Researcher Says Women's Porn Poised for Huge Growth

Mar 19, 2015 7:00 AM PST

LOS ANGELES — For the past 30 years, Dr. Edward Shorter and his Toronto-based company have been studying the sociological changes in the realm of sexuality, offering expertise, opinions and research in a field rarely touched by everyday think tanks or consulting firms normally skittish about sex — especially porn.

But with the continued mainstream acceptance of adult materials and products, and sexuality in general, Shorter’s work is presenting itself as a welcomed resource for companies and individuals that realize they’re in a serious business that’s growing every day.

Not shy about the subject matter, Shorters’ company has helped identify new growth in the fields of LGBT, BDSM, the Internet and the burgeoning area of women’s interest in porn. “These enormous changes are recent, and have taken society largely by surprise. Laws, community standards, and the values of older people, whose sexual worlds were formed decades ago, have not caught up. Friction points are common, and heat up in the media and the courts,” Shorter’s website explains.

It’s the area of women’s interest in porn — a hot button in today’s adult arena — that XBIZ found most timely and asked Shorter to focus upon.

The researcher and author of “Wriiten in the Flesh: A History of Desire” shared his thoughts, quanitfying what those in adult have instinctively been working toward in the last few years, imparting some valuable information for adult companies interested in the "next big thing."

XBIZ: Tell us about your company — Edward Shorter Associates — and how it’s involved with sexual behavior and the adult industry?

Shorter: My company tracks trends in sexuality. The one we’re on top of right now is women downloading porn, and we have access to a distinctive proprietary data base, the Canadian Print Measurement Bureau’s (PMB) surveys of thousands of respondents comparing 2004 and 2014. One of the questions is: “Have you visited an adult site in the last 30 days?” Our analysis of these data shows a huge increase in women downloading porn: 1.6 percent of the female survey population in 2004, 7.1 percent in 2014. This is huge (the percent of males visiting porn sites rose from 7.0 percent to 19.4 percent).

XBIZ: Did you begin your career in the field of human sexuality?

Shorter: I began my career as a social historian with an interest in the history of the family, which led to my book The Making of the Modern Family (Basic Books, 1975), one of the foundation stones of the field of family history.  Research segues easily from family into sexuality, and it became clear that very little was known about the history of erotic life — in the sense of desires. How do desires change?  And if they do change, what is the role of the adult industry in changing them?  Simulatneously, I have been interested in the history of psychiatry, and have published a number of books in this area.

XBIZ: What was your first in-depth study in the field?

Shorter: It was my book, “Written in the Flesh” in 2005. (2005).

XBIZ: Tell us about the book.

Shorter: Lots of people felt that sexuality was one of those things like love for children that really didn’t change at all (both views are false). I was pretty sure that the sexuality of the 1980s was different from that of Catholic Europe, and set out to demonstrate it.

The book’s essential argument was that in the middle of the 19th century a “great breakout” began from the highly restrictive sexuality endorsed by the Church in earlier centuries. The breakout stressed the eroticizing of the entire body, rather than just the face and genitals. This process reached a kind of culmination in the 1960s, and when I researched ‘Written in the Flesh’ in the late 1980s I thought that was probably the end of the story.  We wouldn’t need another history of sexuality for the next 50 years. But I was wrong. There have been big changes in the last 20 years, and that’s what interests me now.

XBIZ: You’ve recently penned a post on your blog for “Psychology Today” on the recent changes in sexuality with a focus on women’s acceptance of porn.  Please briefly explain your key findings?

Shorter: Women are becoming big customers in the adult market. I noted above that they are using much more pornography than ever before. And the women involved in this are increasingly middle-class, middle-aged, and have managerial jobs. They are also committed to stable relationships, so this is not some curious population of freaks.  Interestingly, by 2014  female porn users were endorsing risk-taking of various kinds more commonly than women in the survey as a whole, so in this respect their attitudes are more adventurous.

XBIZ: Do you think your findings will affect the adult industry? If yes, how so?

