Yes, Women Do Buy Porn

In the last couple of weeks there's been a flurry of discussion about women and porn, mainly due to the results of the latest Nielsen Netratings survey. The statistics reveal that almost one third of porn viewers are women, and in September alone 9.4 million American women accessed porn intentionally.

Interestingly, the sites and journals reporting that women were looking at porn were mostly religious ones, serving up the information with a tone of dismay. This is because a survey by Today's Christian Woman released at the same time as the Nielsen poll revealed that 34% of those women surveyed had intentionally sought out porn. That's right folks, even Good Chaste Christian Women are seeking out a little bit of naughty entertainment on the net.

After more than three years of marketing to women, it's good to have some solid statistics to back up my involvement and belief in this niche. I knew I wasn't the only woman who liked porn!

Nonetheless, cynicism still seems to reign when it comes to the "for women" niche. One of the main objections to these latest statistics runs along the lines of: "Oh sure, women might look at porn, but they don't buy." This broad generalization is usually followed by the next one: "It's because women aren't visual."

The latter statement is nonsensical in the face of the Nielsen poll. Clearly women are looking at porn and getting off on it - even the good churchgoing ones.

The idea that women are misers when it comes to porn is a little more difficult to disprove, if only because no proper studies have been done in this area within our industry, or outside of it. The best I can offer is anecdotal evidence, from my own experiences and from others.

How many women frequent major mainstream paysites is at present known only to their proprietors, but I think - given the sheer numbers quoted in the Nielsen poll - it may be fair to assume that many do have female members. It also appears that smaller, well designed specialty sites attract paying women. LoriWorld, a glamour photography site run by Lori Mann, maintains a customer base of 75% women. Angel, a spokeswoman for Lori, reveals that the numbers have been that way since the site opened 3 years ago. Killshot, owner of fetish/erotica site, says 35-40% of his members are women. And an article in from June 2002 reported that significant percentages of women were members of the sub-culture porn sites Suicide Girls, Raveporn and Supercult.

All of these sites ostensibly cater to a male audience by offering photos of naked women. At the same time, they differ from standard porn sites in that they are quite niche-specific, and revolve around personalities or a community. Of significance is the fact that these sites don't make use of the standard language of porn ("bitch, slut, whore") and they market themselves as being pro-sex.

In terms of sites created specifically for women, the evidence is again largely anecdotal. Certainly the market is easily supporting at least ten "for women" paysites. Speaking from my own experience, I've been happily making a living from marketing to women almost since the moment I started in this business.

So I think it's fair to say that women are buying porn. At present, of course, they're not buying in the numbers that men are, and the reasons behind this are varied.

Firstly, the vast majority of porn out there is not marketed to women. Indeed, it's not even created for them. Most porn is created for the male viewer, and follows conventions that exist to recreate male fantasy. If women aren't buying, it's because the industry is not asking them to buy. It's barely even asking itself what kind of porn a woman would want to buy, let along trying to offer it. Hence, horny female surfers are turning to sites that at least offer them an open door, through its language, outlook and community.

Secondly, a lot of the porn labeled as being "for women" is actually for gays. A continuing misconception within the industry is that naked men are all women want to see. This is resulting in women constantly encountering what I call "pretend 4women" sites with gay ads and gay hardcore in their search for porn. Even some "for women" paysites feature hardcore gay content. The net result of this confusion is that women are now dismissing porn as being "all gay" and feeling hesitant to buy when the real thing is offered to them.

Thirdly, women have to overcome more obstacles towards accepting the idea of buying porn. Our society has always expected women to be the upholders of morality, not sexual beings who enjoy gratifying themselves. Girls don't grow into a culture of porn in the way that boys do. While teen boys are sniggering about a Playboy, teen girls are reading Cosmopolitan and wondering if their butt looks big. So when a woman goes looking for porn, it seems less "natural" than it does to a guy. This culturally-induced reticence can result in a greater reluctance to pay for porn. Of course, today's young women are far more open to exploring their own sexuality, and surveys have shown that it's the younger chicks who are seeking porn out. And as porn becomes more mainstream, women will become more comfortable with their own porn use, but it's an uphill battle at the moment.

Fourthly, women don't go temporarily insane just because they're horny. They may be keen to get off, but it doesn't make them forget that the bills need to be paid. On top of this, women are used to shopping. They're used to weighing up the pros and cons of an item when making a decision to purchase - even when it's an impulse buy. With porn, women are keen to know what they'll get for their money, and they want to know they won't be ripped off. If we consider that the standard porn site tour is based on graphic appeals to the penis (and vague details about anything else), then it's not surprising that women don't spend as much as men. In my experience women want as much information as possible and that means plenty of text. Pre-selling the site, and making reassurances about security and privacy are vital. Pushing the idea of value for money is also useful.

To sum up, a lot of women do buy porn, albeit in a far more careful and nervous fashion. And if some of them aren't buying, isn't it time we stopped making assumptions about "women" and started to address the reasons why? Isn't it time we stopped blaming the customer and started catering to them instead?

At present, our industry is doing very little to accommodate what has previously been a "hidden" part of the market. A major shift in attitudes and habits is required to truly take advantage of women's interest in porn.

Originally published at YNOT News, April 2003