Is there any point in making porn for women?

Perhaps if the choice weren't so limited, women would be a bit more interested.

Are men more visually aroused than women? There's a widespread assumption that menfolk are hard-wired to view women as sexual objects, and that, as more visual creatures, all it takes is a close-up picture of an arse to get their priapic blood pumping. Women, meanwhile, the theory goes, need intimacy, empathy, and romantic scenarios involving candles in order to get off. Studies show that women are less turned on by erotic images than men, which must be why so many of us are so indifferent to porn, right? RIGHT?

Well, maybe. Certainly scientific studies seem to confirm this. When men and women are presented with erotic images, the men's brains reportedly show higher levels of activity, leading scientists to conclude that they respond more to visual sexual stimulae. Yet when reading about these studies in the Mail or wherever, we're rarely told what exactly is in the pictures. It'll usually say something like "the participants viewed several types of sexual imagery for X amount of time", but what exactly they are watching is left up to our imaginations, and it could be anything. Except it probably isn't. It's probably something that is made for men.

It's fair to say, after all, that most of the pornography made is targeted at men, and that there is a massive reliance on the "money shot" - usually a close up of a massive, throbbing penis entering a bald and perfectly symmetrical vagina. Perhaps it's because of porn that some men imagine we'll be sent into raptures of ecstatic delight simply by receiving a picture message of their erect penis while we're sitting on the bus. Close-ups of genitalia don't tend to really do it for us - a poll of our Twitter followers found that the majority of women don't find the penis aesthetically pleasing in and of itself, and the same can probably be said for the vagina. If this is the kind of image that is shown to women participants in such studies then perhaps it's no surprise they're not getting all squirmy knickers in the lab. Or maybe the scientists devise their own amateur "woman porn", in which a variety of romantic narratives are acted out. According to something we were reading on the Psychology Today website, women are turned on by romance novels and something which is nauseatingly termed "the awakening of love" (and no, they don't mean a boner).

So leave the smutty stuff to the lads, ladies, because what really gets us going is a committed relationship with an Alpha male set against a narrative which facilitates emotionally imbued character development. Sexy.

If the assumption is that we get off on love, then this idea that women don't "get" porn isn't that surprising - it's rarely lauded for its ability to make searing insights into the depths of the human psyche. Other sciency-type people claim that women like to be able to project themselves into the situation, while men will simply objectify the actors. If this is indeed the case then it's no surprise that some women are left cold when trying to imagine themselves spontaneously orgasming because they love being ejaculated on that much. At least with books you can imagine that the characters are having a good time, rather than watching actors who are not.

Even if you're lucky enough to be watching a clip that features a face, the hollow look behind the eyes will often reveal that the orgasm is indeed fake. And yes, we can tell.

The argument that men get off on sexual imagery and that women get off on feelings is a convenient one because it essentially means that there's no point making porn with us as its target audience, and that the porn industry can thus continue trotting out the same bland scenarios in which pneumatic women are pounded mercilessly by alarming colossal phalluses or, failing that, a variety of household objects.

Maybe what we really need to do is make some porn in which the female participant is not subjugated and looks as though she really fancies the person she's shagging and is having a smashing time. We're not asking for plot and character complexity to rival Wuthering Heights, just something that's not quite as cock-centric as most porn. Once we do that perhaps the small but ever-increasing demand for better porn will grow.

Of course, there are some directors out there making "feminist porn" (a man and a woman meet at Planet Organic after a gender studies lecture, discuss intersectionality over vegetarian food, and then go back to her flat to bone on last Sunday's Observer), but the films they are making are but tiny fishing boats beating against a swelling tide of bumming on sofas from Argos. Maybe once there are more films showing shagging that is so mind-blowingly incredible that the woman actually comes, maybe even more than once, and in an actual living room that looks as though people live in it, maybe once that happens we can hand the footage over to some scientists and let them loose on some focus groups. The results may be surprising.
 

Perhaps if the choice wasn't so limited, women would be a bit more interested? Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad