Why Women Watch Gay Porn

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THAT HETEROSEXUAL MEN relish watching lesbian sex is a matter of common knowledge as well as social research. Anyone who picks up Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, or any hetero men’s sex magazine is apt to find pages of female-on-female action. Mainstream porn films traditionally feature at least one scene of two ladies getting it on.

            It is not difficult to understand why so many heterosexual men enjoy lesbian lovemaking. “More female flesh,” is how a man I once knew succinctly put it. Straight men enjoy looking at women’s bodies, and lesbian action means more women to gaze upon. Another probable reason for the popularity of lesbianism in hetero men’s material is somewhat more troubling: many straight men harbor homophobic feelings or insecurities about their own sexuality such that scenes involving another man can be off-putting or threatening. Scenes that are female-only remove any possibility that the viewer could get turned on by another man.

            While males enjoying lesbian action is a commonplace, its counterpart—women enjoying gay men’s pornography—is not as widely recognized. Yet there is evidence that ladies are looking at erotica created for gay guys in unexpected numbers. That evidence is not just anecdotal but solidly statistical.

The Women in Straight Porn

“Back in 2015, the wildly popular online pornography site Pornhub—which boasts over 115 million daily views—published a finding that took sexuality researcher Lucy Neville by surprise: women are responsible for more than a third of the site’s gay male porn views,” reported journalist Tim Fitzsimmons in 2018. Neville, a lecturer at the University of Leicester, based her 2018 book Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys on the research she was motivated to conduct after that Pornhub finding in 2015. She surveyed 275 women of varied sexual orientations, including heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and pansexual women. Writing about Neville’s survey, Ariel Sobel reported that 68 percent of participants also watched straight porn, 53 percent watched lesbian porn, but “82 percent of participants preferred gay male pornography to other genres.”

            Reporting on women who consume pornography, Jessica Lindsay writes: “Pornhub stats show that women are 69 percent more likely to watch gay male porn than men, and it’s the most watched category for women over 45.” On the other hand, she adds: “It’s more common for the 18-24 age group to watch gay porn, with over 40% of the women who do so falling into that bracket.”

            Pornography has long been thought of as a man’s domain. A traditional slang term for such movies was “stag films,” because it was assumed they were watched by an all-male audience. While women represent a significant slice of today’s porn market, men continue to consume the lion’s share of it. Many explanations have been offered for the fact that many more men consume porn of all kinds than do women, including the commonplace observation (supported by research) that men are more strongly aroused by visual stimuli than are women. However, it is also true that the vast majority of porn has been made by men to appeal to men’s visual preferences, so the fact that men are more likely to consume this material has the ring of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

     Indeed it just may be that what turns women off to pornography is precisely the way in which women are depicted in mainstream porn. Women who are politically poles apart like the late anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly and the militant feminist Susan Brownmiller can agree on one thing: pornography in general objectifies, degrades, and dehumanizes women. Here’s one of many statements on this topic from Schlafly: “Pornography really should be defined as the degradation of women. Nearly all porn involves the use of women in subordinate, degrading poses for the sexual, exploitative, and even sadistic and violent pleasures of men.” Susan Brownmiller, for her part, stated the problem as follows: “Pornography, like rape, is a male invention, designed to dehumanize women… Pornography is the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda.”

            The desire to watch sexual activity without identifying with women in “subordinate, degrading poses” may lead women to favor a genre in which this cannot occur, i.e., gay male pornography. For her research, Lucy Neville talked to many women who, like Schlafly and Brownmiller, expressed concern about the exploitative nature of straight porn. Neville concluded that women have a “strong desire to consume porn that is ethical in some way.” One woman who enjoys gay male material dislikes straight sexual material because most of the time the female performers do not appear to be “having a good time”—but the men sure are.

            Jessica Lindsay reports that the topic of women watching gay male erotica was discussed on Mumsnet, a popular website for parents in the UK, a few years back. One contributor spoke for many when she said: “Het porn is just grim. The twisted power dynamics are a massive turn off and much less present in gay porn.” Another woman expressed similar concerns, saying of hetero porn: “They are definitely objectifying women and not treating them like people. A lot of time it seems like the women aren’t actually enjoying it.” Sobel notes that Neville’s informants “felt that because men on screen had very visual cues that indicated sexual desire such as erections and ejaculations,” they could not just be faking pleasure. The conviction that male porn actors actually like what they do allays women’s reservations about pornography, at least when only males are involved. Anti-porn crusader Susan Brownmiller was asked about male homosexual porn and replied: “Frankly, I’m not as concerned about it. When both parties are male, there is no clear victim.”

