Pornography and sexual relationships: discursive challenges for young women Academic Article uri icon


  • In Australia and many countries, pornography offers omnipresent, stimulating, easily accessible sexual content; it is an increasing contributor to social meaning-making in women’s sexual lives, including their relationships. Previous research tended to focus on adverse outcomes without considering how women might experience pornography’s interaction with intimacy and relationships. We therefore sought women’s perspectives through in-depth interviews about pornography conducted with 27 young self-identified women, who have or intended to have sex with men, living in Australia. Analysis of their accounts revealed that young women are perplexed by the interaction of pornography with relationships and attempt to make sense of what it means through discourses of intimacy, fidelity, and sexual freedom. Seven associated (often contradictory) systems of statements contributing to these discourses were identified: Pornography mediates intimacy; Men are the gatekeepers of intimacy; For intimacy, women need to objectify themselves to compete with pornography; Religions equate pornography with infidelity; Using pornography is relaxation and therefore not infidelity; Men have an inherent right to sexual fulfilment; and Sexual freedom is paramount. Women’s accounts prioritised the needs of men, relationships, and the ideal of sexual freedom; no discourse prioritised women’s needs. These insights can be used to understand the complex association between women’s sexual relationships and pornography and as a contribution to appropriate clinical support when it is requested.

publication date

  • 2020