Pornography and Heterosexual Women's Intimate Experiences with a Partner

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2019 Sep;28(9):1254-1265. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2018.7006. Epub 2019 Apr 18.


Background: Pornographic media characterized by discordant images of sexual pleasure and aggression are increasingly formulating young heterosexual women's sexual scripts. Yet there has been little work done on the downstream role of pornography consumption; how does pornography use relate to heterosexual women's thoughts and feelings during sexual experiences with a partner? Methods: We surveyed 706 heterosexual women (18-29 years of age) in the United States, associating consumption of pornography with sexual preferences, experiences, and concerns. Results: Although most heterosexual women have seen pornography (83%), a little less than half (43.5%) use it for masturbation, half of whom use it one time per month or less. Among female consumers who were sexually active, higher rates of consumption for masturbation were associated with increased mental activation of the pornographic script during sex-heightened recall of pornographic images during sex with a partner, heightened reliance on pornography for achieving and maintaining arousal, and a preference for pornography consumption over sex with a partner. Furthermore, higher activation of the pornographic script during sex, rather than simply viewing pornographic material, was also associated with higher rates of insecurities about their appearance and diminished enjoyment of intimate acts such as kissing or caressing during sex with a partner. Conclusion: These findings suggest that pornography consumption may relate to female consumers' sexual experiences indirectly and indicate that pornographic thoughts during dyadic sexual encounters may not improve heterosexual women's sexual experiences with a partner.

Keywords: cognitive script theory; female sexuality; pornography; relationships; sexual health.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Erotica / psychology*
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult