The Secret Lives of Women
What I learned about women’s erotic fantasies while building my porn site.
It’s not my fault I’m turned on. If I had to summarize one of the largest overriding themes behind the erotic stories, confessed fantasies, and romance novels created by women for other women, it would be the ability for a woman to get what she desires sexually without ever having to admit what she desires.
When I was reading Jenna Jameson’s autobiography, Jameson claimed one of the perks of being a porn star was the freedom to be openly sexual. “Us women are so oppressed,” she said, because most women aren’t afforded the freedom to be open about their sexuality.
“Us women are so oppressed”
Something about that line, written by a porn star (and possibly misremembered) has stuck with me. Even though I was this liberal child of the feminist revolution, even though I was openly bisexual, even though I have always talked frankly, and openly with many people about sex, I always have felt like I was holding something back.
I would guess I’m not alone. In our supposedly “hyper-sexualized” culture, women nowadays are having less sex than the housewives of the 1950s. Low desire, or hypo-sexuality, is the most common sexual complaint from women of all ages. Women may live in a hyper-sexual society, but it is not our desires that have been hyper-sexualized.
More so than men, women tend to internalize the sexual values of their environment. What happens when the environment a woman internalizes is sexually toxic? She starts shutting down. She protects herself by not wanting sex. Feelings of shame and “brokenness” about low desire haunt perfectly healthy women, whose only mistake was to be raised in a culture that didn’t allow honest expression of her desire. Even as professionals “treat” low desire and “sexual dysfunction,” there are fairly few solutions that involve accepting female sexuality. Despite all the self help books aimed at helping women somehow “be more horny,” a very small percentage of this writing is directed toward women actually exploring what turns them on (source.) It’s as the only societal value of female sexuality that we see is that it supports male sexuality.
And yet, despite all this, the smash hits of female focused erotica like 50 Shades of Grey and romance novels like Twilight indicate that female sexuality is a live, vibrant force. The internet is packed full of romance novels and fan fiction and explicitly adult fan fiction and weird comics and just so much stuff that I felt overwhelmed.
Truthfully, the biggest trouble I had in creating a porn site for women was that there is so much material I had no idea where to start. When I looked for it, I found it everywhere. And yet, it all seems to exist below the surface of “larger culture” in society. Even the big smash hits that have now become movies don’t seem to propagate the same way that erotic material aimed at men seems to. I think part of this is that, culturally, we are afraid of female sexual desire. Nancy Friday in her groundbreaking book My Secret Garden, where she catalogues female fantasies, talked about how scared people were to entertain the idea that women even had fantasies. Of course, it was written in the 1970s, but even today the idea that women fantasize about something other than the men they’re with seems scary.
I remember one of my ex boyfriends jokingly referring to my vibrator as “his nemesis,” and even though he was playing, there was a grain of truth in it. My male partners have often expressed feelings of “being threatened” when confronted with my sex toys. But, when I dated women, we just laughed at that attitude. Neither me, nor any woman I’ve dated, has ever felt threatened by the sex toys we wanted to use in bed. I think, when being sexual with men, women often feel pressure to not admit (sometimes even to themselves) what they like because often their partners feel bad when they do. Yet, the mass impact of so many men feeling threatened is huge, and women have responded by retreating inwardly.
Even in their interior thoughts, many women have trouble admitting — sometimes to themselves — what turns them on. But, human sexuality is a force that cannot be repressed, so women’s fantasies find a way to make themselves known.
It’s almost a trope that women are into “rape” fantasies, but women generally aren’t into actual rape fantasies. Usually, the form of the “rape” is that a man forces a woman to do things that, deep down, she really wants to do. For women, being overtly sexual has been internalized as so threatening, that she must fictionalize a male instigator to act out her desires.
And you know what I think? I think that’s just great! For women dealing with rediscovering her own sexuality in a hostile world, I think any mechanism that she can use to gain access to her own erotic world should be used freely without guilt. For a woman, being sexual on her own terms, to find a way to act on her own desires is still — now — so revolutionary that it should not be discouraged in whatever form it takes.
Another trope that I have had cause to wonder about is “why are so many lesbians into gay male porn?” I suppose this could be generalized to “why are do so many women like gay male porn?” (see yaoi) but it doesn’t seem quite as mysterious that straight and bisexual women would be into gay male porn. I think, with respect to lesbians, what they’re actually doing is projecting themselves into the characters in their erotica. Lesbians, like other women, internalize our wider mainstream culture, and have trouble imagining themselves as women with ownership and agency over their desires. So they use male bodies to grant themselves that agency.
I mean, probably not all lesbians (and, not all lesbians look at gay male porn.) But, enough that it’s interesting. And, again, I’m very pro women allowing themselves to indulge whatever they find turns them on. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it seems to contradict larger identities they hold about themselves.
Because, at the heart of it, identity contradiction is what this is about. Society is currently set up so that female identities (not just respectable female identities — but all female identities) are incompatible with female sexuality. Even women who are “whorish” are whorish to please men. There isn’t even an archetype for a woman who is openly sexual in her own right. And this sucks. Oh my god you guys, this sucks so hard. There is so much creativity, so much potential, so much opportunity for pleasure, or deep connection, or whatever floats your boat, wasted because we didn’t have paternity tests a thousand years ago.
Anyway. I don’t have any solution, I just think this is a problem worth grappling with. I am still working on my porn site — and it’s in its very early stages. I’m not completely sure how it’s going to grow, but if you felt like helping me out, you could tell me some of your sexual fantasies (anonymous, unless you choose to leave your email.) Or, you can read what I’ve collected of other people’s fantasies so far.