In the village where I live are two newsagents. On the top shelf of one are a handful of adult magazines which could safely be described as soft-core porn. On the top shelf of the other are thirty or more similar magazines offering a mix of both soft-core and hard-core content.
I don’t think it’s presumptuous of me to suggest that all of those magazines have been created by men, for men. When I took a deep breath and plucked up the courage to enquire if the newsagent had an adult magazine for women, I was met with a blank stare. One might conclude that women are simply not interested in looking at erotic images, or reading any form of erotically charged literature.
I read somewhere recently, by way of an explanation for the lack of adult magazines targeted towards women, that women are simply not driven by visual stimuli. If you read Rebecca Milford’s review in this same magazine of Daniel Bergner’s new book, What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, you’ll see that he turns this assumption on it’s head. He makes clear that women are actually more likely to respond to, or be aroused by, visual and erotic stimulation than men. Not that I needed a dissertation on the subject to tell me this.
Perhaps the producers of these magazines assume that whatever negligible percentage of women there are that might be in the mood for topshelf fare will all simply be happy with what’s already readily available for men. Perhaps there is not, and never has been, enough of a desire among women for an erotic publication designed just for them.
I have never considered myself to be wildly liberated, over-sexed, or as having an unusually high fascination for porn, or even erotica for that matter. I firmly, and somewhat proudly, consider myself to be ‘quite normal’. Although, after my unsuccessful exchange in the newsagent, I am now certain to be considered something else altogether by the village gossips. In truth, my relationship with sexually stimulating material is pretty underwhelming – limited mostly to the discovery, in my early twenties, of an ex-flatmate’s not-so-secret cache of wank mags and DVDs. By the standards of today’s porn obsessed culture, I was positively Benedictine.
In case you think that I am totally out of touch, I confess that there is a copy of Mayfair magazine – a staple of the British topshelf for decades – under my mattress. I first discovered it, to my great delight, lurking under the bed about two years ago. I am not ashamed to say that it has occasionally fulfilled its intended purpose, but afterwards I tossed it back into the shadows, feeling slightly sullied. Whenever the magazine sees the light of day now, it is mostly by accident: rediscovered under the bed whilst I am actually searching for a lost sock, or the cat. Is it possible, I wonder, that the cat is enjoying the magazine more than I?
In the case of my flatmate’s collection, I would tease him about what I’d found and we would amuse ourselves by looking at the magazine together; pointing, laughing, and both of a mind that it was all pretty lame and a bit gross. There was nothing about sharing the magazine that was even slightly risqué, let alone arousing or erotic. Reflecting on it now, laughing at the magazines was a means to express our disappointment in what they had to offer. There were simply no redeeming qualities to the photography or writing to pass comment on. The publication itself was of the poorest design quality, the paper was cheap, and the print altogether underwhelming. I have often found myself gazing at the newsagent’s topshelf, and wondering why no one creates erotic magazines of any quality. It is as if we are stuck in a publishing time warp; whilst the number of exquisitely produced niche magazines on the market in every other sector continues to increase every single month, nothing about adult magazines has improved for decades.
To briefly sidestep to the subject of erotic writing, it is now three years since E L James’ erotic fiction novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, was published. Whether you liked it or loathed it, there can be no denying that the book was a publishing phenomenon, and is likely to be listed as one of the decade’s classic erotic works. In 2012, women of all ages were stopping off at motorway service stations, popping into local bookshops, or downloading eBook copies of Fifty Shades of Grey in their millions. For months, there was no other topic that could be so guaranteed to creep into every single dinner party or late night wine bar conversation. Everybody was buying it, and to our surprise and delight, that even included our mothers and grandmothers. It very quickly became the best-selling book in the UK since records began.
What was wonderful and notable about this book’s publication was that suddenly it was acceptable to openly, and unashamedly, talk about sex. It was as if a new liberation had been granted.
The complete article is printed in the launch issue, Quite Frankly, from The Quite Delightful Project which is available to buy now!