Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Archive for the ‘cleis press’ Category

Erotica Cover Watch: The End

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Men! We have men on sexy books! Doesn’t it make your heart sing? Got a Minute is a brand new cover on a hugely popular title by Alison Tyler (pub Cleis Press) while Abby Lee‘s memoir, Girl With a One Track Mind, Exposed, is the follow up to her 2006 bestseller, Girl With a One Track Mind. If you want ‘before and after’ shots, here’s how it used to be:

My, haven’t we grown? Followers of this blog will know, in the past, we’ve been highly critical of Cleis Press, progressive indie publishers, champions of marginalised sexualities and producers of top quality, seriously hot fiction who, paradoxically, have been responsible for creating some of the industry’s most sexist book covers. Our issues with Cleis have been compounded by the refusal of two of their top-name editors, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Violet Blue, to accept we have a valid a point when we say:


I view that statement as fact. I wrote it in big shouty letters to help the hard of thinking. Seriously, I fail to see how anyone can even consider arguing against our fundamental point. And anyone who claims Oh but, women like to identify, the book trade will never change, hot men are for teh gays etc is basically saying ‘sexism is OK’. Listen up: sexism is not OK. It must be challenged. We don’t know if the new cover of Got A Minute has anything to do with our campaign, nor if we were influential in Cleis’s choice of cover for Kristina Wright‘s forthcoming anthology, Fairy Tale Lust (right). But we do know we totally fucking love these designs, especially Got a Minute for its high male:female flesh ratio and its knee-quivering hotness!

Kristina, incidentally, was there at Erotica Cover Watch’s inception, prompting us to take action when she asked, ‘But, seriously, when are they going to put a hunky dude on the cover?‘ We really hope sales of these two Cleis books are sky-high and that Cleis will continue to broaden their remit as to what constitutes a suitable cover image for an erotic book. Because, along with many other female readers, we’ve seriously had it with T and A.

Zoe Margolis, aka Abby Lee, has been a staunch supporter of Erotica Cover Watch since the early days, commenting on our posts with intelligence, passion, wit and barefaced lechery; sending traffic our way with tweets and links; and being the unwitting inspiration behind LOLtits. We’re pretty damn sure Zoe’s publishers (Pan Macmillan) aren’t readers of ECW but it’s safe to say, the cover of Girl With a One Track Mind, Exposed, which officially hits the UK shops tomorrow (March 5th), wasn’t the first design Zoe was presented with. Or the second or the third …

Not all authors and editors get a say in the covers assigned to their books. But some do. And some people fight for what they believe in … and the upshot for Zoe is, a guy’s denim-clad butt appears in hundreds of bookshops and on 294 poster sites on the London Underground where, ordinarily, since this a sexy memoir, a woman’s eroticised body would have been the default representation (irrespective of the author’s gender).

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicShare photos on twitter with Twitpic

And as Zoe has pointed out to us, you really need to check out the woman’s toes on that cover: yup, this is definitely about female pleasure for a change – toe-curling pleasure! And so, hurrah, the message spreads: the erotic does not have to be signified solely by the female form; authentic female desire is not rooted in the gratification of men; a woman with sexual appetite is not, as contemporary culture would have us believe, doomed to express this via pole dancing and burlesque. Women lust. Women want. Women like to look at men. Please shift the gaze from us.

The point is: change is possible! Small things lead to big things, and we can all play a part in creating a better world. Or at least, as far as our campaign goes, in creating better bookshelves – bookshelves crammed with deliciously sexy books whose covers acknowledge female desire.

This is the last Erotica Cover Watch post. After 18 wonderful months, we’re closing the blog in a spirit of hope and belief and with enormous pride at what we – and you – have achieved. Our reach and success has gone way beyond what we thought possible. Here’s some of our best bits:

1. Xcite Books, the UK’s leading publisher of erotic fiction, have started to feature guys on their covers, thanks to us and you.

2. Filament magazine, backed by us and you, ran a highly successful ‘erection campaign‘, enabling them to afford a printer who wasn’t too scared to print a pic of hard cock. Filament are going from strength to strength and have recently secured an international distribution deal, covering all major English-speaking countries (except the UK because this country is weird). Issue 4 is out now!

3. We’ve written articles for The Guardian pertaining to women’s erotica, female sexuality and porn (see Comment is Free in sidebar). On one memorable occasion, our article was illustrated by a guy’s torso up top on the front page of The Guardian website. Woo-hoo!

4. We’ve been heard by many of the major players in the business: editors, authors, publishers. Some have ignored us; some have engaged with the debate but refused to budge; some have listened and changed their way of thinking; some are changing their way of marketing. In nearly all cases, even when there’s been significant disagreement between us and others in the industry, we have continued to work together as professionals and, in some cases, as friends. Nearly all …

5. Um, I (Kristina) have been blacklisted by Violet Blue and won’t be appearing in her anthologies again, a sure sign we touched a nerve.

6. We’ve illustrated our posts and demonstrated our point with images of book covers: on het books, at least 125 covers featured solo women, 14 featured couples (including sex guides so I’m being generous) and 17 featured solo men (5 of those were from Xcite and a result of our campaign and most of the others are from erotic romance, so again, I’m being generous.) If anyone wants to check my counting, feel free!

7. We’ve had 72 Man Candy Mondays and your all time favourites, according to hit rates, line up like an increasingly randy strip show:

3 2 1

8. Twice, we’ve been called  ‘dykes’. This still hurts my brain. How, when there is so much cock about the place?

9. Mathilde fearlessly tackled Fleshbot head-on, criticising them for using ‘Straight’ and ‘Gay’ filters where straight = hot babes and gay = hot dudes.

10. We’ve received 890 comments and have only had to block 4 for being abusive. Thank you, all of you. The quality of debate and the level of support we’ve received has truly been outstanding, not to mention inspiring! We’re thrilled.


We’re closing Erotica Cover Watch because we think we’ve made our point. Much as we’d love to go on making this point in the hope of reaching an even wider audience, we both have other projects we want to work on. We hope, with this campaign, we’ve raised awareness and set something in motion within the erotica publishing industry. Please help us to carry this forward. Please keep the energy of Erotica Cover Watch alive. Keep the links and Man Candies coming, complain about sexism, celebrate sexy men and support publishers who are trying to break the mould.

Once again, huge thanks for your immense support and enthusiasm. We couldn’t have done this without you!

Kristina and Mathilde x


Written by Kristina Lloyd

March 4, 2010 at 9:14 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Please, Sir AND Please, Ma’am, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel

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Please, Sir, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press. Please, Ma’am, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by Mathilde Madden

What? No. Really? Really, Cleis Press? Really? Deja vu, anyone?

I mean, you do realise that it’s possible to take photographs of men, don’t you? You haven’t got them confused with, I dunno, vampires or something.

Well, I guess the best that can be said about this. And it’s accompanying book is that it is some kind of improvement on those last ones. Now instead of black rubber corsets we have coloured corsets. Plus, the women have heads: w00t! Women get to have heads, party!  Except that we don’t count that on Cover Watch. Nah, see, we count trashy women on covers the same as sophisticated women with vaguely hip make up. Still women. Still covers featuring women and only women. This is an erotica book and in the erotica publishing industry only women can represent the erotic. No, strike that, it’s not quite true. Only the desires of straight men can represent the erotic.

Like I said before, think about the gaze. Think about whose shoes you are being invited to fill as you look at these covers.

Now, do I need to come right out and say it: this, men and women of the web, is sexism at it’s simplest.

Since these books are about sex and power, let’s talk about sexism and power. We live in a patriachy. Men have power; women have power only where men allow it. So, say, women get to have the “power” of sitting on a book cover looking sexy, but we don’t get to have the (real) power of having our desires represented on book covers. Can you see how different those levels of power are?

What’s particularly unfair is how much artistic energy women sink into the erotica publishing industry. Women make up the bulk of the writers and editors and reviewers for these books, often for very little financial rewards. Wouldn’t it be nice if the result of all this work and enthusiasm was a product that acknowledged their right to desire on the packaging? Instead of just presenting their labours as a delicious treat for straight men to pick up and enjoy?

