Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Erotica Cover Watch: Mmm yes, there, there, harder, oh yes, more, more, please …

with 22 comments

Mmm yes, there, there, harder, oh yes, more, more, please …

Watched by Kristina Lloyd

Ladies and gentleman, a bit of hush, please. Gather round, come close. Brace yourselves as we dim the lights. Remember, no touching unless you’re wearing our specially-provided latex gloves. (Wash your minds out! I meant touching the books.) The items you’re about to see are rare and precious gems. They are examples of – and you may struggle to believe your eyes – erotica covers featuring men! Yes, men!

Oh dear. Smelling salts at the back, please.

Seriously, it’s taken me ages to find covers for this post. We wanted to say something positive and give the thumbs up to books which do something other than stick a sexy chica on the front. But I’m nearly blind from searching. Next time, I’ll stick to snark.

Lust, edited by Violet Blue, (Cleis Press, 2007) is an anthology of erotic fantasies for women and, quite wonderfully, its cover art depicts a hot and sweatily sensual, heterosexual embrace. As we know, your typical ‘for women’ collection features a woman on the front, since the eroticised female body is deemed to cover all bases. Practically no consideration is given to women who might like to look at men, or who might like to have their sexuality rightfully and correctly represented as actually rather normal and extremely common. There are an awful lot of women who get off on men’s bodies but, to look at most erotica covers, you’d think ours was a fringe sexuality, out there on the margins with people who get off on teaspoons. (Why are there no teaspoons on erotica covers? Why?)

Lust paints a different picture. Lust doesn’t merely acknowledge het sexuality by sticking a token male leg, elbow or foot at the edge of its staple hot babe image. Lust actually seems to be celebrating majority-female desire, and it’s one of the most evenly balanced, truthful and sexiest couple shots I’ve seen in straight smut. I say ‘truthful’ because I think this image portrays how sex feels for us. I confess, I’m a tad confused by those other, more widely-seen images of super-smiley couples glowing healthily on a white backdrop. The lovers there often appear closer to having a merry pillow fight than an orgasm. But, hey, maybe I should stop quibbling and be grateful couple images even exist. This one’s gorgeous.

(Incidentally, Violet Blue’s excellent blog features a Hot Boy Thursday slot to complement her Pretty Girl Fridays. You don’t get candy every week, but when you do get it, it’s blisteringly hot (there are goth boys too!) and each post comes with lots of lusty links. Highly recommended!)

Violet Blue’s forthcoming Girls on Top (Cleis, 2009) is, as the strapline explicitly says, ‘explicit erotica for women’. Unfortunately, our bloke is becoming a bit token here but he’s gamely holding on. Faring much better is the guy on Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s Tasting Him (Cleis, 2008), and we’re really fucking rocking with Alison Tyler‘s Red Hot Erotica (Cleis, 2006), its cover depicting a man and a woman having a smoulderingly good time, thanks very much!

It’s fabulous to see such an image on a book which, rather than flagging its specialist status (‘for couples’, ‘for women’), is just general erotica, a genre increasingly appealing to women, but whose covers are still invisibly flagging their traditional market (‘for men’). Because, of course, no one would label a het erotica book ‘for men.’ There’s no need; the assumption is it’s all for men, always. Defaults, perceived ‘normality’, and the stark-staring obvious don’t need labels. You don’t put a sign up to say ‘road’. You may, however, need a sign saying ‘turn left here’. It would be great if more erotica books started using bodies as signs; started to imply ‘for men and women’ by featuring men and women on the covers. It’s an easy language to read.

The three books above are rare beasts in erotica since they feature the male form in isolation rather than as part of a male/female embrace. Just check out Susie Bright‘s Best American Erotica 2000 (Touchstone)! It’s a torso! A beautiful, sleek male torso, adorned with a shimmer of sweat, and he’s damn near dominating the cover! If that’s not a deliberate and delicious candification (hey, I invented a word!) of the male form, then I don’t know what is. I love this concept of a photo montage, a jumble of bodies, abstract and overt, where the viewer can take from it whatever he or she wants. (BAE 1995 has a similar design, albeit more feminine.) There’s no pairing of him with her, him with him or her with her. We are simply given images of bodies, fragmented, disordered, up close, at a distance. In some places, it’s actually tricky to discern what the image is. Much like fucking, the cover is deliciously disorientating, and it’s cleverly giving both sexes some eye candy while implicitly involving us in the dizzying thick of the action.

Cowboy Lover (Cecilia Tan and Lori Perkins, Running Press, 2007) is another rarity, an erotica cover focussing solely on a guy, albeit from a safe distance, and NT Morley‘s Master (Berkley Heat, 2005) had me practically swooning in shock when I found it. Here’s a BDSM bonanza offering ’30 spanking tales from the top’ and on the cover we’ve got the top, the torso, the muscled master himself. How very, very yum. The other half of this book is Slave, ’30 stinging tales from the bottom’, and I believe the flip side cover image is of a woman. (I haven’t been able to track this because, astonishingly and brilliantly, the publisher – who has strong romance links (quick, pull up a chair, Sherlock!) – has chosen Master as its main cover.) How about that for gender equality, man on one side, woman on the other? All we need now is a similar femdom anthology for Mathilde and the two of us would be politically and erotically happy for, oh, about ten minutes.

Hang on, everybody! Quiet, please. What’s that terrible noise in the distance? Oh god, is it … could it be …

Phew, panic over. Just my cat yawning. For a moment, I thought the world was ending but look: men on erotica covers and the world still spins.

Alison Tyler’s Open for Business (Cleis, 2008) again keeps us at a safe distance but this is a fun, cheeky image of a couple getting it on, proof that there are more ways to sell sex than via the female body. Similarly, the cover of Sex and Candy, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Pretty Things Press, 2007) might appeal to those who’d prefer to have candy-candy rather than human-candy on their smut. Pretty Things Press, owned by Alison Tyler, features numerous people-free covers and is one of the few publishing houses that doesn’t continually default at hot honey cover art. Yup, you guessed it, there’s not enough man candy for my taste but for anyone shy about purchasing books which scream SEX (and in buying smut, women, of course, have much more cultural baggage to put aside than the guys – three cheers for the internet!), the covers of PTP may hit the spot.

Finally, Bedding Down, another Kramer Bussel anthology, this one forthcoming from Avon Red (Dec 2008), interestingly, an offshoot of Avon Romance who are producing some fabulously erotic couple-covers. What can I say except ‘wow’? Avon Red is revealing its romance roots here with Bedding Down, offering a cover that’s sumptuous, sexy and sensual. The man and woman get pretty much equal billing, there’s no impending pillow fight, and he has quite the loveliest shoulder and neck. Again, wow! Thank you, Avon Red, for showing erotica how it’s done.

And that’s your lot, folks! I found a few more general erotica covers featuring guys but they offer little more than testosterone tokens on an image which is either non-fleshy or primarily of a woman. Trust me, I’ve been to the dustiest, dankest corners of Amazon to bring you these covers, and had to wade back so many years I virtually became a minor. I have spiders in my ears and have seen enough T&A to last me until Christmas – just don’t ask me which Christmas.

Feel free to drop us a link if you know of any other covers kicking their way out of erotica publishing’s gender bias (but please don’t direct us to covers featuring a bloke’s toe in the bottom left). And of course, while a few more images would be interesting, it’s never going to alter our fundamental point: there are way too many images of women in erotica and virtually none of men. The covers shown here are outweighed by the thousands upon thousands of erotica covers offering nothing but a sexy woman. And that is grossly unfair and utterly shameful.

So there really isn’t much to say of the above covers except ‘more, more, yes, harder, bigger, stronger, keep going, just there, please, more, more, more!’


Written by Kristina Lloyd

October 2, 2008 at 7:04 am

22 Responses

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  1. The lovely thing is that the existence of these books collapse most of the arguments against equality (or at least in hysterical defence of the status quo). Lust in particular shows that man + woman does not always = romance book. (I think the title does help, admittedly.) As for Red Hot Erotica — I kneel at Alison Tyler’s pretty and well-shod feet. And whimper some.

