Link Love: Erotica Cover Watch

Ryan Kwanten

I wanted to take a moment of silence (during which, please, check out this man, or another more to your taste) in recognition of Erotica Cover Watch. They were a project that really made me aware how quickly and easily one can become blind to “naked women everywhere” syndrome. Their “about” post says it all:

Erotica publishers, editors, designers: we are watching you. And we want to ask you one tricky little question – why only women on the covers of erotica books?

Really, why do you think that only women’s bodies can be used to signify the erotic. On erotic books these days men are only displayed on covers that are for gay titles or erotic romance. (Even erotica aimed at womenstill features women on the covers.) So, what? Only men are allowed to look at men with pure lust? Women are only allowed to enjoy hot men when love enters the equation?

Men can be sex symbols too. For everyone – not just gay guys.

I picked this image in particular as Ryan there is in True Blood, which is a TV show known for it’s fantastic writing. KIDDING, it’s full of eye candy for every orientation, that’s why people love it, duh! And women have really gotten hot for other vampires, too.

So maybe women do respond to hot images of men. Who’d have thought?

As sweetiris says in this post:

“Publications, on their covers, cater visually to straight men, gay men, bisexual women, and lesbian women. The only orientation that is treated as though it is visually blind, is heterosexual women. Apparently, we can only be visually stimulated by looking at ourselves? No wonder why the female libido has been shown in studies, even in young women, to be on the decline. That is particularly the case here in America.

While women are being denied any opportunity to gaze at men, men are being drenched with erotic images of women, on a day to day basis. It is prevelant in ways never before seen in our media. And it is highly disproportionate. Women are being indoctrinated to what I see as an almost perverse loss of visual appreciation toward male erotic images.”

With my new job, seeing books all around me with many women on the cover (women who, by the way, do not often reflect much of a queer or even varied gaze- they are almost always white, slender but with rounded breasts, and femme), I realize how this is a multi-step project, and this is going to be more than a summer thing I do to keep busy.

And it’s not going to be easy. But it’s worth fighting for- Filament fought to show erect cock in their magazine and won, after all-

“While some questioned whether women would even buy visual erotica, Filament’s readers soon put them straight. Not only were women buying it, they were asking for more explicit pictures.

That demand brought Filament smack up against the biggest problem in providing visual erotica for straight women: the pervasive nervousness about depictions of aroused men. Previous attempts to offer erotic imagery to women flopped when publications such as For Women and Playgirl offered only photography that many believed fell short of what women wanted from an adult mag.

Filament, responding to reader feedback, had planned to include a photo set of an aroused man in their second (September) issue. It’s not illegal to print images of erections but the Obscene Publications Act is notoriously vague. After taking legal advice, Filament intended to make a test case of sorts. Its printers, however, refused, citing potential objections from “the women’s/religious sectors”. As a new, independent publisher, Filament can’t yet afford more liberal-minded printers willing to tackle the taboo on tumescence.

It’s the second major hurdle for Filament, which has already been turned down by numerous UK distributors refusing to handle a women’s magazine with a man on the cover. When set against the plethora of men’s lifestyle and top-shelf magazines featuring scantily clad and open-legged women, the struggles faced by Filament highlight a deeply entrenched sexism: men can look at women but women cannot look at men.”

As a final couple of thoughts before I go to a much-deserved bed, the first from the last post at Erotica Cover Watch:

“We hope, with this campaign, we’ve raised awareness and set something in motion within the erotica publishing industry. Please help us to carry this forward. Please keep the energy of Erotica Cover Watch alive. Keep the links and Man Candies coming, complain about sexism, celebrate sexy men and support publishers who are trying to break the mould.”

And, of course, maymay, who summed up what I hope for here:

“I think Filament’s success, along with the response to sites like this one that acknowledge a female gaze, are stepping stones to more than just access to quality erotica for women, but also to a healthier and happier sexual self-expression for men.”

I salute you, Mat and Kristina, for saying something the “sex positive” community wasn’t ready to hear but needed to. May I carry the banner half as well in the erotic photography world.

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8 Responses to Link Love: Erotica Cover Watch

  1. Emma Hillman’s book covers are full of pics of sexy men.

  2. As are the books from, er… Fanny Press…

    sometimes I think you girls are identifying and exaggerating a problem that really is not as bad as you say it is.

  3. Thanks for such a wonderful shout out! I’m a big fan of what you’re doing here, and it’s great to see this conversation growing and touching other areas. “Keeping the energy alive” (to half-quote ourselves) can be a real challenge at times but semi-nekkid men are awesome rocket fuel!

    QRG, sometimes I think you argue just for the sake of it! But your links prove the point we were making on ECW: “On erotic books these days men are only displayed on covers that are for gay titles or erotic romance.”

    I think the situation in erotica publishing is slightly better than it was but the overwhelming majority of erotica books aimed at the het market still feature a solo sexy woman. (In genre terms, erotica is distinct from erotic romance in that it does not require a central love story or a happy ending. It can focus shamelessly on the shagging.)

    Interestingly, the growth of self- and e-publishing is allowing authors to bypass trad publishing’s resistance to eroticising the male body for a female consumer. And I do believe we had a very real impact with the Cover Watch campaign we ran for 18 months. For me, our biggest success was raising awareness of how het female desire is so frequently overlooked and distorted. I think this hurts women, and it hurts men, and I applaud anyone who strives to challenge and change this. Hats off to Kitty!

  4. Exceptions to a rule do not negate the rule. Percentage-wise, let’s look at how many publishers fit this pattern: Cleis, one of the biggest independent publishing companies for erotica, sex how-tos and BDSM guides, definitely falls into this pattern more often than not. Chimera books- are they aware men can even *be* on the cover? Harper Perennial…. I mean, should we bother getting into the other smut publishers out there? The more mainstream you go… yeah, the worse it gets.

    But you know who’s doing really well on this, surprising no one? Circlet Press, which is run by Cecilia Tan and features erotic sci-fi/fantasy smut.

  5. Dear all,
    The one most common shout out to me when I discuss these issues which are as close to my heart as yours, is that I am a ‘contrarian’ and I ‘argue for the sake of it’. This suggests I don’t care about gender and images and porn and sex and writing. And you do. I find it insulting to be honest.

    Maymay says it to me often.

    I didn’t know Emma Hilman wrote ‘romance’ I find all your genre-categories very confusing. I just read writing. I do not even like categories. I feel you are all keeping yourselves constrained within the genres and typologies of the industry you say you are critiquing.

  6. That incidentally is why I set up Games Perverts Play – to get rid of genre categories altogether. There are even a few glimpses of men’s bodies on the site, though that was not the key aim of the project. It was all about the writing.

  7. Pingback: Man Candy Monday « Kristina Lloyd

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