Again and again we see this idea that women who want to be part of sexual culture have to become performers. Have to be on display. Only men get the privilege of watching from the shadows, comfortable that their desire will be presented for them without them having to offer anything of themselves in return.

That these books, like the previous two in the series, refuse to acknowledge female desire (the books are explicitly heterosexual) on the goddamn covers is shameful. It’s 2010, women have eyes and hearts and minds. Erotica publishing’s continued obstinate ignoring of that simple fact is sexist, nasty and, actually, in these tough economic times, probably downright dumb.

Written by mat

February 11, 2010 at 11:05 am

Erotica Cover Watch: The Mile High Club, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel

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The Mile High Club, ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by: Mathilde Madden

mile high

Here at Cover Watch we have a simple wish: Men on the covers of erotic books. To keep our dreams simple (and, you know, so damn basic it kind of makes me want to cry) we don’t worry too much about which men.

Oh, sure, there are debates to be had about trashiness. There are sticky questions about using imagery that is clearly primarily for gay men. We don’t have as strict a policy on this as some of our fellow warriors for equality. Man Candies are swiped from gay sites and blogs all the time, but we do understand why it’s important to say, hey, it is not okay to tell straight women that there is no problem because they can get their jollies from gay porn. Of course we can. (Of course we do.) But that doesn’t mean we don’t want our desires acknowledged . It’s not okay to ask straight women to dress up as gay men in order to see man-flesh.

Some people like to talk about what straight women really prefer. Our main position on this is that straight women’s tastes vary as much as straight men’s – and just take a look at a little thing called the internet to see just how wide ranging those tastes can be. Upshot of this – if you’re a straight woman and you see a single image of a sexy guy, chances are, it won’t be the exact image that does it for you. And this can be hugely frustrating in a world where such images are so scarce. But for us that means we cheer for all images of men on erotica book covers – and elsewhere – even if they are not our thing. Our reasoning: there’s a woman somewhere who is being made super happy by Mr Minotaur, Mr Hairy, Mr Elfin, Mr Piercings, etc.

Not that this policy is perfect. Of course some images proliferate unduly, but, for now, we welcome any attempt to get more guy-flesh on the outside of erotic books are well as the insides.

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.

Which is why we like this cover and cheer for it. And, god, sometimes, we feel like we are always complaining about Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Cleis covers – she has had some stinkers! So it’s really nice to see this.

So yay and yay again for this cover. And I will, at no point in this essay, mention the phrase ‘He looks like he’s hiding the body!’

Mathilde Madden

Written by mat

October 15, 2009 at 10:14 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Best of Best Women’s Erotica, ed. Violet Blue

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Erotica Cover Watch: Best of Best Women’s Erotica 2, ed. Violet Blue, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by Kristina Lloyd

Erotica Cover Watch is officially en vacances but clearly I’m a workaholic heading for a heart attack because there we were, Mat and I, sipping pina coladas by the pool, when I was struck by an overwhelming urge to call the office and yell, ‘What is it with all the women’s arses? Seriously, what the fucking fuck is wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right? I left a memo saying: HETEROSEXUAL WOMEN FIND MEN ATTRACTIVE. And what do you give those bitches to look at? More women’s butts! You’re FIRED!’

Best Women’s Erotica is, to quote the publishers ‘a legendary and groundbreaking yearly series, and is the best-selling women’s erotica collection, period. Every year BWE raises the bar for explicit erotica written by and for women.’

OK, now remember that part, ‘by and FOR women.’

Here’s more from the call for submissions: ‘The desired orientation within the main sexual element of the stories is primarily heterosexual.’

