Porn Science: Female Sexual Response Is Contrary to Popular Belief | Best of ’16


Let’s talk about a particularly provocative
set of experiments that Meredith Chivers has done. This is fascinating Canadian research I’ve
spent so much time with. So several years ago when I first got interested
in her work and I kind of stumbled into her lab. I was working on a different unrelated project
at the time. When I stumbled into her lab I found her showing
an array of pornography – so men with women, women with women, men alone, women alone,
and even bonobos having sex to self-identified straight women, gay women, straight men, gay
men. And measuring both their physical response
that is vaginal or response in terms of erection for men and then their subjective response
via keypad. How turned on do I say I am. And finding something fascinating which was
that the male response was pretty predictable. The straight men actually did mostly just
get turned on to men with women or women with women. Gay men equally predictable. The women were very unpredictable and kind
of anarchic in at least their physical response. Again there was this big dichotomy. The women were saying I’m turned on by what
I “should be turned on” by straight women, by, you know, men with women or to a certain
degree I suppose men with men and gay women by images of women, et cetera. But their bodies were saying something completely
different and their bodies were saying they were turned on by all of it. And perhaps most strikingly you might think
those bonobos having sex would at least reach something animalistic in men. No the men showed zero response subjectively
or physically. But the women did show this physical response
to the image of bonobos having sex. So a lot of interesting things about this,
probably too many to name but one for sure is that the idea of women’s sexuality as
somehow more controlled needs to be put aside if we’re going to do any serious searching
about Eros in women. And too this idea that women are somehow less
visual, less immediate in their sexuality than men. Again you need to put that aside if we’re
going to do any serious looking at truths about women’s sexuality. Now here’s a bit of later Chivers research
that both goes along with but also pulls us in a slightly different direction than that
original set of studies. So remember part of the original set of studies
shows women being quite anarchic in what they’re drawn to. Chivers decides okay, let me take a set of
straight women, self-declared straight women and show them just four types of photographs
and see what happens. Four types of pornographic photographs. So we’ve got a flaccid – and these are
kind of disembodied genital shots just so we have nothing to distract us, not a pretty
face, not a handsome face, et cetera. So we’ve got a dangling flaccid penis. We’ve got an erect penis. We’ve got a kind of coy soft porn female
crotch shot, legs together. And then we’ve got a legs spread more hard
core shot. So the straight women do respond to all of
it physically. But that erect penis sends the plethysmograph,
a measure of physical response, soaring. And it’s just an indication again of rawness,
immediacy and just a kind of this is about sex. Let’s be careful before we complicate it
with all the factors that we eventually complicate female sexuality with. There is a core to this and we shouldn’t
be so quick to look away from it.