 

Appreciating Male Beauty

Ethical reservations about hetero porn are not the only reason women enjoy viewing male-on-male action. Neville learned that some women think straight porn has too much “focus on the female body” while “gay [male]porn gives an opportunity to look at the male form and male beauty and the male face when orgasming.” Here they echo the multitudes of straight men who watch lesbian activity because they want to see “more female flesh.” A woman fan of gay male porn commented: “I find two attractive men having sex to be a very beautiful thing.” Lindsay quotes a Mumsnet comment: “Most straight porn is all about getting the man off and so focuses on the naked body of the woman and her face. Give me some abs and a nice bum any day of the week.” Kaite Welsh quotes erotica author Kristi Hancock as saying: “Most male-female porn focuses on the woman. … I like that [gay male]porn is penis-focused. That’s where the hot guys are.” Hancock cheerfully reports that watching such material helped her learn “more creative sexual positions.”

            On the social media site Reddit in 2018, a twenty-year-old heterosexual female commented that she was “grossed out” by how lacking in enthusiasm women seemed in straight porn. So she gave lesbian porn a whirl but found it didn’t turn her on. It was a different story when she watched just the guys: “The men in gay porn, I then discovered, are fifty times more attractive than the ones in straight porn.” She believes males in heterosexual erotica are “basically props,” while gay male porn “contains nothing but what I want to see: dick and male ass.” Indeed, she continues, “I had the most intense orgasm of my life watching it for the first time. I absolutely love it.”

            Human beings have a natural desire to know, or at least imagine, “how the other half lives.” Women who watch gay men getting it on often fantasize themselves as men. Fully 55 percent of the women Neville interviewed and surveyed said they imagined themselves as male when watching erotic scenes of male-male sex. “They found it quite liberating, the idea that you could pretend or imagine yourself as a man or someone who is gender fluid,” Neville reveals. It’s also true that sexual arousal often thrives on the forbidden, and clearly this is a factor in female appreciation of gay male porn. One woman acknowledged that “the naughty component is very important.”

     Women viewers also find comfort in not seeing a woman to whom they might be compared, perhaps unfavorably. Sobel observes that women “appreciated that they were not presented with a female porn star they would ‘be jealous of’ or ‘subconsciously compare themselves to,’” which would result in feeling “uncomfortable about their own bodies.” Nica Noelle may possess special insight into this topic, as she’s one of the few female directors of gay porn movies. Interviewed by Devin Clarke, Noelle speculated: “Many older, straight women may feel more comfortable watching gay porn because they don’t have to worry about measuring up to a younger, more attractive, or more sexually skilled woman on screen. When the female gay porn fan watches her ‘porn crush’ make love to another man, she can enjoy his beauty and sexual performance without the unwanted intrusion of a female with whom they feel they could never compete.”

            Noelle believes that aging women often develop crushes on gay male porn stars during their “midlife crisis.” The director explains: “It appears as though they are returning to a time in their youth when they were infatuated with teenage boy bands and read teen magazines, a time when beautiful young men were still magical and unattainable and thus largely unthreatening. It would probably seem far creepier for a middle-aged woman to be obsessing over a ‘straight’ teenage boy; it might be viewed as bordering on pedophilia. But because these are young gay men, the woman feels free to obsess about them and to watch them having sex without guilt or shame.”

            Kaite Welsh talked to another woman who directs gay male porn, Pam Dore, who remarked: “I love gay men. They’re just so much fun.” Like other women, she finds that straight porn often seems to depict women who are not really enjoying the sex, but finds an exciting “realness” in male-on-male porn.

            While gay men’s porn may turn women on, their enjoyment of it raises uncomfortable questions. Asks Welsh: “Are women becoming the oppressor instead of the oppressed? Are we just fetishizing another marginalized community?” She quotes a young gay man as saying: “It’s still objectification, people are still being exploited. Just because it’s women watching two men doesn’t make it feminist.”

 

Straight Women Watching Lesbian Sex

Not all straight women who visit same-sex porn sites are feasting their eyes on handsome hunks; sometimes they’re there for woman-on-woman action. Reports journalist Haley Swanson: “According to 2018 user data from Porn Hub, ‘lesbian’ was the number one used search term for female-identifying users.” James Besanvalle writes that a 2014 Pornhub study “found women searched the most for lesbian porn, closely followed by gay male porn.”

