Black Women in Pornography 1
Worse than objects: The depiction of black women and men and their sexual relationship
Niki Fritz a firstname.lastname@example.org
Vinny Malic b
Bryant Paul a
Yanyan Zhou a
a The Media School, Indiana University – Bloomington, 601 E Kirkwood Ave, Bloomington, IN
47405, Phone: (812) 855-9247
b School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, Indiana University – Bloomington
Citation: Fritz, N., Malic, V., Paul, B., & Zhou, Y. Worse Than Objects: The Depiction of Black
Women and Men and Their Sexual Relationship in Pornography. Gender Issues. Advanced
Online Publication. http:// 10.1007/s12147-020-09255-2
Black Women in Pornography 2
Abstract: Previous content analyses of pornography suggest black women may be the target of
aggression more often compared to white women. Furthermore, research suggested that the most
aggressive depictions occurred between interracial couples. However, there are still relatively
few studies of the depiction of black women in online pornography. The current study examined
1,741 pornographic scenes featuring heterosexual couples (including 118 scenes with black
women) from two of the largest online pornographic streaming tube sites in the world
(Xvideos.com and Pornhub.com). Findings suggest black women are more often the target of
aggression when compared to white women. In addition, black men are more often portrayed as
the perpetrators of aggression against women and are depicted as significantly less intimate with
their partners in comparison to white men. Notably, depictions of aggression towards women are
highest in scenes featuring black couples compared to all other racial pairings including
interracial pairings. Further exploration of the depiction of other sexual behaviors, including oral,
vaginal, and anal sex, indicated these behaviors did not vary significantly based on actor’s race.
Keywords: pornography, aggression, race, black women, content analysis, sexual behaviors
Black Women in Pornography 3
In Alice Walker’s short story “Coming Apart,” she describes the realization a black
husband has about pornography. He thinks, “where white women are depicted in pornography as
‘objects,’ black women are depicted as animals. Where white women are depicted as human
bodies if not beings, black women are depicted as shit” (Walker, 1981, p. 103). It is a moment in
which the man recognizes the potential for sexism through objectification in pornography, but
also uniquely understands the intersection of sexism and racism, how gender and race intersect in
pornography. He realizes that to be a black woman in porn is to be depicted differently than a
white woman. It is a realization which, while perhaps experienced and even protested by many,
has been chronically under-examined through a feminist social scientific lens. This study utilizes
a social scientific approach to explore, through a quantitative content analysis of mainstream
online pornography, the portrayal of black women - and black men- in online pornography.
Sexual Socialization and Self-Objectification through the Media
Social cognitive theory suggests people can learn behaviors through repeated exposure
via media. Additionally, these behaviors are more likely to be learned and emulated when
modeled by attractive, identity-salient people (Bandura, 2001). Although not specifically
articulated by Bandura, or often studied in sexually explicit media research, race may be a salient
identity worth investigating especially in pornography. Focusing on sexual media specifically,
the acquisition, activation, and application model (3AM) of sexual socialization explains how
different contexts and variables impact how sexual content affects consumers (Wright, 2011).
Wright describes how media can provide both specific scripts, such as engaging in particular
sexual behaviors, as well as higher order or abstract scripts, such as attitudes or beliefs about sex.
One such potential abstract script is the objectification of women. Objectification theory posits
that depictions of female objectification in the media result in negative behavioral outcomes,
Black Women in Pornography 4
including depression, disordered eating, and sexual dysfunction, through harmful internal
cognitions, including anxiety, shame, interruption of flow, and lack of internal awareness
(Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). The authors define sexual objectification as when a woman’s
body is used to represent her whole being, or when women are depicted as existing just to
sexually please men. Additionally, sexual aggression, violence, and harassment are included as
“direct and extreme” routes of sexual objectification (p. 186). Objectification theory suggests
women experience sexual objectification in real life but also through various forms of
objectifying media, including the depiction of women in pornography.
Decades of research using objectification theory and social learning theories suggest
women experience negative cognitions and harmful behaviors after to exposure to a variety of
objectifying media. Examining objectifying television, research has found college students who
consume more TV have higher reported levels of self-objectification, body surveillance,
appearance anxiety, and body shame (Aubrey, 2006a,b). Additionally, a survey of 558
adolescent girls found consuming sexually objectifying music television (such as MTV) was
related to self-objectification and body surveillance through internalization of beauty ideals
(Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012). Looking at reality TV, a study of 1,107 undergraduate
students found reality TV was related to self-sexualization for both men and women (Ward et al.,
2016). Research has also suggested a connection between social media and self-objectification.
One study found social media use was related directly to self-objectification and body
surveillance, while the pathway between television and objectification was mediated by
internalization (Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012). Another large study of 1,191 college
students found Facebook involvement was related to self-objectification and body shame, which
was in turn negatively correlated with sexual assertiveness. For women, this pathway was
Black Women in Pornography 5
stronger; Facebook involvement was directly related to lower sexual assertiveness (Manago et
al., 2015). Looking specifically at sexual enjoyment outcomes, a survey of 238 adolescents
found internalization of appearance ideals, a measurement similar to self-objectification, lead to
body consciousness during sex, and that this relationship was mediated by body surveillance
(Vandebosch & Eggermont, 2014). Overall this suggests women exposed to a variety of
objectifying media, including television and social media, may experience negative sexual
outcomes including body consciousness and lower assertiveness through self-objectification.
