Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Erotica Cover Watch: Filament Magazine

with 11 comments

Watched by Mathilde Madden


Image: Lesley Malone

Sometimes serendipity happens. Sometimes for obvious reasons. When three emails landed in my inbox on the same day all urging me to look at the same website, either the universe was aligning or there was a bloody good reason why I should be looking at that particular website. 

And here, it was pretty much option b.

This is a new magazine. An actual, paper-based, magazine. (Remember them?) It’s called Filament and its unique selling point is about as unique as they come. It features sexy images of men – aimed at women. And, here’s the thing, it actually looks like they might really be offering something sexy and different and working hard to be appealing. Yeah, I know, jaw meet floor and all that. 

Filament describes itself as 72 quarterly pages of intelligent thought and beautiful men, which is handy as those are both in my top ten of things I like a lot (in fact they may be in my top two).

They go on to say an awful lot of interesting things like this in their FAQ

On the explicitness of the magazine:

We have explicit moments, but we put explicit images to the same test as any other image: it has to be well composed, imaginative and generally representative of The Female Gaze. There is no evidence to suggest women prefer ‘subtle’ images to explicit ones, but nobody likes explicitness for its own sake. So if you want to see a hard cock on every page, Filament is probably not the magazine you want. Same applies if seeing one would make you faint.

On being “degrading” 

Erotic’ and ‘degrading’ are polar opposites as far as we’re concerned. It’s natural to be attracted to viewing the human form erotically, and there is nothing inherently degrading about the subject being less clothed or more aroused. In conducting our research we’ve been heartened by the kinds of things that women are asking to see, namely more erotic imagery that depicts the subject as a person, not a sex object. We’re proud of catering to such twisted fancies.

And on why the way images of female bodies are on absolutely everything is more than just irritating (although it is also very irritating).

Women are 10 times more likely than men to undergo cosmetic surgery and 43 times more likely than men to suffer an eating disorder. Is this because women are ‘naturally’ life-threateningly obsessed with their appearance, or is this in some way influenced by women’s media? Many men’s magazines don’t discuss men’s appearance, but nearly all women’s magazines discuss women’s appearance.

Filament breaks this trend by covering a wide range of topics that inspire and engage, and giving you gorgeous boys the way you like to see them.

Filament, I like your style already. (In fact they had me at the beautiful men on the website but I’m glad to see the intelligence very much on offer too.) In a world where representations (particularly visual representations) of straight female sexuality are absent to the point of that absence being actually mind-blowingly shocking, I welcome anything that tries to push against that tide. Anything that stands up and says hey, women are allowed to look too. As simple as that. Just, pretty much, women actually have eyes – (not just an insatiable urge to identify with a headless woman in a corset). The majority of women like to look at sexy images of men. And if enough people point that out, then maybe, oh god maybe, erotica books that are aimed at women might acknowledge that too. You know, maybe just once, or something. On my birthday.

Your top editorial team here at Cover Watch, did, in our high level regular summit about who’s turn is it to write cover watch, what are we going to write about for cover watch, pressing erotica cover issues of the day, discuss briefly that, in general, the men featured on the site are rather more fey than the ones we like to push on you on Man Candy Mondays. 

That’s primarily a taste issue, but I do think it is interesting that Filament states that is does not print images designed for gay men. We swipe our Man Candy images almost exclusively from gay male aimed sites. It’s the nature of the gig. That’s just where the hot man-images are. And I don’t see a big problem with that. I think what gay men and what straight women like has a big overlap (cock – well, and other things. Mainly cock though. Oh, and David Beckham).


Image: Ara Maye McBay

But I see what they’re getting at. Filament Magazine (and sites like For The Girls which, I think, has a similar policy on the gay) are carving out a new space. Traditionally images of sexualised men have been produced pretty exclusively for the consumption of gay men. Without the ideas given to us by gay men if would be hard even beginning to talk about men as sex objects, but the super-strong link between sexualised men and homoeroticism causes all kinds of problems. (Not least the ever-present idea that any man who is presenting himself as sexual is automatically gay, or the image is homoerotic – because every viewer of every image ever is a man. Or the fact that erotic books can’t have men on the covers because buyers will assume they are gay men’s titles – because every viewer of every image… etc, etc…) Even here at Cover Watch, we love a bit of sexy m/m but we don’t use images of men with men too often, because we do want to keep the emphasis on images of men for straight women. 

Publications like Filament, aimed at women, have regularly been co-opted by gay men and it does seem that this may have driven women away. But times have changed now. Women are much more likely to seek out and enjoy images and culture designed for gay men. And with slash fiction a lot more mainstream and m/m erotica written by and aimed at women more and more popular, I think women are mostly unconcerned about sharing sexual space with gay men. However, I do see the need to make it clear that this is about straight female sexuality – just because I think it is important to state that women are allowed to look and lust too.  

But I do hope that having to carve out a space that is separate from the one occupied by images of sexualised men meant for men, Filament doesn’t throw out the butch with the bath water. 

