub, RedTube and XVideos for sexual gratification.

So, why does an industry that on the surface seems so male-oriented appeal to a female audience? Kirsty Owen works for one of Britain’s largest insurance providers. She regularly watches porn and thinks there is plenty out there to satisfy the modern woman. “I watch quite a bit of amateurish porn. In that kind of environment you get all shapes and sizes, all sorts of different types of people. You do get the Barbie doll types with their perfectly bleached arseholes, beautiful labia, wonderful nipples and mahoosive tits, but they’re not always as popular as the amateur girls, especially on sites like RedTube.”

But what about the impact of porn on women? After all, images of these “Barbie doll types” are influencing teenagers and women in the way they view their own bodies. Breast implant surgery is still the most common type of cosmetic surgery carried out in the UK, with an estimated 30,000 women going under the knife each year. Anal bleaching and vaginal rejuvenation surgery are also becoming increasingly popular. “As long as we approach it with the understanding that it’s not real,” Kirsty continues, “it can be a useful sex aid, in exactly the same way that a vibrator doesn’t represent a guy’s penis.”

But can consumers of porn really separate fantasy from reality? Elzabi doesn’t think so. “As much as we like to think that we can divide into your heads what’s fantasy and what’s reality, we are actually as humans not very good at that. Teenagers might go to porn as a how to guide but not realise that this is fantasy and very fucking far removed from the reality of the situation, and that’s to the detriment of both men and women.”

Despite the many criticisms levelled at the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, it stands as proof that there is a large market for erotica targeted towards women. With the influx of women viewing porn sites, it will be interesting to see whether producers adapt and start to produce more porn targeted towards this demographic. Kirsty believes this is inevitable. “If there’s a market for it they make it. That’s the basic framework for the industry that’s behind it all. The basic popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey in both the book format and the movie format has basically proven that if women want something, and they enjoy it, the world will cater for it.”

Photo Credit: Jimi Chang http://www.flickr.com/photos/92752576@N00/3972860341/

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