Evidence from social learning theory research suggests consumption of pornography is
related to sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviors for men and women. Studies suggest men’s
pornography consumption is related to more accepting attitudes of violence against women,
hostile sexism beliefs, and views of women as sex objects (Hald et al. 2013, Hald et al., 2010;
Peter and Valkenburg, 2007; Wright and Tokunaga, 2016). Similar patterns hold true for women.
Women who consume pornography see women as sex objects and also were more accepting of
an objectifying gaze (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007; Wright, Arroyo, and Bae, 2015). Importantly,
pornography use has also been found to be correlated with desiring to engage in sexually
aggressive behaviors and engaging in these behaviors (Wright, Sun, Steffen, and Tokunaga,
2015; Wright et al., 2016). The research suggests individuals can learn both objectifying abstract
scripts, such as women are sex objects, as well as objectifying behaviors, such as sexual
aggression, through pornography.
Black Women and Objectification. Objectification theory states the importance of
racial identity noting the effect of objectification in media may look different depending on
women’s racial identities (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). The authors suggest that the effects of
objectification on black women may vary given that the depiction of women of color may be
Black Women in Pornography 6
different than the depiction of white women in media. Research examining the effects of media
on black women and girls has found mixed results. For example, one study of 176 African
American adolescent girls found a positive relationship between exposure to black media and
endorsement of beauty ideals. Additionally, girls who identified with black music artists were
also more likely to endorse beauty ideals, whether or not these celebrities were sexualized or not
(Gordon, 2008). However, another study comparing white to black women found that while
mainstream media was related to poorer body image for white women, there was no relationship
for black women. Furthermore, exposure to black-oriented media was related to healthier body
image for black women (Schooler, Ward, Merriwether, & Caruthers, 2004). A study of 426
female teens found black women experienced more self-objectification after viewing non-lean
women’s sports videos compared to white women who experienced more self-objectification
after viewing lean videos (Harrison & Fredrickson, 2003). The varied results from these studies
suggests that while the media may impact some individuals’ objectifying attitudes about the
body, the effect may differ depending on individual’s racial identity and what type of media they
consume. As Mitchell and Mazzeo (2009) note, applied scales and research on objectification
typically focuses on white women and their experiences, often to the exclusion of the
experiences of black women, suggesting the current measures of objectification were not created
for black women and may not be sufficient. In addition to experiencing objectification
differently, Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) explained that black women are often not just
objectified in media, but stereotyped as being like animals, suggesting a different media
portrayal of black women that in turn may have a different effect.
Learned Racial Stereotypes through the Media
Black Women in Pornography 7
As suggested, the sexual objectification of black women intersects with issues of racism
and stereotyping. Social categorization theory suggests individuals will model their behaviors
based on what they perceive to be the behavioral norms of their perceived group (Turner &
Oakes, 1986). Additionally, even considering negative stereotypes, individuals may adhere to the
perceived behavioral norm in order assimilate to the group identity (Burkley & Blanton, 2009).
Therefore, black women may adhere to negative sexual stereotypes depicted in pornography as
part of group identification. Critical feminist scholars have demonstrated the close visual and
rhetorical similarities between images of slavery and pornography; furthermore, they suggest
images of black men and women as beasts or animals comes from slavery, when humans were
sold like cattle (Collins, 1993; Dines, 2006; hooks, 1990). Mixed into the racism and
stereotyping of black women’s sexuality is the dual idea of being objectified animal, while also
being depicted as an aggressive sexual siren. West (1995) describes the Jezebel stereotype of
black women as “seductive, hypersexual, exploiter of men’s weaknesses” (p. 462). Black men as
well have been stereotypically portrayed as overtly sexual and animalistic (Dines, 2006). Black
couples therefore may be more likely to be portrayed as hypersexual as well as potentially as
aggressive and animal-like.
