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Why Do Women Feel Bad About Doing Things That Feel Good?

Women feel greater guilt about looking at porn than do men. Why are they primed to feel bad about pleasure?

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You could go clear back to the Virgin Mary for examples of the good-girls-aren’t-sexual myth, but since Playboy was the modern genesis of easily-accessed naked pictures, let’s start there. Hugh Hefner presented men with the gift of the centerfold in 1953 (while women were looking at ads like these). It took nearly 20 years before we got the divinely hairy Burt Reynolds naked in Cosmo and even then was hiding his lil’ bandit in his hand. Hef had offered 200 centerfolds by then and we were still cockblocked. The lopsided market was long blamed on the idea that women didn’t want to see dirty pictures. Fast forward to 2009 and Oprah reports that women make up a third of the $10 billion porn market. So we are interested. And a fine illustration of the fallacy that we’re not is Britain’s Filament magazine . After it’s first issue, showing erotic images geared to women, readers told them they wanted more explicit material. Filament decided to show a man with an erection but their timid printers refused the job, fearing the wrath of religious and women’s groups. The magazine launched an online campaign to raise money for a pricier printing service. They got it. The issue sold out.

Yet A limp response to women's erotica ,” was the Guardian’s headline to this story, suggesting a wan response by women, not the actual ravenous one (not to pick on the Guardian; they give great story but not, in this case, good head).

Dr. Ian Kerner, in his CNN blog last week , said that that more women are watching porn – learning from it, using it for self arousal and watching it with their partners. He cites a study from Northwestern University saying that while men are more aroused by porn that goes with their sexual orientation that women were all over the map in terms of what turned them on. He even speculated that the web market might end up more female-geared and recommended Violet Blue and Rachel Kramer Bussel as fine places for women to start their porn or erotica journeys respectively.

What’s troubling about women’s greater guilt over compulsive porn watching is that it’s heartbreaking when good people end up feeling like bad people because their sexual interests are stigmatized. Teens are buillied to the point of suicide for being gay. Women are routinely shamed for their overt sexual behavior – whether it’s too much or too little – as Rachel Kramer Bussel recently described on this website. Planned Parenthood and its services gets stigmatized – and nearly defunded as a result. The fear that someone, somewhere might be having an unauthorized orgasm can lead us to dreadful, dreadful places.

Dr. Kerner’s guess about a more female-lead market might prove correct if Dr. Paul’s class is any indication. When he asked his students whether they would be upset if they knew their partner was using porn, most of the women said no; none of the guys said they’d be bothered.

At a guess I’d say the reason they wouldn’t mind a girlfriend who likes porn is the relief of transparency: how nice to have one less thing to hide from your partner, one more pleasure to share, a way to learn what they like without actually having to ask, a way to see someone else but be with that one person. How nice not to sidle into the pervert annex alone, but giggling and together?

Hopefully fewer women will feel guilty because of their desires, whether that desire is to stop watching porn, to start or to share it with their lovers. It’s nice to know I’m not the only woman behind the swinging saloon doors anymore. A whole third of the market is in there with me.

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