You got that? It’s het. So here we have an anthology aimed at women; its stories are primarily heterosexual, meaning its main target audience must be primarily het women too. In case you missed the memo: straight women fancy men. Seriously, they do! So what are you going to put on the cover of this book? An elephant, yes, that’s right! Or … or a car. What about a large pile of phone directories? Excellent! You’re hired. The important thing is, if you want to market erotica to women, choose an image which completely bypasses their desire; try to forget the fact they even have desire. Here’s two we made earlier:

These images are both for BWE 2010. The first image was a result of a regular marketing meeting; on the agenda: ‘another book of het erotica from Cleis. Cover suggestions?’ And everyone shrugged and said, ‘Woman’s arse, the usual.’ A few weeks later, management thought a BWE cover ought to be a bit different so they put a naked women in some trendy shoes on a chair and told her to look at the camera. This is a clever trick to fool people into thinking this represents an empowered woman expressing her sexuality. Cos she’s not just being looked at, she is looking right back. Cool! Equality! Also, add some hip consumer desirables to the pic of the chick and people can’t help thinking it’s a little bit more feminist cos, look, she has agency! She’s been shopping!

Cleis Press have been featured on ECW several times. We’ve written to Cleis’s editors. No reply. Nothing much has changed – although, hang on, the recently released The Mile High Club does include a guy so may be somebody is paying attention. It’s a little too early to tell.

I have a story in the forthcoming BWE 2010 which was then selected from the last five+ years of the series to be included in Best of Best. This was the first time I’d ever subbed a story to Violet Blue so I was thrilled with the double hit. And not so thrilled when I saw the covers. If you’re an author you may know how horrible it feels when work you’re proud of gets packaged in a cover which insults your writing.

Here’s two more of the latest images from Cleis Press, Best Lesbian Erotica and Best Gay Erotica.

Doesn’t that break your heart? Or make you hopping mad? Or both? Those are two gorgeous covers accurately representing the content and the sexualities of the books’ target readers. They feature couples expressing desire, affection, sexiness, lust, love. Kissing! There is some very beautiful kissing going on!

I want kissing too! Why, oh why, can’t BWE incorporate images of men to feature heterosexual couples on their covers? Just picture that image on Best Gay Erotica with a woman below the guy with the extraordinarily lovely arm. Sexy, no? But instead, Cleis Press are selling us yet another book in which a lone woman is objectified on the cover. Does that look like female heterosexual desire to you? No, me neither. Small wonder that last year’s Best Women’s Erotica is usually riding high in Amazon’s Gay and Lesbian charts. It is confusing.

It’s particularly baffling when these covers are coming from a progressive, liberal publishing house which prides itself on championing marginalised groups. It looks as if straight female sexuality is just a tad too radical for Cleis whose het erotica covers are peddling the same old sexist shit, perpetuating the notion that straight female desire is insignificant; that straight women are happy to identify with images of women and to be the ones who are looked at, never the ones who are looking and actively desiring.

ECWstatsAug09_xCleis Press describe the BWE series as ‘groundbreaking’. The content may well be but the claim is starting to look increasingly dubious and dated when the ideology underpinning Cleis’s marketing to women comes straight from mainstream culture’s sexism.

Since we started this campaign, the growth in support has been astronomical. We’ve caused a leading UK erotica publisher to rethink its covers; have had articles published in one of the UK’s top newspapers; and have been one of the driving forces behind Filament magazine’s successful bid to print erections for the female consumer. (We also have an exciting top sekrit project in the erotica publishing pipeline – sshh!). Meanwhile, across the pond, Cleis Press are simply looking the other way, acting as if we are not here, as if our voices – ours and yours – don’t count.

But we are here and our voices matter. And we are staying and we are fighting for change.

Pass the pina colada, Mat. Same book, same time next year?

Written by Kristina Lloyd

September 3, 2009 at 8:12 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Best Fetish Erotica, ed Cara Bruce

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Best Fetish Erotica, ed Cara Bruce, pub Cleis Press

Watched by Kristina Lloyd

No, no! Come back! Don’t hide behind the sofa! Honestly, we haven’t moved over to horror fiction. This is still erotica, still the genre we know and love – although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise because that cover is a tad argh and yikes and OMFG, that’s a stump on stilts! Run!