    Olivia Knight

    October 2, 2008 at 10:11 am

  2. P.S. And Open For Business is bloody hilarious. Love in an air-conditioned climate…

    Olivia Knight

    October 2, 2008 at 10:12 am

  3. yes, the NT Morley book features a woman on the “Slave” side. she’s got high spiked heels, ankle cuffs and a tight pvc skirt on with her hands behind her back in long black leather gloves. no face shown.

    amanda earl

    October 2, 2008 at 3:30 pm

  4. Thanks, Amanda! I can picture it perfectly. Hmmm, now why would that be?


    October 2, 2008 at 6:15 pm

  5. Another note on the Master/slave collection– it was originally published as a hardcover edition by the now defunct Venus Book Club (subsidiary of Doubleday Book Club). The Master side featured a frontal view of a male torso, as well. 🙂 The one on the Berkley Heat cover is a but more… defined. Yum…


    October 2, 2008 at 7:51 pm

  6. Cut it out you’re makin’ me think! Maybe it IS time for couples, at least, on erotica ‘for women’ rather than just a gal with half a face…
    Certainly it’s time to say it’s time.

    Madeline Moore

    October 2, 2008 at 9:32 pm

  7. I like the LUST cover a lot. The photographer is Samantha Wolov. I think the print was available on ETSY at one point, but I couldn’t find it tonight. (Beer is involved in my search inability.)


    alison tyler

    October 3, 2008 at 2:58 am

  8. My god–I’m allergic to latex! What do I need to wear to touch? I do love a nice hard cowboy. I mean um…buff? Manly? Rippled?
    I like them.


    October 3, 2008 at 4:01 am

  9. Samantha Wolov! Thanks, AT. I’m all excited now. I have a couple of her photos on my hard drive which are so beautiful and hot.

    I’ve just briefly checked out her blog, Nekkid with a Camera, which is much filthier than the website. She has some really wonderful m/f photos (and m and f solo), plus she is responsible for the dirty Barbie dolls (scroll down – nb link also contains cock, come (amazing, um, shots), tits, skinny men in showers etc) which I’ve seen before. She is cool. I’m now a fan. I see Fleshbot described her photos as ‘striking work lacking “romance” and better for it’.

    I spoke to Adam Nevill (editor at Black Lace) recently about the issue of covers and he did say if I knew of any good photographers doing m/f or m, I should let him know. So I’m going to have a good trawl around her blog and drop Adam a line. I’ll probably get in touch with Samantha too. I wonder if she has a smut portfolio. Oh, that would be fab. (And if anyone else has any erotic photographer recs, please send. It’s not just for *my* pleasure, honest.)

    Sommer, I’m with you on cowboys. (Gosh, will we fit?) Could you maybe just lick instead of touch? I’m sure the archivists wouldn’t mind too much.


    October 3, 2008 at 6:28 am

  10. This is such a great post and Lust is such a fab cover. It’s gutting that covers like it are so rare. But at least enough exist that when people find it hard to imagine what we mean by ‘men on the covers’ it one we can hold up and say, well, like this.


    October 3, 2008 at 7:19 am

  11. The “Lust” cover is just fabulous – I have a thing for hair (and stubble) and that really hits the spot. Yahay!!

    If you go over to Lust Bites today we’re featuring the new Kama Sutra anthology, which also features a couple on the cover – soft-focus, classical painting by the looks of things. Should have been a bit of Indian erotic sculpture but you can’t have everything, it seems.

    Janine Ashbless

    October 3, 2008 at 7:51 am

  12. I will go and look. Isn’t KS edited by Maxim Jakubowski? I think he mentioned it in the famous ‘debate that started erotica cover watch’.


    October 3, 2008 at 9:30 am

  13. Yes, Maxim mentioned his Kama Sutra on Jeremy’s blog. He said: I actually have a couple embracing in the altogether in next month’s Mammoth Kama Sutra volume, but the nature of that book is different.