Impact of the Jezebel Stereotype. Recent research suggests that the stereotype of Black
women as Jezebels in the media leads to negative outcomes for black women, black couples, and
others. A study of 404 African American undergraduates found higher levels of TV realism—the
perception that TV is an accurate representation of life—was related to endorsement of the
Jezebel stereotype. Notably in this study, black men’s consumption of a wide range of media
including music videos, movies, and magazines were all related to the Jezebel stereotype
endorsement (Jerald, Ward, et al., 2017). Additional research suggests belief in the Jezebel
Black Women in Pornography 8
stereotype is related to viewing risky sexual behavior as less harmful and engaging in more risky
sexual behaviors for African American girls and young women (Hall & Witherspoon, 2015;
Townsend, et al., 2010). Interview data suggests that young black women are attuned to the
media’s depiction of black women as strippers and sex objects, which in turn they believe
impacts other black women’s decisions to have unsafe sex (Davis & Tucker-Brown, 2013). On a
broader scale looking at gender role stereotypes, a study of black women suggests that
endorsement of traditional gender and sex roles mediates the relationship between media and
negative sexual outcomes such as lower sexual assertiveness and sexual dishonesty (Ward,
Jerald, Avery, & Cole, 2019). These stereotypes also impact black couples. A study of 137
African Americans in relationships found those who endorsed the Jezebel stereotype has higher
levels of relationship dissatisfaction (Fisher & Coleman, 2017), while another survey of 432
Black Americans found believing the Jezebel stereotype was related to endorsing violence
against women (Cheeseborough, T., Overstreet, N., & Ward, L. M. (2020). In addition to
impacting sexual attitudes and behaviors, stereotypes may impact overall mental health of black
women. A study of 609 young black women found that awareness that others hold negative
stereotypes about your group identification was related to negative health outcomes, including
depression (Jerald, Cole, et al., 2017). The evidence suggests the depiction of black women as
Jezebels in media has negative implications for black women and black men. In addition to
possibly assimilating to the expected behaviors of the stereotype and engaging in risky sexual
behaviors, the awareness of these negative stereotypes can be detrimental to black women’s
Depiction of Objectification in Pornography
Black Women in Pornography 9
Until recently there have been relatively few content analyses of internet pornography,
even though the internet is the most common source for consuming pornography (Hald, Kuyper,
Adam, & de Wit, 2013). There have been even fewer investigations of the portrayals of black
women in pornography. In general, however, research suggests that women are objectified in
pornography. A 2014 content analysis of 400 online pornographic videos found that women were
often treated as objects, defined as a focus on sexual body parts; close-ups of female sexual areas
occurred in 61% of scenes while male sexual area focus only occurred in 19% of scenes
(Klaassen & Peter, 2014). Examining exploitation of women in pornography, an analysis of 100
online videos, found that women were exploited in 15% of videos compared to 5% for men,
when exploitation was defined as when sex or sexual acts were exchanged for drugs, food,
shelter, protection, money, or employment (Vannier, Currie, & O'Sullivan, 2014). Furthermore, a
content analysis of 300 online pornographic videos found that women were overall more
objectified than men using an objectification index that included genital focus, genital gapping,
double penetration, stripping, facial ejaculation, and sexual aggression (Fritz & Paul, 2017). This
analysis found that women were depicted stripping in 43% of scenes and being ejaculated on in
44% of scenes. Overall, these recent studies suggest that women are still overtly objectified in
Depiction of black women in the pornography and the media. Recent content
analyses have not examined the depiction of objectification of black women in pornography.
However, several studies of the portrayal of black women in advertising suggest conflicting
findings about black women in mainstream media that may be applicable to pornography.
Studies have found black women were less objectified than white women in both men’s
magazines and mainstream black magazines. (Baker, 2005; Hazell and Clarke, 2007). Similarly,
Black Women in Pornography 10
Millard & Grant (2006) found that black models in fashion magazines were less sexualized, but
they were depicted as more submissive than white models. These differences may be due to the
different target audiences of the magazines. Notably, in looking at broad stereotypes of black
women Woodard and Mastin (2005) found the Jezebel stereotype, while rare, was the most
validated stereotype in Essence magazine over a 30-year span. Notably, in an analysis of more
than 500 Black artist music videos, a medium reliably found to impact objectification attitudes,
women were more likely to be depicted as sex objects, with rap and hip hop over-representing
the portrayal of women as sex objects (Avery, Ward, Moss, & Üsküp, 2017). Black women in
pornography may be depicted as objects to be sexually used, but they may also be portrayed as
sexually aggressive objects who are primarily driven by one-dimensional sexuality. Given the
differing depictions between magazines and music videos, it is unclear if black women will be
portrayed as more objectified when compared to white women in pornography. Therefore, we
RQ1a: Are black women in pornography depicted as more objectified in comparison to white
Depiction of aggression in pornography. The results from studies examining sexual
aggression in pornography vary widely depending on which definition of aggression researchers
used. Using a narrow definition of sexual aggression as nonconsensual violence with intent to
harm, McKee (2005) found only 1.6% of scenes from 50 DVDs analyzed contained sexual
violence. Looking online, Gorman et al. (2010) examined 45 online videos and found that overt
physical violence was rare and occurred in only one video, while gagging or coercive sex was
found in 5 of the 45 videos. A more recent analysis of 172 online videos found 15% of videos
contained nonconsensual aggression (Shor & Golriz, 2019). Notably, this definition of
Black Women in Pornography 11
aggression relies on the target to say no, utilizing a “no means no” framework of consent. Other
studies have used a different definition, which conceptualizes aggression as any action that does
or could cause physical harm to oneself or another person, regardless of the perpetrator’s intent
and the target’s response. This definition relies solely on the depicted actions and therefore is
best suited for a content analysis, which is inherently unable to discern the intent of the portrayed
actors. Using a similar definition of aggression, Bridges et al. (2010) found 88.2% of scenes
contained physical aggression in their analysis of 50 of the bestselling pornographic DVDs.
More recent analysis of online videos using similar definitions of aggression found that between
31% and 43% of scenes contained sexual aggression (Fritz & Paul, 2017; Klaassen & Peter,
2015; Shor & Seida, 2019). Specifically looking at race, a 1994 analysis of 54 interracial
pornographic videos found black women received more aggression than white women (Cowan &
Campbell, 1994). In contrast, a recent analysis of 172 online pornography videos examined race
and aggression and found black women were the least likely to be depicted as the target of
aggression (Shor & Golriz, 2019). Given the difference between these two studies and the lack of
analysis of black women in pornography, this study asks:
RQ1b: Are black women in pornography portrayed as receiving more sexual aggression in
comparison to white women?
