Ask Better Questions

Kristina Lloyd, whose novel Undone has just been published (and is phenomenally well-written – buy it), has been doing the blog tour thing. Today, Anna Sky hosted an interesting post by Kristina: “Do Women Prefer Erotica?” Whether you’re a reader or a writer of erotica, it’s worth your while to read it.

At the end, she makes the point that our society is consistently asking the wrong question. Let me quote:

Perhaps it’s time we started asking different questions: not ‘why do women prefer erotica’ but why are women less likely than men to incorporate adult content in their lives? Why is female desire not fully acknowledged by our culture? Why can’t we have the same sexual freedoms enjoyed by men? And why, oh why, aren’t our desires more widely catered for?

I think these are powerful questions worth unpacking, examining, and attempting to answer.

Why are women less likely than men to incorporate adult content in their lives?
I’m going to debate this first one, or rather, I’m going to specify that I think women do incorporate adult content into their lives just as much as men do, but not commercial content, and often the content is self-generated.

Women don’t consume anywhere near as much commercially available adult content – that’s a fact. But I think Kristina addresses this well in the post: so little of what is available is targeted at women. Yes, there is a little, but quite often it is  re-purposed gay porn (and I can tell when it is; it makes me feel like I’m using a hand-me-down dildo. The gay gaze and the female gaze are NOT the same.) Much of the stuff produced by women for women has undercurrents of political correctness or activism about it that, frankly, just spoil the ‘dirty’ for me.

There is not a lot out there for women, porn-wise, because it isn’t a lucrative market. Many women won’t pay for porn. So there’s little commercial impetus to produce it for them. Why is that?

I think it comes back to another question Kristina asked: “Why is female desire not fully acknowledged by our culture?” My hypothesis is that most women won’t purchase porn for themselves because they are products of their culture and that culture has very ambivalent feelings about female desire. The lie that ‘women aren’t visual’ (beautifully dismissed by Kristina in her post) translates in our society to ‘women shouldn’t be visual’; ergo women who are visual are abnormal.

The one place where, I think, the marketplace has proven the lies of how women want romance, how they’re less visual, how they have lower libidos than men, how it all needs to be personal and caring and shit is in the sales of sex toys.

It’s hard to get solid numbers on this, but according to a survey by Adam & Eve, almost half of all women in the US own a sex toy. And those are the ones who will admit to owning one. Excuse me if I feel that there might be a little under-reporting going on. Also, is anyone counting conveniently shaped shampoo bottles, deoderants, etc.?

Women DO spend money on getting off. They spend about $15 Billion a year on it. We get off wild and we get off hard and love has nothing to do with it.

But the other aspect of the first question is about content. Here I’m going to venture into speculative territory. I wonder if, because a lot of adult content is not made for women and so the sexually arousing fantasies are not as easily found externally, maybe women manufacture more of their own? I’m not saying some men don’t have marvelous interior fantasy machines, but I’ve noticed that once you can find your fantasy represented externally, you’re not as hard-pressed to generate your own. (I began writing erotic fiction because I couldn’t find much out there (porn, erotica, whatever) that addressed my particular perversions. Had I found a lot of stuff that hit the spot, I might not have bothered trying to write it.)

What I’m trying to say, poorly perhaps, is that imagination is a muscle. You don’t use it unless you have to. And a LOT of women have to because their erotic fantasies may not be represented in porn or represented in the right way.

Kristina’s second and third questions: Why is female desire not fully acknowledged by our culture? and Why can’t we have the same sexual freedoms enjoyed by men? are really inextricably bound together.

I think the spectre of female sexual desire unmoderated and made safe by an accompanying cuddly love-bunny thing is a frightening thing in our culture. Certainly there are porn memes about insatiable women, but they aren’t really about insatiable women. They are about the benefits a man might reap from a sexually insatiable women, who is really not quite insatiable, and finds satiation with YOU (the male consuming the meme).

But, let me flip this around. There is a small community of men who fetishize the humiliation of not being potent enough, large enough or well-equipped enough to satisfy a woman with a rampant sexual appetite. That fetish, I think, reveals the true horror of an insatiable woman. She doesn’t care one wit for you or your feelings. If you can’t get her off fast enough, often enough, hard enough, she’ll walk over your exhausted, drained and prostrate body to get to the next candidate, muttering ‘pussy’ as she goes.

My guess is that for most men, a woman who knows exactly what she wants sexually, is demanding of it, and intolerant of a man who falls short is a terrifying prospect. Yet if we were to look at most male-centered porn, that is the message reflected back to us all the time. Men are so horny, they just can’t get enough. No one woman can satisfy them – they need five. As women, we live with the constant spectre of not being hot enough, tight enough, wild enough, wet enough, multi-orgasmic enough all the time.

My guess is that if we ever made porn that DID reflect women’s sexual desire, unmitigated by shame or the limiting narrative of affection, there would be more massively insecure men in the world than there are already.

Ironically, what I think men ought to be scared of is the ubiquity of the stereotypical uber-rich, permanently erect, led-by-his-penis alpha male in most contemporary romances. Believe me, the vast majority of you can’t live up to that at all. But your doomed-to-fail attempts keep the free-market system ticking over.

We’d all be a lot healthier if this were really about sex.

 

 

 

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  18 comments for “Ask Better Questions

  1. September 30, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    I think, more than anything, that the last line of this post perfectly sums up the underlying issues around a discussion on women and sexuality and desire and how it is portrayed in the world.

    The fact that this has nothing to do, really, with sex itself (or the acts of sex or what sex actually involves in terms of the logistics of two people and their mutual satisfaction) contributes so much to the way this discourse is framed, in what light it is examined in and the various (often incredibly misguided) conclusions that are reached.

    My conclusion? Gotta go buy that novel, asap.

  2. Lady Flo
    October 2, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Interesting post, RM.
    The problem is complex because it has many facets. When we talk about women’s desires we should specify what kind of women we are talking about.
    I think women’s desires are different in twenties women that face the job world and find a man to make a family, or thirties that think about baby and have one or more childs to take care, or forties or fifties, etc.
    And also… the majority of women are straight, so when we talk about women’s desires we think about straight women above all, but there are also lesbian women, then why do lesbian’s desires are confined in a genre, and not handle as the straight desires are?

    • October 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      I think the varied aspects desire exists for both men and women and what people find sexually inviting will change from time to time. Unfortunately, the market for women is very much about what men believe women want (which in turn becomes what men WANT women to want). All other things are neglected. The assumption that most women are straight is problematic too. Sexuality and what one desires are not always so neatly defined and packaged.

  3. Spencer
    October 4, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Questions are more important than categorization and convention which so often tie us to a lie that deprives many from joy; orgasm is at least a truth. Men too are reduced if women are reduced, self evidently women are able to enjoy as much or more sexual freedom than a man and it is particularly mean minded to ignore or deny the desires of others particularly those we claim to love; no doubt a reason for so much dislocation in human relationships.
    I always find your comments and way with language, so attractive and so refreshing, that I fear my judgement is impaired, I would like to protest that I am not usually that easily seduced!

    • October 6, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Interesting, I’ve always found disagreement a powerful form of seduction. So, protest away! Meanwhile, Spencer, I agree with you – the diminishing of one part of the equation is inevitably a diminishing of all. Yes, men have had access to greater volumes of material that represent their desires, but it could also be argued that that material is less representational and more proscriptive. Male-centered porn has also been a way for men to be told ‘how to be sexually’ as a man. I don’t believe consumption is a one-way street. To some extent, we become what we consume. There is an indoctrinational element of porn that I don’t think can be ignored, and it has probably limited a lot of men in terms of understanding their choices and ways of being sexual.

  4. Six
    October 5, 2014 at 5:07 am

    Very thought-provoking post! Thank you, RG! Other unasked questions: If female porn existed that accurately depicted female fantasies, and if it became commercially successful, how would that change men’s views of women? Would men have a better understanding of what really turns women on? And if so, would we all (men and women) be happier?

    • October 6, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Hello Six!

      I’m not sure that porn is or ever has been an indication of what we want in real life. It’s always been a very stylized, simplistic and proscriptive way of addressing human eroticism.