Avoiding the kind of imagery gay men consume doesn’t mean a whole hearted rejection of gay men’s butch-camp aesthetic. Some of what gay men like they don’t just like because they are men, they like because it is hot. 

Filament has this to say about the female gaze.   

Our images of men are made for the female gaze. We draw on research about what women find erotic, from published academic research and our own online research community.

From research we’ve learnt that what most women find erotic does not at all match what is typically thought of as an erotic image of a man designed for women. For example, on average, women prefer:

  • men who are not muscle-bound
  • men with more feminine face shapes
  • men with attractive faces
  • images that show the subject’s character and the environment he is in.

We also know that women’s tastes vary quite a lot, and we aim to cater to that variety too.

Our mission to understand the female gaze is ongoing.

Big yes to faces and character. But I do wonder about the rejection of muscle bound men. The phrase brings a caricature to mind – and I realise that my bigger is always better tastes are not universal. But muscle-bound can be lovely. 

I think it is important to recognise that women’s taste in men are as varied as men’s taste in women. Some women like androgyny and eye-liner, some women (ahem) like super-butch.

But it really isn’t helpful to stray to far into concerns about whether every male image Filament presents has some kind of mythical universal appeal. I am delighted that their research is ongoing. (Check out their research community – full of pretties, in the interests of science!) And I’m confident that they will find the right spot somewhere between Suicide Boys Monthly and looking like a copy of Vulcan. That’s not a Star Trek reference: Vulcan is a gay porn magazine that sits firmly at the butch and hairy end of the market. Do not ask me how I know this. You can guess.

We welcome Filament. We hope passionately for its success. I’m remembering and probably hopelessly misquoting Susie Bright who, when feminists were declaiming porn (remember the jolly old days of: porn is the theory, rape is the practice), pointed out how wonderful it would be if female sexuality had an arena that even begun to approach male-authored porn when it came to exploring and celebrating their sexualities. 

Of course Filament probably doesn’t call itself porn. But I hope it is dirty enough that I can. And from me, believe it, there is no higher praise.

(PS They’re also looking for writers. So if you want your stuff published in a headless-corset-free zone, it might be worth checking them out.)


Written by mat

April 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

11 Responses

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  1. Filament sounds wonderful, a really exciting project. And I do love the lighting in those two pics.

    I think it’s particularly great that Filament is interested in its audience, wants to know what women like and will respond to that. Me, I rather like mean, sneery fuckbrutes (I’ll find a link later, promise). And yeah, I’m sure lots of gay men like this look too. But I don’t think that means sneery fuckbrutes have a gay-look. You could make a similar claim for lithe men with feminine face shapes – also popular with gay men.

    So yes, here’s hoping Filament gives us more and more of more sorts of men to please more and more women! Key word in that sentence? Um yes, MORE! Can’t wait to get hold of a copy!


    April 30, 2009 at 4:30 pm

  2. Okay, this looks verrrrrrrry interesting. I happen to be one of those females that don’t get excited by the rippling muscle types – that second pic is just to die for! Anyhow. I wish them well – it must be scary launching a print product right now. (my husband is in the publishing/magazine business – not fun these days)

    Thanks for this today!


    April 30, 2009 at 8:45 pm

  3. Ehh… it’s a nice idea, but the execution is underwhelming. Something about the magazine and research site just kills my lady-boner. I think it’s the whole soft and sappy gentleness of it all, and the “women have been proven to like a, b, and c” approach.

    I tried to like it, I really did, but somehow it just made me turned-off and vaguely resentful. I’m sticking to good old-fashioned gay porn.


    May 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm

  4. Hey, nice to read some good news here at BICEPS. I’ll check it out!

    Madeline Moore

    May 1, 2009 at 4:20 pm

  5. This looks promising to me, but this is one woman who would have preferred they offer a digital format as well. Call me crazy, but I have the resources to enjoy a web-zine, and this would make for a good one. Still, looking forward to seeing Filament succeed!

    Helen E. H. Madden

    May 4, 2009 at 12:48 pm

  6. This does sound very cool, but I’m not sure I whole heartedly agree with their *what women like*… maybe I’m a little weird though. I like muscle boys, skinny boys – I like all sorts and don’t mind sharing with men either. 🙂 Am a HUGE fan of Joe Oppedisano and he is not pretty, his work is very visceral, grubby and occasionally beardy. I like!


    May 14, 2009 at 6:33 am

  7. […] What do women like …? […]

  8. OMG! This is fabulous news!

    Jessica Freely

    May 18, 2009 at 3:22 pm

  9. […] other news, our partners in crimes of man candy, Filament Magazine, got a write up in The Independent. The piece takes the usual tone of […]

  10. […] first issue (check out Janine Ashbless’s review; see The F-Word’s assessment; read what we had to say). As we all know, the amount of erotic visual material aimed at women is appallingly low while […]

  11. […] to print a UK-first erect penis in their next issue, if they sell 328 copies of issue one (reviewed here), which apparently will give them the funding they need to find a new […]

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