Black men and their relationship with black women. Although many content analyses
do not code for race, a 2010 content analysis of 50 DVDs found about 8.8% of main characters
were black (Bridges, Wosnitzer, Scharrer, Sun, & Liberman, 2010). A few content analyses have
looked specifically at the relationship between black women and men, including both negative
behaviors like aggression as well as positive behaviors like intimacy. Regarding aggression, an
analysis of 40 X and XXX-rated videos found there was an equal likelihood of violence when
Black Women in Pornography 12
white couples were compared to black couples (Monk-Turner & Purcell, 1999). Looking at
intimacy, two studies of videos from the 1990s found that there was less intimacy between black
couples, particularly from black men (Cowan & Campbell, 1994; Monk-Turner & Purcell, 1999).
These studies measured intimacy with a variety of measures including kissing, using the other
person’s name, caressing, having sex face to face, and talking during sex. In comparison, a more
recent study by Shor and Golriz (2019) examined physical affection and found no difference
between scenes with black men compared to white men. Given the complexity of intimacy and
the now relatively infrequent depictions of talking during sex, kissing will be used as a proxy for
intimacy in this study. Given the mixed results, this study examines how black men are depicted
in online pornography. Therefore, we ask:
RQ2a: Are black men portrayed as more aggressive than white men in pornography?
RQ2b: Are black men portrayed as kissing less than white men in pornography?
Interracial portrayals in pornography. Critical feminist scholar Linda Williams (2004)
notes the importance of the depiction of interracial partners in pornography, whose depictions
relies on a history of inequality including unequal sexual access to women. She suggests that
white men were granted sexual access to black women and black men were forbidden access to
white women. What is relevant is not just the stereotypical portrayal of women or of black
women, but also the depiction of the interaction between these often historically stereotyped
bodies. Notably, both studies on black women in pornography from the nineties investigated the
depiction of aggression between interracial sexual partners. Monk-Turner and Purcell’s (1999)
analysis of 40 videos found when white men were portrayed with black women there was a
greater likelihood of a depiction of violence than when a black man was portrayed with a white
woman. Similarly, Cowan and Campbell’s (1994) analysis of 54 interracial videos found black
Black Women in Pornography 13
women received more aggression from white men and white women more aggression from black
men. Both studies suggest there may be more aggression depicted with interracial sexual
partners. However, neither of these studies examined if the depiction of intimacy through kissing
varied depending on the racial makeup of the partners. Therefore, we ask:
RQ3a: Does the level of depicted aggression vary depending on the racial makeup of the actors?
RQ3b: Does the level of kissing vary depending on the racial makeup of the actors?
Finally, there are no studies examining whether the depiction of sexual behaviors varies
by race in pornography. Fitting with the social cognitive theory, in addition to attitudes, people
may learn sexual behaviors from pornography such as oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex. The
portrayal of certain sexual behaviors may encourage consumers to learn and emulate behaviors
depicted by identity-salient actors. Additionally, the Jezebel stereotype suggests that black
women are sexual sirens, suggesting they may engage in a greater variety of sexual behaviors,
particularly in pornography. However, to-date no one has explored this question. Therefore, we
RQ4: Do depictions of sexual behaviors, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex, in pornography
vary by the race of the sexual partners?
Sampling of Pornographic Content
The current analysis is part of a larger content analysis of mainstream pornography
analyzing 7,430 online pornographic videos (including heterosexual and LGBT categories) from
Pornhub.com and Xvideos.com. Xvideos is the most popular site for adult content in the world,
while Pornhub is the second most popular according to similarweb.com in 2015
(http://www.similarweb.com/website/xvideos.com). This study originally sampled only from
Black Women in Pornography 14
Xvideos, adding in a smaller sample from Pornhub for diversity and for comparison, and
therefore the Xvideos sample is larger than the Pornhub sample. This content analysis was
created to find rare units of analysis (.001 probability) that were significantly different at .01.
Using Krippendorff’s sample size guide, the total number of videos needed was 4,603; however,
this study oversampled additional LGBT data to raise the total sample to 7,430 (Krippendorff,
2004, p. 12). The goal of this content analysis was to take a snapshot of online pornography by
sampling a large and random number of videos from each site and therefore videos were not
selected based on posted date or popularity. All videos were randomly selected from the top most
populous categories on Pornhub and Xvideos (some top categories include: Amateur, Anal,
Black Women, Big Tits, Blonde, Brunette, Ebony, Hardcore, Interracial, Pornstar, Teen). In
order to obtain a random sample, the total number of pages within a category was divided by the
total number of videos needed for the category to calculate the sampling interval (X). The first
video on the first page was selected, followed by the second video X pages after the first,
followed by the third video X pages after that, until the desired amount of videos were selected.
The sample size per category was determined by finding the ratio of the number of videos in the
category compared to the total on the site. In this way the sample was stratified so that larger
categories had more videos sampled from them. The authors sampled and recorded the video
title, category, and URL for each selected video. Videos on Xvideos were sampled during spring
2014; videos on Pornhub were sampled during fall 2014.
For this analysis, only videos with two individuals of different genders were selected;
videos with more than two individuals were not included. The sample was further narrowed
down to only include white and black individuals. See Table 1 for a breakdown of the race of
actors by website. Furthermore, this study analyzed at the scene level not the video level. A
Black Women in Pornography 15
scene was defined as a person or partners undertaking a sexual experience in the same place. A
complete change in actors and place with new sexual behavior was considered a new scene. The
total number of scenes analyzed which included black women was 118. There were 1,741 total
scenes analyzed for this study.