The word ‘fetish’ is frequently used to mean ‘kinky sex’ rather than obsessive devotion to an object or activity. However, this anthology (out next month), does seem to be true to its word with stories featuring ‘corsets, girdles, high-heeled feet, cross-dressing, rubber balls, spanking, fast cars, voyeurism, masochism, knives and plushies’. So it’s a book about desire for weird things but, as per usual, the cover falls into the idea of desire being solely represented by desire for women’s bodies meaning once again, we get a cover image of a woman, irrespective of the book’s content. Well, sort of a woman.

In a genre where sexism distorts representation to such an extent we only get women on the covers, the logical conclusion is this: distorting a woman’s body to turn her from ubiquitous sex object to dehumanised fetish object, devoid of agency and wholeness, and functioning only to satisfy another’s paraphilia. Because doesn’t it look like a paraphilia when there are two sexes and the focus is entirely on one?

On Cover Watch, we’ve often railed against headless women and bemoaned the butts in our faces. This cover takes us a step further: it exaggerates the sexually important components (long legs and ass), cinches the waist and shrinks the torso, and removes all other extraneous body parts (head and arms). Actually, to make the woman even less human, let’s replace her arms (arms! so boring!) with shadows, ghostly, withered, useless limbs belonging to a creature who might have you screaming in the night – and not in a happy way.

The image puts me in mind of the dark, surrealist misogyny of Hans Bellmer’s dolls.


The various blurbs to Best Fetish Erotica add to the book’s list of fetishes the phrase ‘ – nothing is off limits!’ or describe the stories as ‘taboo yet tantalizing‘. Well, clearly something is off limits: men! The desire for a male body is a taboo too far for erotica covers.

A while back, I wrote a story called Boot Camp for Alison Tyler’s F is for Fetish anthology. It was about a woman who got off on polishing men’s army boots. I described the boots as having ‘three pairs of eyelets rising up to the metal loops of a speed-lacing system, black laces crisscrossing over leather tongues, as beautiful as corsetry.’ Because it’s always sodding corsets, isn’t it? I wanted to spin that standard signifier of sexiness, of desire denoted by corsets and, by extension, women’s bodies, into something more representative of my desire. And of course, in writing about a kink for grubby army boots, I was writing about a fetish which conceals an ever deeper, freakier, more marginalised fetish of mine – a desire for (whisper it!) men’s bodies, for cock and come and a cracking pair of thighs. It’s a paraphilia I have (and I know I’m not alone). It’s called female heterosexuality.

juicyAn image as grotesque as the one on Best Fetish Erotica makes perfect sense according to erotica’s current terms of representation which position women as the desired, never the desiring, and men as those who look but are never looked at. This cover highlights how senseless and offensive those current terms are. Erotica is still being pitched at a perceived male readership, a stale, outmoded bias which distorts and disables female sexuality. The image on Best Fetish Erotica encapsulates and condenses the deepest flaws of erotica publishing, a misshapen body to parallel a misrepresented sexuality. While the picture may look modern and edgy, the message it’s sending – erotica is for men, not for women – is well past is sell-by-date.

OK, everybody – back behind the sofa! Arghhhhh!

Written by Kristina Lloyd

April 16, 2009 at 8:04 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Frenzy, ed. Alison Tyler

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41b6bp5pdbl_ss500_2Frenzy, ed. Alison Tyler, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by Mathilde Madden

Yep. We’re back. And guess what – not much has improved.

Okay, so, this cover, at first glance it really does look as if it is a picture of a woman just sitting on the toilet. Oh, except she is still wearing her underwear. And the toilet seat is down. Hmm, look again. The angle of her head… the arch of her back. Oh! Filth!

It’s actually a crafty image. In some ways. If it didn’t piss me off I’d probably like it. I like the double take factor. Because, at second glance – oh – she’s clearly engaged in some bathroom sex with a guy (okay, I’m assuming it’s a guy – shoot me). Can you see what it is yet?

So yeah, kind of fun to do something like that. An image that looks innocent (well, as innocent as a woman sitting on the lav can be) until I look again. And then I think – oh, clever. For about a nano-second. And then my thinking of ‘clever’ is overwhelmed by raging.

Because – of course – this image fits into a whole I can see no menz tradition of erotica covers. 

