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.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.