      Admittedly, this is just my subjective opinion, but some of the saddest, and least interesting sexual experiences I have had were with people who had somehow come to use porn as the model for their ideal sexual relations. I got the sense that our interactions were always shaped and haunted by some external ideal that was constantly being mentally referred to. They were cold, unerotic, and deeply unpassionate interactions.

  5. October 6, 2014 at 8:14 am

    “My guess is that for most men, a woman who knows exactly what she wants sexually, is demanding of it, and intolerant of a man who falls short is a terrifying prospect. ”

    This is so very true. And I believe why society has for many centuries shamed women for the same sex drive as men. We are all sexual beings. As more women stand up and speak, blog and write maybe a balance of freedom will eventually come. One can hope. Thank you for this post.

    ~ Vista

  6. pianist
    December 2, 2014 at 6:53 am

    I think we are still trapped in an inherently patriarchal society, even as we move towards a more gender-equal society. It has always been socially acceptable for men to openly pursue their desires, to the point that their brutish pursuits are applauded as evidence of manliness. Women, on the other hand, have always had to hide away their desires-even castigate themselves for having them- in order to fit into the socially acceptable mold of a woman. Sadly, this still exists today, and is, strangely enough, rampant in feminism. I consider myself a feminist. And yet, at times, I feel that either I or my fellow feminists are not truly feminists. Like most feminists, I push for equality in treatment, opportunity, salary, etc. The subject of sex is where it gets iffy. Even as the majority of feminists push for the right to abortion and sexual freedom, many look down on such “demeaning, misogynistic” activities such as BDSM and being submissive to one’s partner. I’m one of those really weird people who like really, really rough sex. I like being tied up, paddled, and having cock shoved down my throat. Is it demeaning? Yes. But I like it. And yet, I am told by fellow feminists that I am not supposed to want that, that it is wrong to want that. They tell me that I am being brainwashed by the idea of masculine superiority and that I am submitting to it, betraying feminist ideals. Is it not the fear of masculine superiority that puts limits on female desires?

    • December 2, 2014 at 7:39 am

      I think one of the big problems is that our levels of development towards gender equality are radically staggered. We are living through a very heterogeneous era in which people holding virtually Victorian attitudes towards women are living cheek by jowl with people who can’t even cognate the inequality of gender at all.

      For me, the choice to participate in a power-dynamic as the submissive is a radical one. It speaks not to my acclimatization to the proposition culturally, but to a radical, agencied choice to go against what I perceive to be the norm, and enter into what I see as an opposite.

      I have noticed that many feminists feel the need to make sure every woman in the world is fully emancipated before I can be allowed my choice of sexual orientation. They indulge in actively gas-lighting the whole gender (you can’t make a choice to be submissive because you are so indoctrinated into a masculinist hegemony that you aren’t capable of making a free choice) in the service of their ideology. Personally, I can’t see the daylight between this and fundamentalist Christians, Muslims or Jews. They have sacrificed the idea of free will on the altar of ideology. And for me, that’s unforgivable.

  7. Aida
    December 3, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    [comment deleted]

    • December 3, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Aida, you want to enter into dialogue with me and my readers, fine.

      You want to promote your shit… fuck off.

  8. Barbara
    December 22, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    “Also, is anyone counting conveniently shaped shampoo bottles, deoderants, etc.”
    Okay, I’m guilty of doing this. I think I have three or four sex toys, yet I always find something in my bedroom that can substitute them.

  9. ali
    January 4, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Yes!
    This is a much-needed dialogue. The stigmatization of women’s sexual desire is ridiculously frustrating. There are enough people who are willing to blindly deny that women HAVE desires (much like they’re denying women sweat and function like other messy human beings) today to feel like we’re at risk of drifting back to the Victorian era; meanwhile there are as many people boldly forging ahead into explicitly sexual territory…

    And it’s left us all mired somewhere in the middle. … With sexuality and desire tinged in embarrassing seediness that makes it difficult to discuss in polite company. ,..despite the fact that the conversations we need to have are those that include “polite company” in order to have the concept of women’s sexual desire become not just accepted but normalized. …so that vibrators, erotica, and porn aren’t excessively denigrated. (Or at least they could then be held to the same level of cultural acceptance as male-centric porn and the male gaze in general.) I mean, imagine if the female counterparts to Playboy etc. were supported with the same zeal, and the “page four” girl on the newspaper had a male counterpart. (Although a part of me thinks that maybe the guys are just afraid of how they’ll be laughed at and objectified; much like they know they’re doing to women in the pages of the Sears catalogue and on the streets… and because they still have the power of influence, they’ll do what they can to avoid being held up for the mockery they are anticipating.)

