Gender Equality In Porn Is Evening Out, Says Study, But Objectification Is Still A Problem For Everyone

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, but I think porn is pretty fun. However, that doesn't mean it's not still problematic — a point which new research about gender equality in porn drives home. According to the study, which was published recently in the Journal of Sex Research, gender equality is evening out; the trouble is, by “evening out,” what I mean is that both men and women face an absurd amount of objectification in porn videos. Furthermore, the ways they're objectified are different. Porn may be fun, but let's not forget that we also need to be smart about not only what we watch, but how we watch it.

Although some research has been done about the effects of porn on viewers, not a heck of a lot has been done about the content itself. That's what researchers Marleen J. E. Klaassen and Jochen Peter wanted to tackle, because hey, it's worth understanding exactly what it is that we're consuming. Accordingly, they “conducted a content analysis of three main dimensions of gender (in)equality” — that is, objectification, power, and violence — in a decent-sized swathe of porn videos available online. Here's what they found:

The Videos:

First, let's take a look at what we're dealing with. Klaassen and Peter analyzed 400 videos across four popular porn websites: Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorb, and xHamster. They used the top 100 most viewed videos for each site during the month they conducted their research (that is, February of 2013); these videos had been watched anywhere between 300,000 and 52,600,000 times and covered both contemporary mainstream porn in both the amateur and professional arenas. On average, they lasted about 24 minutes in length, totaling just shy of 108 hours of video.

Over half of the videos came from the U.S.; Europe made up another 28.8 percent of them, with Japan and other countries filling out the last eight or nine percent combined (4.8 percent from Japan, 3.5 percent from other countries). 76 percent of the scenes analyzed showed heterosexual sex between one man and one woman; 9.5 percent depicted threesomes; 6.8 percent showed group sex of four or more people; 4.5 percent showed lesbian sex (although it's not noted whether it was the kind of lesbian porn that's clearly meant for straight dudes); and 3 percent depicted masturbation.

The Method:

The videos were then coded by four Dutch coders according to a series of categories arrived at during a pilot study from 2011. The dimension of objectification consisted of two subcategories: Instrumentality—that is, “a female or male body used for another person's sexual gratification” — and (de)humanization, or “whether a person was depicted as having feelings and thoughts, and as making their own choices.” Power, meanwhile, was measured via hierarchy and dominance and submission. Violence was coded by “physically violent acts and responses to these acts,” as well as to forms of coerced sex.

The Results:

Violence and non-consensual sex were both on the rare side of things (much to my relief); furthermore, men and women didn't often differ in terms of social or professional status, although men were more frequently dominant and women were more frequently submissive. The really interesting stuff came out in the objectification analysis: Both men and women suffered from being objectified — but for women, that objectification was more frequently at the hands of instrumentality, while for men, it was through dehumanization. In layperson's terms, the focus with women was more often on their body parts and on the pleasure those body parts gave men, rather than on the women's pleasure; men, on the other hand, rarely had their faces shown.

The Takeaway:

This one's easy: Gender equality is shrinking in porn, but not necessarily in a good way. I mean, I realize that there's only so much we can expect from our porn — we don't really watch it for its well-developed stories or top-tier acting — but… well, let me put it this way: On the one hand, everybody is getting objectified; but on the other, everybody is getting objectified. From an ideological standpoint, what we should really strive for is gender equality without objectification, although I don't know whether that's going to happen anytime soon.

So What's Next?

I can't exactly say the results of the study (which, by the way, you can read in its entirety here) are surprising; they are, however, still interesting. As always, what we have here is correlation, but not causation: Why are men and women objectified in such different ways? Are there some types of porn — non-mainstream ones, perhaps — that don't display the same tendencies? Given the sheer volume of porn on the Internet, 400 videos isn't all that much in the grand scheme of things; I'd be interested to see further studies that take the jumping off point identified in this one to even greater levels of depth. Also, what can we learn about our choice in content? If we're given the option between porn with the standard amount of objectification and porn without it, which would we pick? There's a lot of room left to explore here; I just hope we go there. What we watch says a lot about who we are.

Read the full study here.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy (5)