What Turns Us On? It's Complicated.

In past posts we tried to identify books and movies that we thought were hot—the kind of stuff to turn on a more discriminating, mature woman. It wasn’t easy. In the normal course of things, women are simply not turned on by straight-up porn. And sometimes, even if a woman is physically aroused, she can be mentally repulsed. Experts agree: the arousal/desire circuitry in a woman is complicated. For men, it’s simple. A two-minute video clip, a sexy photo of a favorite star, a crotch shot, and he’s off to the races. “Give a guy an erection and he basically wants to use it,” writes sex counselor Dr. Ian Kerner, columnist for CNN. “In men, porn initiates the ‘sexual-circuit’ very quickly.” Guys tend to view porn by themselves; their comments on online sites tend to be monosyllabic: “Hot!” Often, their porn consumption is unpremeditated—they might see a racy photo, and they search for more stimulation, basically to “get it on.” And virtually all men consume porn. In an effort to understand the impact of porn on men, a researcher from the University of Montreal looked for a sample of young men who had never viewed porn. According to Kerner, he couldn’t find any. By contrast, the process for women, according to the co-authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire, “are not explicit scenes of sexual activity but character-driven stories of romantic relationships.” Neuroscientists Ogi Olgas and Sai Gaddam screened the enormous amount of data available on the Web to analyze who goes where and views what. Unsurprisingly, they found that only 1 in 50 subscribers to major porn sites were women. “In fact, the main billing company for porn sites flags female names as potential fraud, since so many of these charges result in an angry wife or mother demanding a refund for the misuse of her card,” writes Olgas. The female version of porn, according to Olgas and Gaddam, are “fan fiction” sites that peddle racy romance novels. Literally millions of women across the globe visit these sites to read and discuss the stories. The most popular of these is FanFiction.net. Discussion boards and comments on the novels are often long and probing, examining character and plot—it’s very much a group experience. Women can also be turned on by sexual scenes outside their own orientation—women having sex, for example, whereas straight men tend to stick with the flavor they like. The times may be a-changin’, however, as women find their own voice in this formerly men’s world. We wrote about the new, couples-oriented porn format on the Playboy channel. There are also porn sites for women, and even a Feminist Porn award. And women seem to be seeking them out for the same reasons men do—to “get in the mood,” for pleasure, to learn new tricks. For a girlfriend guide to the world of erotica for women, check out sex therapist Violet Blue’s The Smart Girl’s Guide to PornYou could also check out the queen of literati porn, Rachel Kramer Bussel, for her popular anthologies of sexy writing as well as her own four-alarm work. Happy hunting!

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