Because of that, because of the culture that surrounds it, this is just another insult. Another  case where the need to never ever show a man on the cover of an erotica book seems to just be going to desperate measures.

I mean, really, there is a guy there, but he’s hiding

strangerNow, look at this. This is another cover where we see some sex through a half open door. The difference here is that this is an erotic romance book. And as we have discussed before erotic romance is different. In fact, erotic romance does some really lovely covers with men on them. But only because straight men are not the consumers of erotic romance. 

In erotica, as we know, because straight men are potential consumers they become the only consumers. And because straight men are (apparently) terrified of seeing cock – or let’s face it a man’s arm – the men on erotica covers get hidden behind doors

(Although maybe we should be grateful the presence of a man is even hinted at, given erotica’s current staple cover image of a woman wanking.) 

By the way, both of us at Erotica Cover Watch know Alison Tyler. In fact we consider her a good friend. She has even joked with us about this project, wondering when her turn would be. Because, of course, it was coming. Because Alison gets saddled with truly horrid covers sometimes. Just like other editors. We know editors don’t get a say.

Authors don’t get a say too. We get published in anthologies that have covers which say really confusing and offensive things about female sexuality. I know a lot of authors feel the way we do and don’t say anything. Because it’s a cold hard world out there and getting published is often a cherished ambition.

Some people have said to us that we shouldn’t complain so much. That we should be glad we are even published authors. Well, we are glad. We really are. But, chaknow, we could be so much gladder. 

And we want to be gladder. We love this industry and this genre. Writing erotica gets so much stick. Women writing erotica get so much stick. It’s 2009 now and the erotica publishing still thinks erotic can only be demonstrated by a picture of a nekkid chick. This problem needs to be talked about.

Happy New Year!

Written by mat

February 5, 2009 at 10:42 am

Erotica Cover Watch: Erotic Fairy Tales by Mitzi Szereto

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41m13dc1wxl_ss500_Erotic Fairy Tales by Mitzi Szereto, pub. Cleis Press

Watched by Mathilde Madden

This is one of those covers where I guess I have to say upfront, yes, it is a nice picture. Of course, I did think that most fairy tales had men in them – Prince Charming, etc. But instead of any glimpse of a prince we get another ‘instructional’ book cover. Look she’s reading a book. That’s how to read this book, women, it’s smut – hold your tits whilst reading.

Of course, as ever, men don’t need to be told visually how to enjoy porn books.

So nice cover – if you aren’t sick to death of erotica covers featuring solo women. It’s a classy image. Tasteful and sepia toned. And I think – in declaring our desire to see men on the covers of erotic books, the war against ideas of tastefulness is one of our hardest campaigns. Because a lot of people want erotica to be nice and look nice (nice in a dirty/sweet kind of way) and being a woman and saying you want to look at naked men, is – in sophistication terms – a bit like saying you want to eat a Pot Noodle while wearing a ratty dressing gown and picking your nose.

Let me explain. There is something of a notion that for a woman, being turned on by images of sexualised men just isn’t very clever. Or maybe that “Nice girl’s don’t”. Perhaps even with a touch of “It’s all a bit non-U, darling“.

Bared Super Muscley Bums
Here’s an example of the perceived trashiness of women looking at men. In my novel Peep Show (which has a woman on the cover – naturally – for a book all about a woman who likes to spy on gay men having sex. Sheesh) the main character, Imogen, remembers a time when she went to see a rather trashy male strip show

When I was in my late teens I went to see one of those male strip shows, with some of my friends in the Upper Sixth. It wasn’t my idea. It was a birthday treat for someone else in our gang, who had just turned 18.

It was sort of The Chippendales, but not, one of those so-similar-they-might-as-well-be, rip-off acts.

All my friends pissed themselves laughing all the way through the show. And so did I. Except, well, except. See, I did find it funny. Who wouldn’t find trousers with Velcro-ed seams and enormous oiled up men, with bared super muscley bums, tres amusing? But, at the same time, this other part of me, the part I was just getting to know back then, found it the single hottest thing I had ever experienced.