It should be noted that there is a statistically significant difference between the
compositions of couples in Pornhub compared to Xvideos. Although the Xvideos and Pornhub
samples have statistically similar representations of black women (Xvideos with 6.4% and
Pornhub is 8.4%, χ²(2, n=1,741) = 1.58, p =.21), Pornhub contained significantly fewer videos
of white women with black men (χ²(2,1,741) = 7.95, p < .05). Additionally, Xvideos contained
significantly fewer depictions of kissing (χ²(2,1,741) = 70.58, p < .001), fellatio (χ²(2,1,741) =
25.60, p < .001), cunnilingus (χ²(2,1,741) = 60.29, p < .001), and vaginal sex (χ²(2,1,741) =
2702, p < .001). Xvideos pornographic scenes also included fewer facial ejaculations
(χ²(2,1,741) = 62.62, p < .001) and women stripping (χ²(2,1,741) = 171.94, p < .001). Notably,
the websites have statistically similar levels of depictions of aggression against women
(χ²(2,1,741) = 1.69, p =.19). These differences speak to the qualitative difference between the
websites; Xvideos, in general, contained shorter videos, which featured a lower variety of sexual
behaviors. However, previous research demonstrates a variety of differences between different
categories on the same website, suggesting that, in general, online pornography varies
significantly both by site and category (Klaasen and Peter, 2014; Fritz and Paul, 2017; Vannier,
Currie, & O'Sullivan, 2014). Therefore, we combined both sites in our analysis of black women
in pornography but acknowledge there are qualitative differences between the sites.
Coding and Reliability
Black Women in Pornography 16
Coding was conducted by 33 undergraduate students between 2014 and 2015; 27 coders
for Xvideos and 6 coders for Pornhub. Students met for 20 hours over the course of 6 weeks to
learn the coding scheme and practice coding. Coders then applied the tool to 20 non-randomly
selected videos during the 2 final weeks of training. Inter-rater reliability was computed as the
average percentage agreement on individual variables. Potter and Levine-Donnerstein (1999)
suggest using simple inter-rater agreement instead of other statistical approaches for accessing
reliability, arguing that with a high number of coders, reliability tests like Krippendorff’s alpha
penalize one coder’s disagreement when coding bivariate indicators. Other studies using a large
number of coders have utilized a similar approach (e.g., Malik & Wojdynski 2014; Fritz & Paul,
2017). After a 6-week training process, each student was assigned 10 to 20 videos a week to
code. Students were asked to send an email to the trainers if they were unsure about how to code
a scene or had additional questions.
Each video was coded for a variety of manifest content, ranging from duration of video to
acts of aggression. For this study, we analyzed depictions of sexual behaviors and physical
Sexual Objectification and Aggression. Objectification occurs when a woman’s body is
used as a thing, particularly for male pleasure (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). For this study,
indicators of objectification include the following two depictions: facial ejaculations, defined as
external ejaculation by the male partner on the female partner’s body (chest and above), and
stripping, defined as when women strip or pose for the camera. Coders for both the Pornhub and
Xvideo samples reached 97.9% agreement on the facial ejaculation indicator. For the stripping
measure, coders reached 99.2% (Pornhub) and 98.5% (Xvideos) agreement. As Fredrickson and
Black Women in Pornography 17
Roberts (1997) noted, aggression can also be considered a direct route to objectification and
therefore was also analyzed in this study. Physical aggression was defined as any action
appearing to cause or potentially causing physical harm to another person ranging from spanking
to choking to hair pulling to mutilation. Importantly, harmful intent of the perpetrator is not a
requirement of aggression so that consented acts of aggression (including those in BDSM—
bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism—scenes) were coded as a depiction of an act of
aggression. This meant aggression was coded for depiction and as a potential script—and not as
intent or with the subjective experience of the performers. When averaged across all types of
aggression, coders reached between 97.6% (Xvideos) and 98.8% (Pornhub) agreement on
aggression codes. Additionally, all acts of aggression were coded as who was the target and who
was the perpetrator, with the potential for a person to be both target and perpetrator if, for
example, a person spanked themselves. For this study, only acts of aggression from men against
women, which made up more than 90% of all acts of aggression, were analyzed.
Sexual Behavior. In order to explore the depicted physical relationships between
partners, we analyzed sexual behaviors between male and female partners. For this study, we
coded and analyzed the following sexual behaviors: kissing, fellatio, cunnilingus, vaginal sex,
and anal sex. Coders reached between 91% and 100% agreement on the sexual behavior
measures. A complete list of coded indicators, their operalizations, and the corresponding
reliabilities can be found in Table 2.
In order to answer our research questions, we performed Pearson’s Chi-Squared to
compare the frequency of our measures between black and white women, black and white men,
Black Women in Pornography 18
and the four different racial combinations. We examined the adjusted residuals when there were
four categories in order to interpret which category had larger or smaller counts than expected.
Objectification and Aggression Indicators for Black Women
The first research question asked if black women are depicted as more objectified in
comparison to white women. Chi-square analyses indicate no statistically significant differences
regarding indicators of objectification when comparing depictions of white and black females
(see Table 3). Specifically, facial ejaculations were depicted in 22.0% of scenes that included
black women, compared to 20.6% of scenes with white women (χ² (2, 1,741) = .13, p = .72).
