Erotica Cover Watch

Why only women on the covers of erotic books?

Archive for the ‘susie bright’ Category

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

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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

Erotica Cover Watch: Best of Best American Erotica 2008, ed. Susie Bright

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Best of the Best American Erotica 2008, ed. Susie Bright, pub. Touchstone

Watched by Mathilde Madden

Okay, everyone at Erotica Cover Watch thinks Susie Bright is awesome. I know the BAE series is ground breaking and amazing. (For my review of the content of the 2007 book go here). And, yes, I am sad it has ended after 15 years. And, no, I don’t think Susie Bright chose this cover herself or is responsible for it. This really isn’t about that.

Be clear: this is a flagship erotica book. And that is what this post is about. The fact that from the trashiest erotica collections right to the pinnacle of progressiveness we find exactly the same thing on the cover. A woman.

My Pleasure
Now this blog isn’t about specific covers. It’s about the absence of men on covers in general. This cover features yet another woman so it qualifies.

However, to delve deeper and look at this cover with its picture of a woman who is reading and masturbating (as well as being, we ought to note, not exactly white and not exactly thin) I know some readers will be thinking: what’s not progressive about that?

It might be a more radical image than normal, but it’s hardly challenging the idea that erotica cover images are always aimed squarely at the enjoyment of straight men. It’s hardly challenging the idea that only images of women’s bodies can be erotic images. Don’t be distracted by the fact she is wanking.The fact is women masturbating has been a mainstay of straight male porn since forever. Yes she’s getting pleasure but only at a price. The price is being a body to be consumed too. Female pleasure has always been allowed in straight erotica (far more so than male bodies) – but as a product to be consumed by men. What’s the big difference here?

Oh, sure, I can identify with her – how come women have to always draw the short straw of identifying? Why can’t we just stand back and enjoy sometimes? Identification might be all very well, but why is that *all* I get with the cover images of erotica? Sometimes I want to be offstage getting to lust and desire. Where’s my desire? Where’s my lust object?

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And isn’t it even vaguely patronising that the cover is giving me ‘permission’ to wank over this work? I know what to do with porn. Don’t give me an instruction manual in place of a bicep. No one would suggest that a male reader needs such an obvious invitation.

Because you know and I know that I will die of old age before I see a general purpose erotica book with a guy diddling himself silly on the front cover.

And it feels like that’s the price I have to pay as a woman to be part of the world of erotica writing. I have to accept that I am part of a world that will only present female bodies as signifiers of the erotic. I’m not American so I’ve never been part of this series of books even in the loosest way – but I know enough erotica writers to understand that this prestigious series is considered a career high point for any US author who has their work included.

When I told Maxim Jakubowski in an earlier post that I preferred not to submit stories to anthologies that I thought might have sexist covers he was slightly incredulous.

“I think you’re just damaging your own editorial prospects, as this would preclude you submitting to Alison, Rachel KB, Violet Blue, Mitzi S, X-Cite Books or myself, and we right now probably account for going on 90% of the admittedly restricted erotica anthology market…”

And he’s quite right. Although a lot of editors are quite understanding and talk to me about how I feel about covers (I know they don’t pick them). I’m in Alison Tyler’s ABC books which have exclusively women on the covers. But I do try and stay away from naked arses, headless women in PVC and the covers I am so sick of seeing or find sexist and unfair. It’s not science. And it’s certainly true that I have to compromise or I would never be published.

This cover, well it’s just a bit disappointing really that the best of the best is still only represented by a picture of a woman. It doesn’t really matter what kind of woman she is or what she’s doing. It’s still the same message. Women’s bodies = erotica. If no revolution here then where?

Yeah, I’m sure this cover was picked out in the marketing department of the big publishing house where this volume was forged. And doesn’t that just tell you the real truth about erotica? Forget how progressive we think erotica is these days – the publishers don’t seem to think that. Because even when the content of erotica books is ground breaking, the ground-breaking-ness doesn’t start until page 2. The inside might say sexuality is for everyone – the outside says different. No matter how crisp and honed the prose. No matter how the stories challenge the status quo. It might as well be a crumpled jizz rag for the dirty mac brigade as far as what sort of images the publishers and book sellers think will sell.

So while the content of some erotica might look all progressive these days with the themes it covers and its championing of real female voices (as opposed to the men putting on squeaky voices that used to be its mainstay) – and there is no question that erotica has been revolutionised by the inclusion of women as editors writers and consumers – it’s still as reactionary as ever when it comes to being pretty on the outside.

And BAE is about erotica. As a book it’s general purpose. All erotica. All kinds of people with all kinds of desires. So how come the cover of this book reflects only the desire for one sex? The desire for women. Surely *some* of the Best of Best America Erotica is about desiring men. Surely some Americans desire men.

And in fact let’s trawl back through amazon and find some of the previous covers.

Six years of covers and I count: a woman’s clothed arse, a woman’s naked arse (okay, if you want you can argue with me about whether or not that is clearly a woman but it’s pretty fucking feminised), the only obviously masculine bit of anatomy – a man’s arm!!!!! A MAN’S ARM – I AM DOING CARTWHEELS!!!!, a woman’s airbrushed made up face, two woman’s legs complete with lowered knickers, and one single woman’s leg, three high heels and a partridge in a pear tree – oh, no, I mean an apple. (And the arm holding that apple is surely a woman’s if it’s enacting the scene I presume it’s enacting.)

It’s an interesting mix. If I wanted to start wading in that subjective mire that is matters of taste I would say that these covers are nicer, more fun, better designed and less obviously dated than those of other anthologies where it is just another year, another woman’s arse.

But it’s still woefully short of featuring anything approaching man candy. Of anything representing to the casual consumer the idea that desire might be directed towards men. One arm in six years! How would you feel if you cracked open an anthology like this and found every story inside was about the desire for female flesh? Pretty surprised, right? So how come that’s okay on the cover? And face it, the cover is seen by way more people than ever read the contents of these books.

Do you maybe see our point now? It’s not about this book or that book, this editor or that one, this author or that one, this publisher, this type of image. It is about an overwhelming imbalance in who gets to be on the cover of erotic books. On who plays the role of looked-at. And what happens to those of us who like to look – but like to look at the gender we are not allowed to see on mainstream non-romance erotica?

Not everyone’s pick is looking at women. Women are not what I think of when I think of an erotic image. If for you they are, great. Don’t panic, I don’t want to steal all your candy – I just want fair shares.

Written by mat

September 25, 2008 at 6:45 am