Shorter: These PMB data that we have analyzed point to a new porn market: upscale, older women. Traditionally, porn has been overwhelming for males interested in seven-minute “gonzo” loops. This new women’s market is miles away from that male clientele.  Women don’t necessarily want sucky romances, but they don’t want a lot of pounding either.  As one woman wrote in response to my recent ‘Psychology Today’ blog post, “Here’s what I want to see: clitoral and breast stimulation, women having orgasms, safe  sex (no anal immediately followed by vaginal, then oral), use of lube, attractive women of all ages and figures ...” She said she had searched often online for this and was having great difficulty finding it.

XBIZ: What’s your opinion on the burgeoning couples and women’s (created by and for women) porn market?

Shorter: The increasing social acceptance of porn means that men and women can watch it together without either of them feeling embarrassed. Porn was once definitely something that men did not share with women, keeping their porn use secret because they  did not wish to be considered “perverts,” or, later in life, “dirty old men.” Now, sexuality is seen as a means of enhancing personal growth, and porn is important because it expands the erotic imagination, thus helping to drive personal growth. It’s increasingly a couples’ experinece. 

As for women in solitude, many now claim the same right to erotic satisfaction that men have always had; prior to the introduction of The Pill in the early 1960s, it is difficult to speak of erotic satisfaction for women as a whole because they were constantly mindful of the risk of pregnancy. This new push for female pleasure is going to become a very powerful trend.

Created by women?  This, too, is a terrific growth area. A number of adult directors and executives are women. We need a lot more of this.

XBIZ: Talk a bit about your opinions on the emerging BDSM zeitgeist.

Shorter: One of the things feeding this new porn market is the increasing acceptance of the concept of “transfer of power.” Women have been having tremendous success in the job place; they often make more than their partners, and they are no longer content with just being the passive receptacles of male desire. The novel ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has done a great deal to put this concept of transfer of power on the table for discussion, and, once on the table, women are opting to be tops as well as bottoms like Ana in the novel.  The psychodrama of BDSM, if not all the physical stuff, is clearly moving mainline.

XBIZ: Is porn becoming more socially acceptable to the mainstream? Is this a North American or global phenomenon?

Shorter: In Western Europe and Scandinavia, porn is even more acceptable to the mainstream than in North America. Markets in Asia, the Subcontinent, and Africa are rapidly opening. The U.S. still suffers from a kind of Puritan inheritance in which pleasure equals sin. This is being broken down now in big chunks, but in the smalltown American south, adult stores remain as welcome as satan worship. What we are seeing in the U.S. as a whole, however, is a convergence of soft porn and mainstream. This is quite dramatic in the form of fetish in the fashion scene or in the club scene.

XBIZ: Will more in-depth human sexuality research become a part of the adult industry’s marketing research and strategy?

Shorter: To get a sense of where the market is going, such research is essential. If you still think your market is Joe Lunchbucket downloading stroke-sessions while the family is out shopping, you might not be around five years from now.

XBIZ: Give us an example of how this research can be applied to products, films, etc.

Shorter: OK, here’s the thing: The motor of growth is personal development and the erotic imagination. How do we apply this to product development? What kinds of toys and vids help people to grow their personalities? (1) Anything that strengthens a couple’s sense of mutuality, their excitement at undertaking a new voyage together. Floggers?  Sure. But present them as part of the ‘Fifty-Shades’ voyage of exploration rather than how to whack your partner for ten minutes. (2) Insertion toys? Great, but present them as part of a learn-your-body strategy, not Holy Cow, here’s a new way of getting off. (3) Couples vids? Need more of this, less pounding (which women find tedious). But the emphasis should be on heightening each other’s arousal (D/S is perfect for this) rather than “Betty Falls in Love.”

XBIZ: What are the biggest growth areas for adult products in your estimation?

Shorter: My above answers make clear that the market is shifting towards older, prosperous, curious women. Adult has not done a good job of reaching this market, which is the very last demographic on earth that would have downloaded porn in previous times.  So, new thinking required.

More Adult Industry News »
About / Contact