Further, black women stripped in 17.8% of coded scenes, compared to 14.7% of scenes featuring
white women (χ² (2, 1,741) = .82, p = .37). Part b of research question 1 asked if black women
are portrayed as receiving aggression more than white women in pornography. Black women
(50.8%) were significantly more often depicted as the targets of aggression compared to white
women (36.0%) (χ² (2, n= 1,741) = 10.37, p < .001). Additionally, a further analysis shows,
black women (39.8 %) were specifically more likely to be spanked than white women (24.8%)
(χ² (2, n=1,741) = 13.07, p < .001).
Depiction of Black Men in Pornography
Research question two asked about the portrayal of sexual aggression and intimacy,
specifically kissing, from black men in pornography. Black men (47.3%) were significantly more
likely to be depicted as aggressive towards women when compared to white men (35.3%) (χ² (2,
n=1,741) = 13.50, p < .001). In terms of specific acts of aggression, black men were depicted
spanking women in 36.7% of scenes compared to just 23.9% of scenes featuring white men
(χ²(2, n=1,741) = 18.79, p < .001). Black men were also depicted pulling women’s hair (9% of
scenes) significantly more than white men (5% of scenes) (χ² (2, n=1,741) = 6.38, p < .01). In
Black Women in Pornography 19
terms of the primary indicator of intimacy, black men were significantly less likely to kiss a
female sexual partner (18.0% of scenes) than were white men (27.5% of scenes) (χ² (2, n= 1,741)
= 10.20, p < .001). All results can be found in Table 3.
Depiction of Black, White, and Interracial Couples: Aggression and Sexual Behaviors
Research question three asked if the level of depicted physical aggression varied
depending on the racial makeup of the actors (black couples, white couples, black women with
white men, and white women with black men). Results indicate significant differences between
the percentage of scenes depicting aggression based on the racial make-up of participants (χ² (4,
n=1,741) = 18.82, p < .001) (see Table 4). Analyses of adjusted residuals indicate depictions of
couples featuring a black man and woman (54.1%) were significantly more likely to include the
portrayal of aggression towards the woman than were depictions featuring a white man and
The second part of research question three asked whether level of intimacy (demonstrated
through kissing) would differ in relation to the racial composition of couple dyads. Results
suggest significantly different levels of depictions of kissing in relation to the racial make-up of
sexual dyads (χ² (4, 1,741) = 12.24, p < .01). Analysis of residuals indicates kissing was
significantly less likely to be depicted between couples consisting of a black man and a black
woman (13%) or a black man and a white woman (200%) than those consisting of a black
woman and a white man (33%) or a white man and white woman (27%).
Finally, research question four considered whether there are differences in the frequency
with which certain sexual behaviors are depicted based on the racial composition of sexual
dyads. There were no differences between different racial combinations of dyads for any of the
Black Women in Pornography 20
sexual behaviors examined including fellatio, cunnilingus, vaginal sex, and anal sex. All results
can be found on Table 4.
Overall, the results from our analysis suggest there are damaging stereotypical portrayals
of Black women and men in pornography. Black women are more often depicted as the target of
aggression, while Black men were portrayed more often as the perpetrators of aggression.
Additionally, Black couples are more likely to be portrayed as aggressive and lacking intimacy.
These findings have implications for Black men and women’s sexual behaviors, relationships,
and health as well as for interracial interactions and the reinforcement of harmful stereotypes.
Black Women as Beaten Objects
Looking at measures of facial ejaculation and stripping, we did not find Black women
were more objectified than White women. About 20 percent of scenes, however, did feature
external ejaculation, suggesting a script in pornography of women being objects being used for
male pleasure or to display the aftermath of male pleasure. The percentage of external
ejaculations was lower than a previous content analysis, which found when a mainstream scene
from Pornhub contained a male orgasm, 83% those scenes include the external ejaculation (Fritz
and Paul, 2017). Notably, this analysis only examined Pornhub scenes while our sample
overrepresented Xvideo scenes which are shorter than Pornhub scenes, often ending before male
orgasm. In full videos containing male orgasm, external ejaculations may be featured more;
however, it appears that both Black and White women are objectified in this manner at similar
levels. Additionally, around 18% of scenes featured women stripping, whereas there were no
reported scenes of men stripping or posing, suggesting this type of objectification is gendered.
Women, not men, present themselves for male pleasure via stripping. Notably, this type of
Black Women in Pornography 21
objectification has found its way into popular culture as noted by Davis & Tucker-Brown’s
(2013) interview data of young black women. Stripping is not just reserved for pornography but
has become popular in music videos and other areas of media. Given the general rise of
pornification in society, it is perhaps not surprising that both Black and White women are
objectified. As noted in the opening passage from Alice Walker, Black and White women are
both objects; they are both depicted as mere bodies instead of people in pornography.
Notably, however, this study was not designed to specifically code for the stereotype of
Black women as Jezebels. The nuance of such a construct was out of the scope of this large-scale
project. There are characteristics of the Jezebel construct that were not examined such as sexual
assertiveness. West (1995) defines the Jezebel construct as a “seductive, hypersexual, exploiter
of men’s weaknesses,” (p. 462) suggesting both sexual objectification as well as sexual
assertiveness if not aggressiveness. Displays of sexual assertiveness are generally hard to code
given the lack of communication in pornography and it is challenging to achieve reliability
among a high number of coders with this large sample. It may be that Black women are
objectified differently in pornography and perhaps do conform to a Jezebel stereotype, being
both seductive and sexualized. Future studies could take a more in-depth and perhaps thematic
approach to coding in order to analyze the portrayal of Black women in pornography.