    And I replied: I would love to see couples on your Mammoth Erotica series. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it? Because I don’t understand the logic of a couple featuring on your Kama Sutra book because it’s ‘different’. Unless we’re saying KS represents sexual mutuality therefore its market is couples – unlike erotica whose market is (still) het men.

    Kama Sutra has a great cover. And so again, I say: Yes, more, more, please, more! etc etc


    October 3, 2008 at 9:50 am

  14. Wow, that’s so funny! I found SW’s website from her etsy site and totally missed the dirty blog! I love the naughty dollies.

    Thank you for the sweet words for the PTP covers. We are always open to new designs. And I do think you’ll be pleased with the fresh cover for Hers, too.

    Are you doing a feature where authors can sub their favorite covers? (I think I remembered that mentioned.) That might be a fun post!


    alison tyler

    October 3, 2008 at 1:25 pm

  15. I’m just tuning in via AT’s blog.

    I can’t decide what I should do first, change my panties, or get a bib. 🙂

    Very well written and yes, yes, yes…don’t we all love a great looking book cover visual to go with our reading pleasure?

    Neve Black

    October 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm

  16. AT missed the dirty blog? Are you well?

    Favourite covers … hmmm. Since we’re all about wanting to correct erotica’s gender imbalance here, it would have to be fave covers featuring men. And I don’t think there are any more, other than the ones featured here. Seriously, I think I’ve pretty much exhausted erotica. (Does that sound debauched of me?)

    Thanks, Neve! You should check out our Man Candy Mondays as well. (I typoed Mondays as Mandays there – hey, works for me!)


    October 4, 2008 at 1:18 pm

  17. Lord – Kristina, Neve, anyone who wants to soak their chin with drool and claw their screen while mewing pitifully – the Coming Attractions picture on Lust Bites today is some serious man-candy. (The Lust Bites man-candy comes on Sundays; it’s a kind of John-the-Baptist to K&T’s Jesus.)

    Olivia Knight

    October 5, 2008 at 9:25 am

  18. Yes, KL, I do see the error in my ways. Because as I look at my array of 60-odd covers, there are only six with men. My pick from the six, would probably be Melt With You. (I always like that flash before the kiss moment.)

    So, yes, would probably be a pretty sparse post.


    alison tyler

    October 5, 2008 at 5:43 pm

  19. I showed Alison Tyler the error of her ways!

    I’d order the T-shirt but they’d never believe it.

    Melt With You is a nice pic. I do like images which suggest movement. However, I don’t think it would be allowed under House Rules (sorry!) because Melt was marketed as erotic romance, and we’re allowed to look at men when they’re in the implicit ‘women-only-lovey-moony’ section of the bookstore. It’s in straight erotica where they are very sadly lacking.

    I do wonder if erotica opened up visually to address more female consumers, there might be less pressure on female writers to shape their filth to suit something more akin to genre romance. I know a lot of us have felt this pressure in recent years, and it’s infuriating and insulting to be told that, as women, we can only enjoy sex if we’re lovestruck.

    Personally, I’m much more at home when kink, rather than love, is the driving force of the narrative. I don’t see why that should put my books in the category conventionally aimed at blokes, in that section of the bookshop where tits and ass rule. I think women should be able to browse this section and feel welcome, not alienated. And men on erotica covers (as opposed to just romance covers) would help break some of that tiresome stereotype which goes: women give sex to get love, men give love to get sex.


    October 6, 2008 at 9:01 am

  20. God, the rules. The rules! I seriously keep tripping over myself. You’re right. Melt With You was definitely considered erotic romance and not smut.

    Fuck it. I’m just going to have to bring out a whole line of dirty books featuring pictures of hot naked men, aren’t I? If only to shut you up!


    alison tyler

    October 7, 2008 at 1:06 pm

  21. Yes, yes, yes!


    October 7, 2008 at 3:11 pm

  22. […] And, we don’t mind if the women want to stay on the covers too. We want equality not the moon on a stick (again, I pause and weep for how tiny and reasonable our request really is). Men pictured with women – yay! Okay, not the covers that features a huge amount of heaving bosom and a man’s hand off in the top corner, but a het couple where both get equal billing, sure. Nice. […]

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