I am being patient with Doctor Lady Madame Sexy Scientist, Brooke Magnanti and her paper on What Women Want. I think it is based on Bad Science as I showed in my previous post. But I am going to explain further why I think she is wrong, both in her interpretation of Bailey et al’s research, and her approach to ‘what women want’ in terms of pornography in general.
‘Previous studies of men and sexual orientation showed that in general, male responses are straightforward. Heterosexual men respond strongly to heterosexual porn, and weakly to homosexual porn. For gay men, it’s the opposite: gay porn turns them on; the hetero stuff, not so much. So for men the psychological and physiological desires are in sync – what turns them on is also what they report enjoying emotionally.’
Now I think she is referring in part to research by Bailey and his colleagues, but also to research which will have influenced them. She does not cite it as she takes it as a given, that ‘male responses (to pornography) are straightforward’. i.e. Heterosexual men who claim to enjoy hetero porn, are indeed turned on by it. Gay men who claim to only like gay (m/m) porn, are indeed aroused by that and not porn which contains-shock horror!-women.
This, my dearies, is a load of old tosh. If men’s sexual responses are straightforward, and straight men only like straight porn, and gay men only like gay porn (and bisexual men don’t exist?) then what have writers such as Mark Simpson (yep-HIM), been going on about throughout their careers? Why do straight men get so excited watching men every Saturday hurl themselves at each other on a football pitch? Why is advertising packed full of fit, sexy men showing off their packets? Why do rugby players get drunk and then get it on with each other? Why are all male boarding schools, and The Catholic church, and The Armed Forces, full of men who have sex with other men? This line between ‘heterosexual’ and ‘gay’ men is a false one.
The fact is, Doctor Magnanti, that the statement ‘what turns [men] on is also what they report enjoying emotionally’ is so wrong that the converse is probably true. Men are so anxious about their sexuality being seen to be that which they say it is (especially straight men) that even their cocks ‘lie’ about what is turning them on when they watch porn. And talking of cocks, let us not forget, that there ARE plenty of COCKS in ‘heterosexual’ pornography. So when heterosexual men say they enjoy heterosexual porn, they are still enjoying images of other men’s cocks.
But enough about cocks for a moment. Onto ‘what women want’. According to Magnanti’s report of Bailey et al’s research:
‘Participants ranked the films in order of how aroused they felt watching them. The heterosexual women in the study ranked male-male films the lowest, followed by female-female in the middle, with finally female-male films rated highest. But when the genital arousal data were compared to these rankings, something interesting emerged.
It turned out that the genital engorgement data told a completely different story from what straight women were putting on paper. They claimed male-male porn interested them the least, but looking at the physical response, male-male and female-female films ranked similarly – and very high. On paper, straight women ranked heterosexual pairings as the most arousing… but their physical response while watching these films was actually lower than with the other types of films. Straight women were getting more physically turned on watching homosexual pairings, even films with no women in it all, than they were by straight scenes’.
This ‘fluidity’ of women’s sexual responses can be explained to quite a large degree I think, by the fact that women are not as conditioned as men to worry about admitting to finding images of other women hot, or even real life other women. As Simpson has written about, ‘male bisexuality’ rather than ‘female bisexuality’ is the main cause of ‘bisexual anxiety’ in our culture. In fact when it comes to images and porn, ‘female bisexuality’ is a major aspect of ‘heterosexual porn’. You get a lot of girl-on-girl action in straight porn, but if there is any man-on-man action, it immediately gets classed as ‘gay’.
Feminist pornographers claim that this is because nearly all pornography is aimed towards men. So straight men get to see girl-on-girl films, and gay men get to see boy-on-boy films, but what about the women? Well, I think a lot of women enjoy boy-on-boy and girl-on-girl films, so they are being catered for by both ‘heterosexual’ and ‘gay’ pornography. Because, as I have tried to say before,and got shouted down, we don’t look at pornography with our genitals, we look with our eyes, and we all have those. And our eyes don’t have a ‘sexual orientation’.
Magnanti quoted Doctor Professor Scientist Mister Bailey:
“The fact that women’s sexual arousal patterns are not all predicted by their sexual orientations suggests that men’s and women’s minds and brains are very different,” said Bailey. That much we already suspected, or at least I did, because airbrushed images of men hoovering? Is certainly nice, but not exactly erotic. But who could have anticipated just how different they would turn out to be?
Well. I disagree with Bailey’s conclusion, with the methodology of his research, and with his crusade to use research about ‘sexual response’ to make rash statements about ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains. Not to mention gay brains. Not to mention, because he doesn’t ‘bisexual’ brains. And I disagree with how he turns this brain crusade into an attack on transgender people, especially trans women, and on bisexual people, especially bisexual men.
The study of sex and sexuality is the study of people. It is a human study of people in social contexts. If any kind of science is going to be used to try and understand the complexities of sexual bodies in culture, it has to be ‘social science’ surely? Psychology is a social science, but when it dresses itself up in the language and the machinery of clinical science, it becomes a very dodgy exercise indeed. Suck my dick, Science. And taste the real world for a change.