            Perhaps even more surprising are the findings of a study cited by Rachel Manson, who writes: “When Buzzfeed and Pornhub teamed up to conduct a study, they found that women [who use porn]are 132% more likely to search for lesbian porn than men.” Of course, we must bear in mind that men still constitute a large majority of those searching for porn of any variety. Even so, the discovery that women who do use porn are more likely than men to look for all-female material is surprising. Manson quotes a survey done by Cosmopolitan magazine of 4,000 readers who use porn, which found that “84% of straight women admitted to watching lesbian porn and 20.3% preferred it as their go-to option.” In both studies, women of all sexual orientations were included. Sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson was quoted in a Huffpost piece as remarking: “The numbers are too high for it to be just gay women. Straight women are looking at lesbian porn.”

            Why would women who are primarily attracted to men be attracted to erotica without men? Swanson believes a factor leading heterosexual women to lesbian sites is the same one that leads them to gay male sites: “a nice break from the performative aspect of girl-boy action. It’s an especially nice change from that all-too-common immediate orgasm women in heterosexual videos often portray.” According to Jenni Skyler, a sexologist and therapist at Colorado’s Intimacy Institute: “That authenticity is a big turn-on for a lot of people, especially women.” Skyler believes lesbian films help women because “It can give you permission into your own body.” Manson points out that “porn is often more about exploring fantasy rather than real life preferences.” She continues that heterosexual porn tends to be “centered on the heterosexual male’s pleasure.” She quotes sex therapist Megan Fleming, who wrote: “In lesbian porn, there really is a focus on oral sex and clitoral stimulation as the main event.” The familiarity of the bodies in lesbian porn is another draw for women. Observes Manson: “[Women] have a sense of how the scene would feel, because their bodies are designed similarly.”

            While many straight men report that they find the male body to be a turn-off, straight women are not in general averse to the appearance of the female body. After all, women’s magazines are filled with pictures of attractive women. As sex therapist and cognitive neuroscientist Nan Wise observes: “Women aren’t necessarily turned off by looking at other women even if they’re not queer.”

 

The Role of Pregnancy

In searching for the reason why some straight women gravitate toward lesbian material and many others toward gay male material, we ought not overlook what may be the most obvious fact of life: that women can get pregnant, and that this possibility, while sometimes a source of joy, can also be a source of anxiety. In the latter case, a viable alternative would be a type of pornography that has no link with pregnancy. The viewer’s comfort and arousal would not be distracted by the thought that the woman in the scene could get pregnant.

            Fantasy is a major component of erotica, but it’s not to be confused with real life. Fans of historical fiction don’t dress in the garb of their favorite era, and devotees of science fiction are not deluded as to what planet they occupy. Similarly, a woman who imagines herself as a man when watching gay men get it on is not likely to be transgender or have any kind of gender identity crisis. Nor does the straight woman who likes viewing lesbian sex need to question her sexual orientation. Fantasy is fantasy and can be enjoyed for its own sake. Straight women’s enjoyment of both gay male and lesbian pornography does not in general translate into desires or propensities in real life. Still, they represent a crossing of sex and gender boundaries that breaks down the barriers created by labels like “straight” and “gay,” leaning in toward a notion of our common ground as sexual beings.

 

References

Besanvalle, James. “Over half of women who watch gay porn ‘imagine themselves’ as men.” GayStarNews, July 18, 2018.

Clarke, Kevin. “This Female Gay Porn Director Knows Why Women Love Gay Porn.” VICE, Aug. 17, 2017.

Fitzsimons, Tim. “When no one is looking, many women are watching gay porn.” NBC Out, July 25, 2018.

Lindsay, Jessica. “Why are so many women watching male gay porn?” METRO, July 12, 2018.

Manson, Rachel. “Here’s why so many straight-leaning women love gay porn.” Bellesa, July 10, 2019

Sobel, Ariel. “Study: Many Women Prefer Gay Male Porn Because It’s ‘Authentic.’” The Advocate, July 18, 2018.

Swanson, Haley. “Straight Women Can Like Lesbian Porn Too.” Glamour, July 26, 2019.

Welsh, Kaite. “‘Watching two handsome guys? There’s nothing better.’ How women fell for gay porn.” The Telegraph, Sept. 23, 2019.

 

 

Denise Noe is a writer whose work has been published inThe Humanist, The Literary Hatchet, and other periodicals.

 

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Discussion3 Comments

  1. Gay men hate being told they are like women. when men watch women on woman they do not want to be one of them but women Fully 55 percent of the women Neville interviewed and surveyed said they imagined themselves as male when watching erotic scenes of male-male sex.
    gay and straight men do not think like women on this matter either

  2. Informing article, but…. I wish it adressed whether or not it’s okay. Is it okay to watch gay porn as a straight woman? Or is it objectifying gay men?

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