Additionally, more work is needed to examine sexual assertiveness and especially consent issues
The study did find that Black women were the target of aggression more often than White
women which was similar to the studies from the 1990s but different from the recent Shor and
Golriz (2019) study of race in pornography. Notably, Shor and Golriz included “forceful
penetration” as part of their aggression definition. While we agree with this inclusion, we did not
Black Women in Pornography 22
include this in our code, as we had difficulty getting reliability on a similar code with our high
number of coders; therefore, our study may have underestimated the depictions of aggression.
For example, Zhou and Paul (2016), who also did not code for forceful penetration, found low
levels of depicted aggression against Asian women; this potentially could stem from a lack of
including depictions of forceful penetration, which according to Shor and Golriz (2019) are
prevalent in pornography with Asian women. This speaks to the fact that type of aggression may
also be important to understand qualitative differences in aggression. For example, our results
suggest spanking was the most common form of aggression for Black women to receive.
Spanking is defined as open hand contact to the buttocks, an area on Black women that is
sexualized and fetishized by black male artists (Miller-Young, 2008). While the harmful sexual
script for Asian women may be to be demure, innocent young girls who do not want sexual
intercourse (and therefore receive forceful penetration), the harmful sexual script for Black
women may be of importance and fetishization of the buttocks during sex. Finally, the depiction
of Black women being the target of aggression may have deeper implications for their physical
wellbeing. Black women, along with Native American women, are at greater risk for being
murdered by intimate partners (Petrosky et al., 2017). While we are not suggesting that
pornography is causing the death of Black women, we are suggesting that the sexual script of
higher levels of aggression in pornography against Black women creates a societal context that
devalues Black female bodies, putting Black women at higher risk for death by an intimate
partner than other groups of women.
Black Men as Aggressors
Potentially as important as the depiction of Black women as beaten objects, is the
portrayal of Black men as the aggressor. Similar to previous research, our study found black men
Black Women in Pornography 23
were more likely to be depicted as perpetrating aggression against their sexual partners, and
particularly shown spanking or pulling the hair of their sexual partners. Outside of pornography,
research suggests that men of color are often portrayed as violent and criminal in the news and
reality TV (for review see: Oliver, 2003) According to social categorization theory, Black men,
like Black women conforming to the Jezebel stereotype, may conform to the expected role as the
sexually aggressive or violent man. This has negative implications for the mental health of Black
men (for review: Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000), as well as for the partners and families of
Implications for Black Couples
In addition to violence, Black men in pornography were portrayed as kissing their
partners less, and Black couples in general were depicted kissing less. Notably, no other sexual
behavior differences were noted. Given the previously mentioned fetishization of Black women’s
butts, we did not find higher rates of anal sex for Black couples; nor were there differences in
oral sex or penile-vaginal intercourse. This seems to suggest that the main difference in the
depiction of Black couples is a lack of kissing and potentially intimacy, which was found in
previous studies as well. This reinforcement of negative stereotypes of detached and aggressive
sex for Black couples, may lead to sexual and relationship dissatisfaction. Research finds that
men’s porn use is related to lower sexual and relationship quality; although the results differ
when examining women’s use of porn use (Poulsen, Busby, & Galovan, 2013). Research has not
yet examined how race may impact the connection between Black couples’ use of pornography
and relationship satisfaction. The harmful stereotype of the aggressive and cold Black sexual
relationship could be potentially even more damaging given the lack of other healthy
representations of black couples in media.
Black Women in Pornography 24
Despite some evidence of the effect of pornography on Black women and men, the
aggressive depictions of Black men and women does not necessarily mean that black consumers
are learning this message of aggressive sexual behavior. For example, Brown et al.’s (2006)
study of Black and white adolescents found that media diet seemed to have a different impact
depending on race. While White adolescents who consumed more media than their peers were
more likely to have early sexual debuts, Black adolescents were less impacted by media
consumption. With Black young people, peer and parent sexual norms predicted sexual behavior
better than media consumption (Brown, L'Engle, Pardun, Guo, Kenneavy, & Jackson, 2006). It
may be that media consumption impacts social learning differently within different communities
or that specific media selection may impact social learning of behaviors. Future studies could
examine the interaction between pornography and social norms in communities of color.
Notably this study did not find increased aggression between interracial couples, like
previous research found. This study suggests a more defined script of detached aggressive sex
for black men and women. Given that this stereotype is also present in popular media such as
music videos and magazines, even individuals who do not consume pornography may acquire
this script resulting in negative mental health outcomes. Even if individuals do not engage in
these behaviors, research suggests that being aware that others may hold negative stereotypes
about your group identity may lead to depression (Jerald, Cole, et al., 2017). Beyond these
negative outcomes for Black women and men, there are implications for others who may
negatively stereotype and then discriminate Black individuals. For example, one study found in
an experiment with 182 undergraduates that those primed with the Jezebel stereotype were faster
to identify a Black female job candidate with sexual terms, potentially sexualizing a professional
Black Women in Pornography 25
job applicant. (Brown Givens & Monahan, 2005). Finally, for homogenous groups who lack real
world experience with Black people, these effects may be even stronger and potentially
damaging. The effect of harmful stereotypes of Black women and men may be even stronger in
the absence of real-world experience with people of color.
