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50 Shades of Porn

Pornography has traditionally been an industry that caters almost entirely to men. There have always been exceptions, of course, but it was predominantly men who bought the magazines and videos in a pre-digital age and it has been men who have made pornography a multi-billion dollar industry in the Internet age. If the industry has its way, that is about to change.

We tend to believe that men are particularly prone to the allure of pornography. Men tend to be stimulated visually, men tend to have a more prominent sex drive—we’ve heard the reasons. But consider this: What if that relationship between men and pornography is related to a very specific kind of pornography? What if women haven’t been drawn to pornography at least in part because the industry simply hasn’t attempted to create and market pornography that will appeal primarily to them? And what if that is about to change?

Women, you need to be aware because the pornographers are coming after you. Yes, you.

There is much that can be said about the 50 Shades of Grey series of books; what is beyond dispute is that the books—there are currently 65 million in print—shocked the publishing world by revealing the existence of a previously untapped market. The secret is out: There are millions of women who will read pornography even if they have little interest in watching it. Publishers, both mainstream and pornographic, are taking note. They are studying the 50 Shades phenomenon to see how they can duplicate it, or at least cash in on its success. Like any industry, they have surveys and focus groups and statistics and endless amounts of data that first measure and then transform behavior. 

A recent article at CNBC explains that traditional pornography was created by men, for men. This pornography tends to eschew anything more than the most rudimentary plot in favor of the blatant display of extreme fantasies. It is pure carnality and women tend not to find it particularly alluring. In fact, many find it downright repulsive, especially if they think that their husbands want them to act out some of these things. But 50 Shades and other recent products are proving, to the surprise of many, that women, too, are sexual. Where pornographers once thought that most women simply weren’t interested, now they are seeing that women may be very interested, but that it will take a different kind of product. The industry is branching out in an attempt to take advantage. They are now working hard to create pornography for women.

In contrast to the pornography so prevalent today, this new pornography has a story, a plot. The founder and president of one company says, “We’re not shooting hardcore positions or the more extreme elements of X-rated films. This is more making love than [vulgar term].” It focuses on issues that may resonate with women: falling in love for the first time or an exciting escape from a marriage that has lost its spark. It is essentially a romantic comedy, a lighthearted romance novel, but with the sexual content ramped up both in length and in explicitness. After all, what is 50 Shades of Grey but a romance with 60 or 70 pages of graphic, kinky sex? One female screenwriter and director of this kind of film is quoted at Slate saying, “We’ve done enough research on that demographic to know that a large percentage of women watching our stuff do not want to see [graphic, vulgar sex acts]. … They want connected sex and lots of foreplay. We find that older couples enjoy watching this because they’re of the age before the internet, and what we’re offering is something that’s so much more tame and built into the moment instead of just being right there in your face.”

Pornographers are even creating more films for couples. This is porn that may span the gap; it is a little too tame for men and a little too racy for women, but it is meant to be experienced together. It is a means to invite others into the couple’s bedroom, even if only virtually. It may even serve as a gateway, a means for a man to introduce his wife to porn.

In any case, whether the pornography is for men or women or couples, the heart of it is the same. It is all about fantasy, all about imagining yourself in a different context with a different person doing different things.It is a man imagining a woman who behaves like a man, or it is a woman imagining a man who behaves like a woman.

This pornography for women is already available and more is on the way. A lot more. This industry knows what appeals to men and they have known exactly how to market it, exactly where to put it, to get them to buy in. And now they are coming after women. They are studying women and learning exactly how to market it and exactly where to put it to get you, too, to buy in. If they were so successful with men, should we scoff and imagine they couldn’t possibly be as successful with women?

Women may imagine looking at this kind of pornography and roll their eyes, thinking that they will be immune to it. But remember, there are many products you use today, many products you can’t imagine your life without, that would have generated the same reaction. If ten years ago someone had described Facebook to you, you would have laughed out loud. A lot of people laughed at the iPhone and the automobile too. We often don’t know what we want or need until those very things are marketed to us. They are marketed skillfully and subtly and in increasing measure. 

I hope that the industry is less successful in creating pornography that appeals so well to women and is so easily available to them. I hope that women are more discerning than men when it comes to the allure of pornography and that they are equipped to successfully resist it. But with all the devastation pornography has brought to men, their families, their churches, why wouldn’t Satan attempt to repeat this master stroke? To this point the allure of pornography has mostly been felt by men even while so much of the pain of it has been dumped upon their wives. Tomorrow we may have just as many wounded men, weeping for what they have discovered and never would have suspected about the women they love.

There is no reason to fear, but there is every reason to be aware. There is every reason to be humble and to doubt yourself. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). There is every reason to make this a matter for prayer.