Porn That Women Like: Why Does It Make Men So Uncomfortable? 

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What Women Really Think
Nov. 17 2011 1:35 PM

Porn That Women Like: Why Does It Make Men So Uncomfortable?

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Adult film actor James Deen arrives at the Adult Video News Awards Show

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

In the winter issue of Good Magazine, Amanda Hess has a fascinating profile of James Deen, a young, handsome porn star who is becoming famous for actually appealing to women. Due to his boyish, slightly skate-punk aesthetic, naturally toned body, and ability to connect emotionally (or at least appear to) with his female co-stars, Deen has garnered a following of devoted young women in an industry that in most cases ignores them entirely. Hess explains that Deen’s school-boy charm is what makes him approachable—and sexy—to his female fans:

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

Deen has carved out a niche in the porn industry by looking like the one guy who doesn’t belong there. Scroll through L.A.’s top porn agency sites and you’ll find hundreds of pouty women ready to drop to their knees, but just a few dozen men available to have sex with them. These guys all have a familiar look—neck chains, frosted tips, unreasonable biceps, tribal tattoos. Deen looks like he was plucked from a particularly intellectual frat house.

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Hess goes on to discuss why there aren’t more guys like Deen in the male porn-star stable, and her findings tell us just as much about male viewers’ hang-ups as they do about women’s erotic preferences. Part of the problem is that men (who largely control the porn industry) imagine that women want everything big—“Big arms. Big abs. Big dicks,” as Hess puts it—when what they really want is something a little less overwrought. One of Hess’ subjects described her attraction to Deen thusly:  “He was almost like a guy that you would just hang out with at Hebrew school.”

But the real obstacle to the proliferation of female-friendly male porn stars is, oddly, a rather nasty and subtle strain of homophobia, revealed in the following double-bind:

The straight male performer must be attractive enough to serve as a prop, but not so attractive that he becomes the object of desire.

Hess is spot on. Men need to see a penis in straight porn (presumably to stand in for their own), but not one that is attached to a guy who might be threateningly attractive, not to mention plausibly appealing to the woman involved. Maybe this insistence on a male blank slate (a kind of reverse objectification, when you think about it) makes it easier to project oneself onto the disembodied penis, but it also protects men from the potentially scary experience of being turned on by both partners of a heterosexual encounter—which, yes, does involve another dude. In other words, the bland interchangeability of the “unreasonable” looking men allows them to avoid confronting the terrifying specter of homosexuality.

Hess’ informants within the industry confirm this when they explain that a man simply cannot be the focus of a porn flick (in the film itself or even on the video cover) because consumers will be spooked. The sad thing here is that in this arrangement, everyone loses: Women can’t get the kind of porn they want from the mainstream (there are, of course, many excellent indie outfits who make great lady-centric films), an insidious kind of abstract homophobia is reinforced and, perhaps worst of all, many straight male viewers suffer unnecessary emotional and sexual stunting.

It’s telling that it was a woman, Pamela Peaks, who first recruited Deen into the porn life—she obviously knew what she liked, even if it was a gamble. But now that Deen’s “skinny, Jewish ass” has proven its worth, perhaps other producers, female and male alike, will be willing to challenge and entice their viewers with a more diverse casting couch as well. 

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