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