Lace and Leather: The Misrepresentation of Women in Pornography

Media in the form of pornography is something that people consider taboo to talk about.  It may be because people are uncomfortable with their own bodies, let alone perfectly airbrushed strangers’.  However, the representation of different genders in pornography needs to be talked about. When porn is examined for differences in its treatment of different genders, the viewer notices a separation before even beginning a video.  The way that pornography is categorized uses labels that appeal to their target audience, which is no surprise to be heterosexual men.  Some of these labeling categories include MILF, gangbang (usually featuring a woman as the centerpiece), lesbian, step-mom, babe, squirt, teen, etc.  The thumbnails above the categories are all pictures of women.  The only non-woman categories are gay and male solo.  Even the racial categories are represented by women of that race rather than men or both.  The common theme is obvious; the pictures of hyper-sexualized women are to catch the eyes of heterosexual men because that is what is considered the social norm for watching pornography. 

The violence portrayed in pornography further demonstrates the negative representation of women.  Pornography objectifies women as sex toys in bondage scenes and rape scenes.  Typically they comprise women as the submissive and men or multiple men as the dominant force.  This glorification of violence towards women influences viewers to create the rape culture that exists today (Cuklanz 2006).  As young boys are learning about sex through pornography, they are seeing examples of men hitting women or having nonconsensual sex.  With sexual violence towards women as a social norm in adolescents’ primary source of sexual education, certain sexual expectations are created but inherently not met.  These are known as “rape myths” (Cuklanz 2006).  The disappointment following not meeting a sexual expectation could potentially ruin a romantic relationship that was successful otherwise.  The value that pornography puts on sex in a relationship is ridiculous compared to what people generally describe.  Most couples are together based on their emotional attraction, not their sexual “success.”  This illusion of the sexual perfection of pornography teaches that sex is the unit by which a couple should measure their relationship.

The aspect of pornography through the eyes of females also creates expectations that are unrealistic.  The use of beautifully made-up models with the “ideal” body, whether it was created naturally or by a plastic surgeon, gives women the idea that that type of woman is what men want.  It further reinforces the idea in women that they are not good enough.  This idea is prominent in other types of media as well.  Young girls grow up with this unrealistic standard of beauty through advertisements, TV shows, and just about any other type of media accessible (Cuklanz 2006).  For example, commercials played during daytime television show scantily clad women enjoying beautification products.  In the case of pornography, adolescent girls watch women as sexual servants and believe that to be their role in sex.  Women are taught to be nonsexual beings unless it is to please a man.  The porn industry fortifies this view for women because there is a category of pornography titled “For Women,” implying that the other 40-something categories were not designed for the use of women.  Because there is no chance of the representation of women in pornography changing in the foreseeable future, it is important to talk to both girls and boys about how respect should work in sexual and romantic relationships.



Cuklanz, L. (2006). Gendered violence and mass media representation. The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication. doi: 10.4135/978-1-41297-605-3.n18