At a recent dinner, a friend confided that she was spending her masturbation sessions with a new lover: porn GIFs. “They’re incredible,” she said. I didn’t get it.

I know what a GIF is—four to six seconds of silent video looped. That seems like the perfect amount of time to capture a kitten falling into a garbage can or Tina Fey rolling her eyes, but the notion that one moving image could translate into a satisfactory—nay, “incredible”—sexual experience? Well, that didn’t compute. So she passed me her phone.

And then, I was gone.

While GIFs may seem like a flash in the pan—really, how can four seconds turn you on?—the nature of the loop actually allows the viewer to spend an elongated amount of time taking in the presented scenario. GIFs give the viewer time to notice the caress of a hand floating from neck to shoulder to forearm, the tensing of an abdomen, the arching of a back, and the reflex of a thigh. After a few loops, you may find yourself empathizing with the players involved. Maybe you can even feel what they’re feeling.

“GIFs take these moments of ephemeral pleasure, a passing facial expression, a particular movement or jiggle and de-contextualize the moment. And then repeat itself,” said Helen Hester, a senior lecturer in media and communication at the University of West London and coauthor of the article Giffing a fuck: Non-narrative pleasures in participatory porn cultures and female fandom, to be published in the journal Porn Studies.

Of course, porn GIFs don’t appeal only to women, but the “microporn” does appear to have struck a unique chord with the ladies, according to Hester—an audience known to feel alienated by mainstream porn, historically geared toward men. Spend five minutes on Tumblr, and you’ll find yourself sucked into a pulsing subculture of porn GIFs curated for women, living on pages like Porn-Gifs-For-Women and YummyPornForGirls. GIFs that almost exclusively spotlight erotic female pleasure.

The birth of the porn GIF

While new to me, porn GIFs are not new to the world. A Google Trends search reveals that they first started to take off in 2012, and their presence has only ballooned from there. Google searches for the term “porn GIF” are fourteen times more popular now than they were three years ago—and yes, a casual search of “porn GIFs of [insert your fetish here]” will almost certainly retrieve unbelievably hot images of what you’re looking for.

Porn GIFs’ existence is not surprising—after all, pornography has always kept up with trends in tech. Ever heard of Rule 34? Yes, if it exists, there will be porn of it. While the notion is usually applied to content (see: Minion porn), it also applies to the medium. For example, as sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals told The Debrief last year, just a few years after motion pictures were invented, people started filming sex in early “stag films.”

So think of GIFs as tiny motion pictures—or tiny little quickies. And while their popularity in general has been linked to our generation’s disintegrating attention span, what’s the appeal for women?

How to arouse a woman in four seconds

If we’ve learned anything about sex, it’s that bigger isn’t always better. Or longer and more complex isn’t always better, as the case may be when it comes to porn GIFs.

For many women, sexual arousal relies as much on the mind as on the body–and this means that women often prefer porn with complex and character-driven plot lines, according to sex researchers. But the brevity of porn GIFs may work in our favor: The shorter the scene, the less time for women to lose interest.

“Women tend to take more time to orgasm, so any interruptions (either visually or audibly) can cause them to have to start from scratch,” said Kate McCarthy, a human sexuality expert and MIT’s Program Director of Violence Prevention. “The GIF allows them that fantasy without it going off the rails and crashing with a moment, or an image, that they didn’t like or that slowed down their build up of getting to an orgasm.”

Another theory? Power in numbers. While one GIF on its own may be a sexual blip, compile hundreds of these GIFs onto one Tumblr page, and suddenly you’re participating in an immersive erotic experience. “You scroll through and let this wave of endlessly repeating images of pornographic content wash over you,” said Hester.

But for Hester, it’s not just the content of porn GIFs that make them appeal to women. It’s the knowledge of how they’re made—and the fact that they’re made by women.

Take the Tumblr page YummyPornForGirls, whose owner writes: “I’ve been frustrated with the content of a lot of porn blogs that claim to be for women…I decided to create this blog to showcase erotic images that I think actually appeal to women.”

And the creator of the Tumblr Porn-Gifs-For-Women describes it as a “collection of animated porn gifs that were selected by me. I have no other qualification for doing this than being a woman myself.”

Most mainstream porn, meanwhile, is created by men, for men. “There’s an idea that there is something disingenuous and pitched towards the male viewer,” Hester said. “So now [with GIFs], you’re taking a scene where you’re witnessing female pleasure and the act of re-contextualizing the single moment. You snip it, maybe you put it in black and white and it looks like something different.”

In essence, the GIF creator can become an active participant in her own pornographic experience—which is key to arousal, according to Hester.

Keeping it real

After speaking with the experts, I began to notice that all their theories echo a wider desire specific to our generation—for authenticity, when it comes to everything. We shy away from consuming media that’s been mass produced, that feels artificial or disingenuous. And we like to make our own content. Do you want to star in your own porn? Maybe not. But you may be drawn to the idea of becoming a director in the world of porn GIFs. By clipping the four second segment of that mass-produced Vivid video, the GIF creator has taken ownership of her own porn experience. And that element, I know, is important to my friends.

Of course, the porn GIF universe isn’t perfect. A Google search reveals predominately thin, young, white, heterosexual, cisgendered women. It is difficult to find body-diverse GIFs or queer friendly GIFs (we didn’t count the ones tagged “HOT LESBIANS!”) or GIFs featuring people of color.

But that could easily reflect a wider diversity problem in mainstream porn. Most porn sites tout white women as the norm, while women of color are tucked away in “fetish” tabs (think “chocolate” or “Asian”). So it’s possible the lack of diversity in porn GIFs is less a statement about the porn GIF creators and more about the porn industry as a whole.

And porn GIFs don’t do it for all women. “Some people like videos and photos. GIFs are in the middle,” said Lux Alptraum, founder of Boinkology, a sex and culture blog. “I don’t think they’ll replace movies.”

So, sure, PornHub has nothing to worry about. But for many of us, the sensuality and intimacy of watching a tiny snapshot of a sexual encounter on repeat is a revelation. And if nothing else—if you’ve got a weak wifi connection and that video is taking a damn long time to load, porn GIFs have got you covered.

At a recent dinner, a female friend confided that she was spending her masturbation sessions with a new friend: porn GIFs. “They’re incredible,” she said. I didn’t get it.

Source: Why women love porn GIFs | Fusion