    All that being said, I am quite pleased to have been relegated to the position of “more imaginative gender”. It suggests the fellows ought to ask their ladies for more ideas in the bedroom. 😉

  10. ali
    January 4, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Yes!
    This is a much-needed dialogue. The stigmatization of women’s sexual desire is ridiculously frustrating. There are enough people out there today who are willing to blindly deny that women HAVE desires (much like they’re denying that women sweat and have other bodily functions like normal, messy human beings) to feel like we’re at risk of drifting back to the Victorian era. Meanwhile, there are as many people boldly forging ahead into explicitly sexual territory. It’s creating some interesting and challenging dichotomies.

    The combination of these ideals has left us all mired somewhere in the middle… with sexuality and desire tinged in an embarrassing seediness that makes it difficult to discuss in polite company, despite the fact that the conversations we NEED to have are those that include “polite company” if we want to have the idea (and the realization) of women’s sexual desire become not just accepted, but normalized. … So that vibrators, erotica, and porn for women aren’t excessively denigrated (or at least they could then be held to the same level of cultural acceptance as male-centric porn and the male gaze in general). I mean, imagine if the female counterparts to Playboy and Hustler, or Ron Jeremy etc. were supported with the same zeal, and the “page four girl” in the newspaper had an equally good-looking and under-clothed female-appealing counterpart. Yes, some of this may be happening, but it is spotty at best, and often it is still done through a lens of what appeals to men, or what men think women will want, rather than what women actually want. And we’ll have to first cut through the “porn for women” B.S. that gets bandied around as comedic “truth”, showing scantily-clad men pushing vacuum cleaners, or washing windows, in addition to the politicized activist porn and the repackaged gay porn.

    (Part of me thinks – like you raised at the end of your post – that maybe the guys are just afraid of how they might be laughed at and objectified – cf. the cheesiness of Chippendales, and the success of “Magic Mike” – much like they’re doing to women in the pages of the Sears catalogue, in innumerable “gentlemen’s clubs” and on the streets … and because they still have the power of influence, they’re going to do what they can to avoid being held up to the mockery they’re anticipating… despite the fact that they have NO IDEA WHAT WOMEN ACTUALLY WANT TO SEE.)

    It’s such a systemic issue, though, the normalization and acceptance of female sexuality and sexual desire, that I won’t hold my breath for a change any time soon. We’ll first have to cut through multiple layers of shame-laden BS around masturbation, rape victimization, and the purity ideals that still hold sway over so many peoples’ perceptions of young women. Even how we frame sexual relations, and the words we use to describe people (“player” vs “slut”), and the equality of partners in relationships. Language and culture have a long way to come yet.

    • ali
      January 4, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      For what it’s worth, if I was going to be stuck with a stereotype, I’d rather it be that of the “more imaginative gender” as a result of not having my desires catered to in standard porn… And perhaps it could be a good reminder for those in relationships, to look beyond the standard ideas and activities put forth in pornography when coming up with things to do that will get everyone off.

  11. Joe
    February 7, 2015 at 1:12 am

    Haven’t perused all the comments yet, so maybe you addressed this already.

    I really wish you had focused some attention on the the assumptions in the questions – because I think that’s a HUGE part of the problem with these discussions. Those questions frame the discussion without first supporting the assumptions in the questions, or even the *meaning* of the questions.

    I do believe you, RM, have the skill to deconstruct the assumptions and meanings behind each of these questions – I’d love to see your work!

    Thanks again for your thoughts – I visit intermittently, but almost always find something insightful here.

    And yes, your closing thoughts are most excellent!

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