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.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder