[Three people sent this to me. I'm here to serve...]
In 2009, there was an event known in online fan circles as SurveyFail. Complete details are collected here, but the basics of it are that researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam conducted an online survey of fandom members that was incredibly shoddy in its construction and application. The complete survey can be found here and contains awesome questions like:
54. If you write m/m slash, how do you study male physiology in order to write more convincing stories? (Check as many as apply.)
I don't write m/m slash.
I use ideas from other slash stories.
I ask gay men for information.
I research details on the internet.
I watch gay porn for insight.
I'm a man, and can use my own experiences.
If you're thinking that's missing a few obvious possibilities, making a lot of assumptions, "steering" the survey responder toward certain stereotypes of the shallow young "gay men are so sparkly!" fangirl who's never had real sex, and generally a very unprofessional way to conduct psychology research, you're not alone.
Much of the concern stemmed from the fact that Ogas and Gaddam had explicitly stated that the purpose of their survey was to "prove" cognitive differences between men and women concerning romance and sexuality, and made delightfully quadruple-clueless comments like the following:
Well, slash is kind of the female equivalent of the straight male interest in transsexuals. That is, the opposite of what culture would predict. So it probably reflects a more direct subcortical effect.
Ogas and Gaddam claimed to be endorsed by Boston University, but BU actually had no affiliation with them and they had never cleared their research with BU's or any other university's institutional review board for human subjects. They also did not disclose to subjects that their answers would be published in a for-profit, non-peer-reviewed book (and now also a shit-ton of likewise non-peer-reviewed popular press articles), did not screen for underage subjects, and generally did not do anything to screen or randomize survey respondents. They were every bit as "scientific" in their conduction of the survey as a quiz on Facebook asking you which Ninja Turtle you are.
Less so, because at least the Facebook survey probably doesn't start with the assumption that all women are gonna be Rafael.
And worst of all, even after they were widely criticized for all this (and their survey can be assumed to have been fucked with eight ways to Sunday, although they discarded any critical answers as "sabotage"), they went ahead and published anyway!. Check the tags for, as the kids say these days, "lulz."
Now they're publicizing their "research" in the popular press as if everything was dandy and actual science had been accomplished. Which brings us to today's fisk:
The Online World of Female Desire
For women indulging their curiosity, Internet erotica is less about flesh than about finding Mr. Right.
Wow! Who knew that Science™ would confirm all the stereotypes we already had? Quick, now do expensive shoes or bad driving!
The female cortex contains a highly developed system for finding and scrutinizing a prospective partner—a system that might be dubbed the Miss Marple Detective Agency.
Science™! "And if you pull away the upper layers of the somatosensory cortex, you'll find the Miss Marple Detective Agency. Only in women, though. Men keep football scores there."
Also, I'm not convinced I use the same, um, brain structure when reading Internet porn as when seeking an actual partner. I know damn well that in real life Jack Sparrow wouldn't even smell good.
Using similar investigative skills, the female brain evaluates all available evidence regarding a potential mate's social, emotional and physical qualities to make an all-important decision: Is he Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong? Only if Miss Marple gives her stamp of approval do physical arousal and psychological arousal harmoniously unite in the female brain.
Dear God, how do I masturbate? I can't clear that shit with Miss Marple every night just to get my rocks off.
Female arousal is arousal. Sometimes it's based on all available social/blardy blah evidence. Sometimes it's based on a nice pair of forearms or a few nasty words whispered in my ear or the length of time since I last got laid. Sometimes it happens to me at random when I'm driving or in public and it's really inconvenient.
And for the love of God would these people please stop saying "the female brain" as if it was this exotic novelty and "females" were a recently discovered species? I have... er, I am a female brain and I don't appreciate this "intrepid explorers with pith helmets bring light to this unknown region" attitude toward my entire subjective existence.
This unconscious evaluation is the source of "feminine intuition." Though the female brain carefully processes many stimuli simultaneously, it is experienced only as a general feeling of favorability or suspicion toward a potential partner. This feminine intuition is designed to solve a woman's unique challenge of determining whether a man is committed, kind and capable of protecting a family.
Actually, I'm usually quite aware of some of the stimuli that lead to the "hottie, lets-be-friends, or creeper" determination. How could I not be? Is my brain supposed to erase things like "this one smiled at me in a friendly way, and that one gave me the bug-eye and 'accidentally' touched my butt"? It's really not that subtle. I may have been accidentally issued a male brain, because I seem to be sentient.
Female erotica demonstrates how the detective agency operates—and how it differs from the much simpler male brain.
Whoops, sorry, I forgot. Nobody is sentient.
Whereas two-minute video clips are the most popular form of contemporary erotica for men, the most popular form for women remains the romance novel, an artifact that takes many hours to digest.
I'm not much of a romance novel aficionado, but I'm fairly sure you don't masturbate the entire time. (Maybe a little on pages 213-215.) It's not a substitute for porn; it fulfills a different need.
There's also the issue of gaze. Very few two-minute video clips show the things a heterosexual woman might want to see, in terms of attractive men with their bodies emphasized giving respectful pleasure to women. And very few romance novels describe the heroine's heaving bosoms in the detail a heterosexual male reader might be interested in. You can argue about whether this is an effect of gendered preferences or not, but there's no doubt it's a cause.
I'm really sorry, non-heterosexual people, but you don't seem to exist. Do you ever?
All romance novels, whether written by the likes of Jane Austen, Nora Roberts or Stephenie Meyer, employ a narrative formula that follows the gradual elucidation of the hero's inner character, leading to an emotional epiphany between hero and heroine. On this journey, the heroine—and the reader—investigates the character of the hero.
Sure, sure (although frankly, you could read your Jane Austen a little more carefully), but you don't wank to it. It's entertaining because it's a novel, not because I'm imaginary-dating Mr. Darcy and need to know him inside and out before we may consummate our imaginary-love.
Fan fiction also reveals another fundamental difference between male and female sexuality. Men almost always consume pornography alone. But in the fan-fiction community, the online discussion of a story is as important as the story itself. This reflects one of the primary investigative techniques of Miss Marple: soliciting information from other detectives.
Oh, come on, ew. Fandom Wankers aren't literally masturbating together.
I'm not much of a fangirl these days, but I did my time in the Pit of Voles, and the point of discussing a story is... nngh, discussing the story! It's like developing any work of fiction, it's not a matter of collaboratively evaluating Harry Potter as a potential boyfriend. In any intelligent fan group, there's a lot more "this seems out of character" and "whoops, grammar fail" than there is "HARRY IS SO SENSITIVE AND CARING *hearts, stars, flowers*."
Do men and boys participate less in this kind of collaborative story-building? It seems that is the case, and that might be worth investigating. But that would mean investigating, not drawing a priori conclusions that this is all about sex and all about hardwiring.
Some female readers might be thinking, "This doesn't describe me at all!" And, in fact, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the visitors to the major pornography sites are women. Our data suggest that these women probably have a higher sex drive than other women and that they are more socially aggressive and more comfortable taking risks.
"Our research describes all women except the ones it doesn't describe! All women are alike, except the ones that are different!"
For most women, however, Miss Marple is the master sleuth. Her fact-finding mission must be completed before mind and body are united in sexual harmony.
Sure, sure, for harmony and stuff. But that doesn't mean I can't get off.
It's old news, every bit of it, wearing slightly new clothes and a shiny gloss of Science™. Men are from "I just stick my dick in a warm thing" Mars, women are from "I must feel nurtured in every cell of my complex fickle being" Venus, and none of this has any relation to anything that happens on Earth.
Edit: Whoa. I missed the forest for the trees here. The forest is: THEY SET OUT TO PROVE THAT WOMEN LIKE ROMANCE STORIES BY STUDYING WOMEN WHO LIKE ROMANCE STORIES. There was literally no way this "study" could have produced different results.
Using a self-reported shoddy online survey distributed only to left-handed women, I could prove that women are all left-handed.