Women on Porn: Take Part in the UK’s largest survey of women’s views on online pornography

Women on Porn: Take Part in the UK’s largest survey of women’s views on online pornography

Most of what we know about porn is based on men. It’s time we change that.

Last month the largest ever survey of UK women’s views and experiences of mainstream online pornography was launched. Led by myself and colleagues at Durham University, www.womenonporn.org, is seeking to capture the range of women’s views on mainstream online pornography, as well as the extent of accidental exposure and their use and exposure.

So far, almost 500 women have had their say. Already what is clear is that women do not all think about porn in the same way, nor have they had the same - or even similar - experiences. This supports the findings of two of the biggest previous studies particularly examining women’s views and use of pornography (one in the UK and one in Canada), though neither of these were looking at online porn. Both studies found that there was no single attitude, pathway, or experience of pornography that could be classified as ‘women’s’. Instead of seeking to find the way that women respond to pornography then, it is more useful to think through what is the same and what is different amongst women’s responses. And this is what the www.womenonporn.org project seeks to do.

I came to this project through my experience delivering specialists Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in secondary schools. The Women’s Equality Party have rightly identified this as a key form of primary prevention of violence against women, and I know first-hand that their support for SRE across the educational journey (in an age-appropriate manner all the ways through to university) is a crucial part of creating equality for women in the UK.

For almost a decade I worked at a London based Rape Crisis Centre, designing and delivering sexual violence prevention work with young people. Combined with this I was involved in a research project through the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit on young people’s understandings of sexual consent.

The work was important and effective, but the ways in which some of the messages were being taken up by the young people started to concern me. I became aware that the focus on sexual consent and the realities of sexual violence meant that we were inadvertently feeding into something positioning the young women as people whose sexual selves were acted on, rather than as sexual agents who could and did act through their bodies and out into the world. The very framing of consent which we were drawing on seemed to hold within it the suggestion that the best we can hope for is that women agree to sex. Women give consent. Men get it. Never that women could be the sexual initiator. Never that they are the desiring agent.

And this should worry us. Because although this may reflect the reality in the lives of many women, it reinforces rather than combats the sexual double standard – where boys are rewarded for being sexual agents and girls are punished. And that can have significant consequences, as seen in the recent acquittal of Ched Evans after a defence case built on the complainant’s previous sexual history.

I’m interested in women’s sexual autonomy and specifically whether women experience online pornography as increasing or constraining their space for sexual action. Or both at the same time. Or something completely different. I’m interested in the contexts it is used or seen in. I want to know more about how it makes different women feel.

Because though there isn’t a unitary ‘woman’s position’ on porn, we need women’s voices to be at the heart of any movement for gender equality. And this is an area which for far too long has been dominated by the voices, experiences, and views of men.

The survey is live until the end of the year, completely anonymous, and you can choose to enter a draw to win £20 in gift vouchers. Face to face interviews will be held across the UK in 2017 and you can choose to participate here.

This is your chance to take part in the largest ever survey of UK women’s views on mainstream online pornography. If you have anything to say about online porn, take part and make sure you have your voice heard.

Dr. Fiona Vera-Gray is a research fellow at Durham Law School at Durham University. She will be speaking at the Women’s Equality Party conference on 25 – 27 November. Click here to book tickets >>


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