What Do Men and Women Focus On When They Watch Porn? The Answer Will Probably Surprise You

Shirtless man in bed watching Internet porn

When someone watches pornography, what is it that first captures their attention? Most people would probably guess the actors’ bodies and/or genitals, especially if they’re talking about male porn viewers. Although this would seem to make intuitive sense, is it really the case? According to research, not necessarily.

In a recent study, heterosexual male and female participants viewed a series of sexually explicit images downloaded off of the Internet. Each image consisted of a male-female couple engaged in either oral sex or intercourse. Before viewing the photos, each participant was fitted with a head mounted eye-tracking device that was able to record the exact section of each image an individual was focused on at any given moment. Thus, not only could researchers measure what first captured people’s attention, but they could also identify the areas participants spent the most time looking at.

Results indicated that the first thing to capture men’s attention and the thing men spent the most time looking at was female faces. Of course, this wasn’t the only thing that men focused on—they also spent a good deal of time looking at genitals. In addition, I should caution that this finding did not apply to every guy--there was a lot of variability in the features they oriented on. However, it’s interesting to note (and contrary to popular belief) that faces really seemed to stand out to men. Why? Perhaps men want to know how excited and "into it" the woman really is.

What about female participants? What they focused on depended upon whether they were taking “the pill” or not. For naturally cycling women (i.e., women who were not taking hormonal contraceptives), the thing that first caught their eye and what they looked at most were genitals, followed by the female body. In contrast to men, naturally cycling women spent relatively little time looking at anyone’s faces.

For women who were taking oral contraceptives, they spent comparatively less time looking at the sexual features of the images. The first thing these women noticed and spent the most time viewing were contextual features of the situation (e.g., the actors’ clothing and the background imagery). These women also spent a fair amount of time looking at female bodies and faces, but they spent less time looking at genitals than did naturally cycling women.

You’re probably wondering two things about the female results—why did the focus of women’s attention depend upon their method of birth control, and why were heterosexual women looking at the female body more than the male body? We can’t answer either question definitively, but let me give you the researchers’ reasoning. The difference in focus between the two groups of women is likely hormonal. Birth control pills keep women’s hormone levels relatively constant, whereas naturally cycling women experience natural fluctuations. This suggests that the amount of hormones in the body may affect how women perceive sexual stimuli. As for why heterosexual women seemed so interested in other women, it’s probably not because they were all secretly lesbians—rather, it’s probably just another sign that women have more erotic plasticity than men. What this means is that women can be turned on by a wide range of erotic stimuli (much wider than men), regardless of their sexual orientation.

Based upon these findings, the logical conclusion seems to be that not everyone sees the same thing when they’re looking at porn.

Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.

To learn more about this research, see: Rupp, H. A., & Wallen, K. (2007). Sex differences in viewing sexual stimuli: An eye-tracking study in men and women. Hormones and Behavior, 51, 524-533.

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

Related Articles: