Monday, February 18, 2008

Where are the mudflap boys?

I'm becoming increasingly aware that the female body (or a pinched and bulged caricature thereof) is used as a shorthand for "sexy." I'm sure as hell not opposed to hot women, but I wish they were balanced with hot men. Nearly the only time male bodies are presented in sexy caricature is when they're aimed at a gay male audience.

This becomes really obvious in sex stores, where any item not explicitly marketed at gay men will have a hot woman on the packaging. Vibrator that's clearly designed for female body parts? Hot woman. Realistic dildo that looks exactly like a big damn cock and will only be bought by people who are comfortable with big damn cocks? Hot woman. Generic packaging logos that are supposed to convey "sexiness" in the abstract? Always, always, always a hot woman.

(I don't even like the sexy-male caricature, I'm so used to having sex with regular human guys that it's hard for me to associate any kind of arousal with cut muscles and square jawlines, but at least it would be better than the "sex consists of a hot woman observed by an invisible man" imagery.)

I suppose one reason for this is that men are stereotypically more homophobic than women. That's probably true, but I don't think we should be doing anything to honor it, and anyway it's a self-fulfilling stereotype--if straight men don't see men publicly sexualized, of course they won't be comfortable with it. (I've never heard a woman react to an image of a sexy woman with "that's so lesbian.") Another reason is the male gaze, the tendency of our culture to always cast viewers in the role of a straight male.

And there's a third, even worse reason: the assumption that women don't like titillation just as much as men do. We should want to be the sexy lady on the box, in order to arouse men, but apparently we shouldn't care about being aroused ourselves. That's a very weird message to get from a vibrator manufacturer.

Precipitating event to this post: hearing that Lifestyles Condoms was giving away free sexy posters. Well... they are. But if they're trying to offer a variety of types of sexiness, I think they're missing something.


  1. In defense of LifeStyles I'll note that it's usually men who need to be convinced to use condoms. And that at least one of those images is worth salivating over. Now...whose address should I submit?

    Your point is taken, of course. That the men in porn are so often fat and sloppy is more ammunition for the argument. One of the reasons I tend not to watch pornos is that even when the women aren't disgusting in their own right, the guys are often a turnoff.

  2. Bruno - In anti-defense of Lifestyles I'd counter that I may not take "convincing" but I'm still a customer, dammit. (Although come to think of it, I'm not sure my delicate feminine sensibilities really want a poster with a condom logo on my wall. Maybe that's why. My room right now has kind of a Zen garden motif going with prints of white orchids and combed sand, and I think a picture of oiled manass would disrupt my Feng Shui.)

    So... which one? I think "Dirty" is my type.

    And agreed. The other appearance thing that bothers me in porn is that very often the desirability of the woman is inversely proportionate to the intensity of the scene. Porn's most beautiful women do light fluffy girl-girl scenes only; if you want to see BDSM ass play you're generally going to be looking at someone with a ruined body and vacant eyes. It makes intense sex seem terribly degrading in the wrong way, like something even pornstars won't do unless they're at rock bottom.

    Some of us just do that stuff because we like it, dammit.

  3. I think the main reason for the hot-chick sex toy packaging is that until pretty recently it was mostly dudes who bought vibrators and the like. Until lady-friendly sex shops began doing well, it was almost always the guys who went in and bought the tools for the trade. And a tits-out lady on the front is going to catch a guy's attention, I suppose.

  4. Manda - That makes sense and I have seen some more "enlightened" sex toy shops like Toys in Babeland that use the hot-chick imagery a lot less. (Also that carry nothing under forty dollars. Feh. Back to the dark little shack filled with hot-chick pictures for me.)

    I'm really privileged in this way; in the time and place I came to sexual maturity it was acceptable for women to be horny buggers and I've never known any other way. To be honest, even though I know I'm describing most of the world here, I can't fully picture not being comfortable buying sex toys. It's strange (but no doubt correct) to think of sex stores as a completely male venue.

  5. Manda- Actually, come to think of it, the enlightened women-friendly stores don't eroticize men and women equally; they eroticize no one. The goal is to sell dildos like they're toothbrushes--no titillation whatsoever except the things themselves.

    Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does kind of reinforce the idea that women don't like sex. "Woman-friendly" shouldn't mean clean and sexless.

    I want my naked men, dammit, along with plenty of naked women, and only when everyone is naked and eroticized will we have a sex store that makes me happy.

  6. Preach the word, big bird! I'd write more but *whisper* I'm at work. Shh!

  7. Well, as somebody who works in a women-friendly sex shop, I can confirm that making product packaging plain rather than racy does a lot to relax most customers.

    I mean, despite how comfortable YOU may be, much of the population enjoys not having to look at other people's nudity when they just want to buy a decent vibrator for themselves or their partner (or whatever).

    There's nothing wrong with naked bodies, but the sex shop environment is one where we have to remember that what does it for one person does NOTHING for another, so making things as simple and plain and cheerful as possible is best, I think.


  8. Ok so I know this post is like, 3 years old, so this is basically an email to Holly. I just started reading your blog from the "sex is not the enemy" stream it shows up in frequently, and I'm the kind of person who REALLY likes context, so I'm reading though from the beginning. Anyway I wanted to comment on this because while both the "male gaze" and "male realm" things you posted about are true, but another true thing is that , well pretty much everyone but gay men are turned on by naked women. That generally includes straight women. Straight women looking at images of naked women get turned on, not Quite as much as the apparently precognitive ability to be turned on by dick shots ... (don't ask me here's the link ) but stright women DO get truned on by naked women, and while everyone likes many kinds of women, there is one female image that, forwhatever reason the vast majority of people who like women, and stirght women all resond to. So it you've got an image that is going to apple to, say 75% of eveyone, and your next best option is only going to appeal to >50% (because there is no one type of guy that seems to have the same universal appeal to straight women/gay men) so unless you are DELIBERATELY targeting that outlier group (gay men) you are gonna go with your best shot, without ever deliberately being dismissive/insulting about it. naked women = sex, naked men = comedy