Re-assessing audiences: how and why do women consume pornography in contemporary Britain?

Hurst, Emily Suzanne (2011). Re-assessing audiences: how and why do women consume pornography in contemporary Britain? University of Birmingham. M.Phil.


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Natasha Walter has stated that we are, ‘growing up in a world where pornography is ubiquitous and will be part of almost everyone’s sexual experience’ (2010: 102). With reference to this view and towards widespread acknowledgement of an ever increasing female audience of pornographic texts, this thesis attempts to explore how and why heterosexual women are actively consuming heterosexual mainstream pornography in contemporary Britain (Walter, 2010; Levy, 2006; Alexander 2008). It explores how women approach the consumption of pornography in differing ways, yet still within a constricting patriarchal framework that seeks to promote a narrow yet contradictory notion of acceptable female sexuality. It further analyses the effects of capitalism, feminism, the hypersexualisation of contemporary culture and the importance placed on being ‘sexual’, as contextual influences that shape and promote the consumption of pornographic materials.

By conducting a set of questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, I seek to gather the individual stories and views of a small number of women who identify themselves as heterosexual in and around the Birmingham area, focusing on the ways in which a relationship with the pornographic text is established and negotiated within an individual context. I am specifically targeting heterosexually-identified women, as their relationship with pornography is an especially under-researched area. Heterosexual women are generally seen as the dominated party in mainstream heterosexual pornography, making their relationship with the text seemingly problematic; an assumption that warrants more in-depth exploration.

I conclude by reflecting on the continuing, significant unease felt by heterosexual women in embracing a fluid, multiple and unapologetic female sexuality. I suggest that if women truly want to be active in controlling their personal notions of sexuality, then the shackles of this unease need to be erased: heterosexual women must break free from the framework of ‘acceptable sexual behaviour’ that has been imposed on them.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.Phil.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.Phil.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Culture, Art History and Music
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PE English


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