Women’s experiences of pornography: A systematic review of research using qualitative methods Academic Article uri icon


  • Given the proliferation of pornography in personal, relational, and social realms, it is vital to understand women's experiences of this accessible, stimulating, and versatile sexual material. We therefore conducted the first systematic review of research using qualitative methods published in English in peer-reviewed journals. Our search of five databases yielded 22 eligible articles. Thematic analysis of results revealed four broad themes: women encountering pornography, pornography and the self, pornography in the context of relationships, and making sense of pornography. Discussion of themes and subthemes included reflections on women's explanations of intentional and unintentional encounters with pornography, conflicted perceptions of themselves in relation to female pornography actors, diverse perceived effects of pornography on intimate relationships, and tensions between women's arousal to pornography and their values. It was evident that women's experiences of pornography are complex and nuanced, often paradoxical, varying among and within individuals. Our synthesis of results and assessment of limitations suggest (a) that researchers need to define what they mean by pornography and specify any content used in their research and (b) that understanding would be enriched by research that is culturally contextualized and acknowledges public discourses about pornography.

publication date

  • 2018