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.