I keep meeting women who claim they love porn as much as men do. The rise in the number of female porn consumers seems to confirm this is a trend. The popular internet porn site Pornhub reports that women make up nearly one-third of its audience, and that share is increasing. In 2019, Pornhub claimed that 32 percent of their visitors were female, a 3 percent increase from 2018.

For many men the female embrace of porn is wonderful news. A porn-loving man loves porn-loving women because it legitimizes his love of porn. At a stroke, the stigma and shame surrounding his porn usage disappears. If a man’s girlfriend or wife enjoys porn, then it must be OK for him to enjoy porn too. Phew, he thinks, I’m no longer a misogynistic, sexist sleazebag! Thanks, babe.

Consequently, Porn-Loving Man no longer has to hide his practice from his partner. Couples can now make a clean fist of it and enjoy porn watching together — and they do. Men have told me about cozy nights in with partners, cuddled up around the laptop watching porn. Excuse me, but what kind of man invites his girlfriend over for a night of pizza and porn? Imagine it: ‘Darling, what shall we watch tonight: The Crown or Interracial Anal, starring Abella Danger and Valentina Nappi?’

I confess, though, that when I hear a woman claim she loves porn as much as men, I can’t help feeling she’s indulging in a bit of vice-signaling; trying to be all transgressive and shocking. It’s a form of macho-feminism that says to oppressive male notions of women’s sexuality: yeah, we wank too. Get over it!

Today, a woman’s right to use and take pleasure in pornography is presented as an important aspect of equal rights and female resistance to male oppression. (Funny, I thought it was pornography that oppressed and exploited women.) Pro-porn women argue that the only reason more women don’t use porn is because of the ‘stigma’ surrounding female sexuality. As one female columnist put it, ‘Yes, women like porn too — we’re all just trained to believe they don’t.’ See, it’s just that old party-pooping patriarchy at work, stopping women from finding their own pleasure and taking control of their sexuality!

Is the use of porn really such a progressive feminist cause, a principle that all right-thinking women should defend? A man who simply raises such questions will be denounced not only as a ‘sexist’ but an enemy of free speech. This is especially true since the pro-Trump New Right went anti-porn.

But do women experience porn the way men do? I don’t deny that women are stimulated or aroused by porn. I don’t think that women are too genteel for the gynecological gore you find in porn. Believe me, they get down and dirty just like men. But the whole pornographic experience is just not the same for men and women.

We think of men who watch porn as rather sad, pervy figures alone in sock-scented bedrooms, hunched over their laptops, frantically trying to get old Mr Floppy to man up and deliver a solitary spasm of pleasure. But when women use porn it’s always said to be ‘empowering’ — never sordid, seedy or sad. The aptly-named Violet Blue, writing for Oprah magazine, explains what porn offers women. ‘First, the way it lets us satisfy our very normal, very human sexual curiosity. If you’re like me, you’re the kind of woman who’ll peep at Pam Anderson’s new boob job just to see the latest installations. But it’s not just what the bodies look like, it’s what they look like aroused — and what they can do. Watching people have sex can be fascinating.’

Yes, that’s very sweet and all, but for most men curiosity just doesn’t cut it. For men it is about instant gratification — and it can be something dark and nasty. Something that strips women of their humanity, leaving their orifices gaping for male gratification. When women say they enjoy porn as much as men what they don’t appreciate is that men don’t actually enjoy porn — well, not much. It offers men a little relief and a lot of self-disgust and guilt. There comes a point at which, every male porn user stops and asks himself: is this the man I really want to be? And the answer for growing numbers of men in the US and UK is: no. That’s why increasing numbers are pledging not to use porn or going into therapy to get help with their ‘porn addictions’.

Women, so far, don’t seem to suffer too much from such side effects. When you actually look at the porn that’s popular with women you see why: they mostly have a porn experience that is gluten-free, organic, female-friendly, porn with all the toxins taken out.

Studies show that women prefer what is called Femme porn: porn with a feminist sensibility that offers something more than boobs, blowjobs and bonking. In Psychology Today, porn expert Dr Michael Castleman describes an experiment in which Dutch scientists showed 47 women a mixture of Femme porn and standard porn pour l’homme. The standard porn repelled them, but the Femme porn aroused them.

Most of the porn-watching women I know would agree with those findings. ‘It’s not that the kind of porn men watch is repellent — although some of it is,’ a female friend tells me. ‘It’s just too boring to watch.’ There’s the rub: unreal as it may be, porn exposes the difference between men and women.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s June 2021 World edition.