Strip. Tease. Oh yum yum.


Do we really want images like this in erotica as well as erotic romance? Well kind of...

Male striptease for women, man titty erotic romance covers. How come in the ghettos where men’s bodies are served for female consumption it is always utterly crass? Why is female desire for manflesh only allowed to be at the seediest trashiest end of the sexual market. The equivalent of the men in flasher-macs kerb crawling. There we are next to them, drooling over some orange, over worked out bloke, with shaved pecs and a mullet.

So I can understand why a lot of people howled when we started this blog thinking that we were campaigning for more trashy Fabio style book covers to cross from the women only world of romance into the more generalised world of erotica. But we’re not asking for that. We’re campaigning for as wide and interesting a variety of images of sexualised men as there are of sexualised women.

In fact, talking of variety, let’s not throw the man titty out completely. Sometimes – when it comes to prime beef – you actually want a hamburger not a steak. I only think the covers pumped out by Ellora’s Cave and the like are a bit much because there’s no subtler man candy aimed at women to balance it out. So there’s two things here. One is why can’t women like looking at men in that totally seedy trashy way without that making us dumb or shallow? And the other question is why, when we do look at men, do we only get that seedy trashy stuff that is currently perceived as dumb or shallow?

I want the seedy trashy to lose its stigma and also for women to have eye candy that is seen as properly sophisticated, even arty. But the only images of men that are allowed to be arty, sophisticated, black and white, are ones aimed at men. Quick index: if a picture of a naked man is black and white you can bet your life it will be labeled homoerotic.


But this artlessness around sexualised male imagery for women is more than just a bit annoying – it is actively contributing to the shameful dearth of man candy on erotica books covers. These days erotic fiction is experiencing a Renaissance and this nu-erotica is very concerned with shedding its old school trashy, pulpy image. Rather like the growth in Burlesque, titillation with a heritage – smut that is aware of its history – is stepping out of the shadows and claiming its place as art. As erotic fiction becomes more mainstream (yay) and the top end of the market fights to be called literature, it becomes impossible for it to put non-gay sexulised men on the cover. Because the covers have to be sexy but classy – they have to look like literature – and really, could anything in a man titty cover be called literature?

And so if women want nice, classy, arty imagery on book covers representing their desires – well, it’s solo woman how-to-get-off. Or…

Nice. But when do us straight women get our tasteful wet man covers?

Nice. But when do us straight women get our tasteful wet man covers?

Sapphic Love is Far Nicer
Really, there’s only one kind of female desire that can ever be thought of as grown up and sophisticated in the world of erotica book covers – and that is the desire for other women. Sapphic love is far nicer. And this gets prettier pictures.

Use erotic book covers as your guide and it almost seems as if lesbian desire is much more proper and grown up. Wanting men is immature and lazy (get thee to the romance section).

When we criticise covers that only display women as sex objects a lot of the criticisms we get feel like they’re deriding us for being immature. Like we can’t see that she (random cover model) is pretty. Like, if we can’t get our jollies looking at a picture of a pretty lady we must be sexually stunted in some way.

Not stunted – just straight. Just how it is.

Right now, if you want nice, subtly suggestive (possibly black and white) soft focus sexual imagery aimed at women, lesbian erotica serves it up in spades. But why aren’t any – of the admittedly few – arenas where men are served up for women, doing anything even approaching this level of tastefulness?

Female Bodies are Used to Sell Everything
Some people point out to us the female bodies are used to sell everything. That the idea of the feminine symbolising the erotic is hardly confined to erotic books. Why then, they ask, should we expect erotic fiction to be any better? Here’s why: because erotic fiction tells us it is better. Modern erotic fiction tells us all the time how it embraces all kinds of sexualities. It is published by hip, feminist, diversity-aware publishers. Submission guidelines tell us anything goes. Boundaries are pushed and the reclaimed land is marked out for all to enjoy.

And the fact is, modern erotic fiction enjoys its position as liberal and progressive rather too much to be still making these kind of simplistic glaring errors on gender equality.

Written by mat

November 20, 2008 at 7:36 am