Limitations. As mentioned previously, a significant limitation of the current study is the
disproportionate number of scenes featuring White women compared to those featuring Black
women. Future studies in this area should include a larger number of scenes featuring Black
women in order to confirm the current findings. Additionally, this analysis is a shallow measure
of both objectification and aggression. In order to analyze a large sample size, we relied on a
large number of coders who were only able to reliably code manifest variables such as
“spanking” or “stripping.” They were not able to code consent, intent of actors, level of
aggression, or other portrayals such as the Jezebel stereotype, which leaves the data and
interpretation of the data flat. Beyond the constraints of the data, there are also general
limitations of content analyses of pornography, and of the portrayal of black women in
particular. First, the intersection of the identities of race and gender is not a two-dimensional
construct; it also involves the intersection of sexuality, power, and politics. As Jordan-Zachery
(2007) describes, studies of intersectionality need to be acts of liberation and are best explored
with conversations. This study does not achieve that goal. It is a flat view of a complex multi-
dimensional idea. Miller-Young (2010) explored black women in pornography by immersing
herself in the culture and talking to black female performers. Her work concludes that black
women in porn use the industry as means of gaining personal autonomy, but also that the
industry devalues black women’s bodies even as the performers struggle to harness control. As
such, she is able to articulate the messy, complex nature of sex work in a way that this paper
Black Women in Pornography 26
cannot. This paper can only offer a glimpse into the on-screen depiction of black women, not the
experience of the performer nor the experience of the consumer.
This study opened with a quotation from Alice Walker, who some consider a staunch
anti-porn advocate. Readers may assume this study is also anti-porn. It is a challenge often in
scholarship not to personally take a stance or to be forcibly put into a pro/anti camp by others. To
acknowledge some of the negative aspects of pornography and its depiction of race and gender,
is often assumed to put research in the anti-camp. We contend, however, that this study was not
conducted through the lens of anti/pro but through the lens of curiosity. Nash (2014) wrote of
moving away from the protectionist framework and towards an interpretive framework when
analyzing pornography, of moving towards an analysis centered on subjectivity. In her article,
Nash quotes Laura Kipnis’s (1998) vital work: “Pornography isn’t viewed as having complexity
because its audience isn’t viewed as having complexity” (p. 177). We would ask readers to
consume this study with an interpretive mind; understanding that pornography, despite its easy
dismissal by some, is quite complex.
Although an analysis of the depiction of black women in pornography may only give us a
one-dimensional look at a complicated intersection of race, gender, and power, it is valuable to
acknowledge that there are still significant inequalities and stereotypes depicted in pornography.
Black women are still the target of aggression more often than White women. Black men still are
more often the perpetrator. These depictions may have implications for consumers; media
literacy programs need to expand to teach consumers about the harmful racial stereotypes they
consume in pornography as well as in mass media. More research needs to examine the impact
of pornography on black couples. As researchers we need to incorporate race as an important
Black Women in Pornography 27
point of intersection as we examine the impact of media on sexual attitudes and behaviors.
Finally, future research should examine how these sexual stereotypes in pornography may
impact sex workers in the industry, particularly how the industry treats Black bodies. As
scholars, we have a responsibility to examine the intersection of identity with media production,
consumption, and effects.
Black Women in Pornography 28
There are no known potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise. This project did not
receive outside funding.
This research did not involve human participants and therefore no IRB approval or informed
consent was necessary.
Black Women in Pornography 29
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Sample Size by Website and Category
Black women with white men
White women with black men
Black Women in Pornography 39
Codes and Reliabilities for Indicators
Anytime a man ejaculates on a woman’s breasts,
chest, face, or mouth
Includes sexually alluring dance, strip tease or
posing. When a person dances, moves, or displays
themselves, optionally taking off their clothes
while moving, for the purpose of sexually arousing
the camera or another person either shown or not
Any action appearing to cause or attempting to
cause physical harm to oneself or another person.
Mouth to mouth contact either with mouths closed
or open-mouth kissing.
Any instance in which a mouth (lips, tongue,
and/or teeth) stimulate the female genitals.
Includes the entire vulva for females.
Any instance in which a mouth (lips, tongue,
and/or teeth) stimulate the male genitals. Includes
the testicles/scrotal sack for males.
Penetration of the vagina by a penis
Penetration of the anus/rectum by a penis
Black Women in Pornography 40
Comparison of the Depiction of Black and White Women in Pornography
Frequency of Objectification Measures
Physical Aggression Against Women**
Physical Aggression Against Women**
** p < .001
Sample sizes are as follows: black women (118), white women (1,624 scenes), black men (256), and
white men (1486)
Note: Significance tests were corrected using the False Discovery Rate (FDR) also known as the
Benjamini-Hochberg procedure for controlling false discovery rates (Benjamini and Hochberg, 1995).
Black Women in Pornography 41
Comparison of Aggression and Sexual Behaviors Dependent on Racial Makeup of Couples
Male to Female**
Note: Significance tests were corrected using the False Discovery Rate (FDR) also known as the Benjamini-
Hochberg procedure for controlling false discovery rates (Benjamini and Hochberg, 1995).
ᵃ indicates that a category had significantly more depictions according to the adjusted residuals
ᵇ indicates that a category had significantly fewer depictions according to the adjusted residuals
** p < .001
* p < .01
Sample size is as follows: White couple (1,429), Black couple (61), Black Female/White Male (57), and White
Female/ Black Male(195)