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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?

The first time I rented porn alone I wasn’t really alone.  There were other customers in the store, a small chain, popular in the days before Blockbuster had swallowed and sanitized most neighborhood VHS rental outlets. Back then most video stores had a back room where you could find adult films, typically separated from God’s wholesome sunlit earth by a set of white, swinging saloon doors, so that you'd feel like a big sex outlaw just by swaggering in. Which you never did. You skulked casually past a few times before sidling into the pervert annex and getting knocked in the face with an array of filth beyond your wildest dreams.

I was not always the only woman behind the swinging doors but I was almost always the only one who was alone.

It was a little discomfiting but it was also exciting. I was young, curious and not about to let a embarrassment stand between me titles like “The Czech is in the Male.”

Modern women don’t have to worry about this. They don’t have feign coolness when they bring their chosen stimulus package to some smirky little clerk at the end of their journey. They can turn on their computer in the privacy of their own home and an embarrassment of wieners will bloom before their very eyes, if that’s what they want, and no one will be there to judge them for it.

Except, evidently, themselves.

Jason Dean, a counselor at a UK porn counseling service says in The Guardian the the number of women he hears from with concerns about their X-rated viewing habits has jumped from a couple in previous years to about 70 per year and that they feel bad about it in a way men don’t: "There's a real sense among women that it's bad, dirty, wrong and they're often unable to get beyond that." Phillip Hodson of the British Association of Counseling and Psyhcotherapy said in the piece that many women may feel guilty for being unable to reconcile their enjoyment of the images with the feeling of objectification of women.

What hooked me like a fish was the Guardian story subhead: “Increasing numbers of women admit to being hooked on internet porn. Why is this happening, and where are they finding help?”

See, to me, the porn is or would seem to be the help, a small rush of pleasure which, like a little wine, a long talk or a South Park episode, makes the day better. Sexually explicit images facilitate arousal which facilitates orgasm, during which our brains release pleasing chemicals and our lateral orbitofrontal cortex – seat of reason and control – momentarily shuts down, giving us that break we’re always asking for. It’s a lovely gift from nature, presumably to make up for things like stinging insects, summer colds and other people. And it’s and free, inside our bodies; all you have to do is pump the keg.

The women cited in the Guardian story, however, feel they are addicted and feel more guilty about this than their male counterparts. Bryant Paul, Ph.d, Professor of Telecommunications and Affiliated Faculty with the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University says that part of the guilt is just good old stigmatizing nice-girls-don’t with an added techno-twist.

“We’re seeing more male nudity and more women exposed to that who are having sexually arousing response and it’s becoming acceptable,” he says. The web, which used to be fringe and subversive, has now become the norm, so mainstream outlets have had to become more risqué to keep up: he cites “True Blood,” which he jokingly calls “True Porn,” as an example of this and of how sex in mainstream media is less stigmatized. To illustrate that, on the day we spoke he asked his students whether it would be okay for a student’s parents to see a Hustler vs. a Maxim magazine on their coffee table: Maxim was deemed ok, Hustler wasn’t.

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