"The Online World of Female Desire." I feel like I can actually hear my desk whimpering, "Please don't read that, please! I don't like the shouting and the being hit by your head. Can't we just skip one, just this once?"
Well, maybe we could. But not this one. Because "For women indulging their curiosity, Internet erotica is less about flesh than finding Mr. Right" is by Ogi Ogas. We'll get to why that matters – and it really, really does – in a moment.
First, though, let's take a wander through some gender essentialism, and yet another article saying that in some way, women don't really like sex. This is, "women like intimacy, commitment, and kittens."
One of our most interesting findings was that women are very different from men in how they use these online services. All across the planet, what most women seek out, in growing numbers, are not explicit scenes of sexual activity but character-driven stories of romantic relationships.
But maybe he's right. I mean, this isn't a Daily Mail columnist interviewing six of her friends, this guy's a Scientist, and he has The Data. "Reliable data on the erotic interests of a broad swath of humanity." Men watch short porn videos. Women read, write, share and discuss stories about men having relationships. The whole point of that article is "women's brains are different", and we have to assume this guy has the data and the experience analysing it to back that up, right? And look, he even admits that yes, an awful lot of women do consume visual porn, while not quite managing to realise that the second-to-last paragraph undermines the point of the entire article. But those women are risk-takers. Adventurous. Testosterony. Men, really.
He's studied fandoms, where women are producing and consuming these character-driven romances. Not, you'll note, explicit scenes of sexual activity.
Now, if you've run across any slash-fic at all, this is probably the point at which you start to think, "Wait, what?"
Perhaps, before running this piece, someone at the Wall Street Journal might have thought to google Ogi Ogas' book. Perhaps looked it up on Amazon. Scroll down past all the glowing reviews and look at the tags. 371 people have tagged this book "PhDs written in crayon".
Why? Because he's this Ogi Ogas.
In late August 2009, two researchers -- Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam -- instigated a survey about women's desire and fandom, with an eye toward publishing a book called Rule 34: What Netporn Teaches Us About The Brain...
...they (unintentionally) made it quite clear that their intent in their project is to talk about human universals -- to use our fannish experience, our erotics and our desires, to reinforce ideas of universal, hard-wired, biological desire.
They are outsiders to fandom. They are outsiders to fanfiction. They are outsiders to slash. And they haven't tried to learn, or to understand, or to think about fannish communities. Instead, they have made assumptions about who we are, about what we read, about what we find hot; they plan to use those to explain what makes women tick, what our brains make us do.
The very fan communities Ogas and colleague Sai Gaddam were studying rebelled against the study, finding the surveys they were given "ignorant, casually homophobic, patronising, misogynistic, profoundly privileged claptrap." In discussing the survey with fandom, Ogas used words like "shemale" and "trannies". When called on his language, he pulled a massive Flounce.
Fandom participants either refused to respond to the survey, or deliberately gamed it, providing hilariously useless data. This book is, at least in part, based on those responses.
Copies of the survey questions can be found here and here and the comments on those posts will make it clear just how offensive they were, and why. Or you could just consider the question, "If you enjoy m/m slash, which best describes your feelings about sexual relationships between two males who appear heterosexual?"
Also, Boston University would like you all to know that Ogas is in no way affiliated with that institution. They would like people to stop emailing them complaining about what a massive jerk they think he is.
In the meantime, it's perfectly possibly to examine the underlying premise that women are only interested in the erotic in the context of relationships by reading some fanfic. Let's even just use Legolas, like in the pictures on that article. PLEASE NOTE: these tender "erotic" relationships are NOT SAFE FOR WORK.
Mmm. Here, have some more Legolas/Aragorn. Have all the Legolas/Aragorn you can take. Make sure I'm not cherry-picking here. So to speak.
And if that wasn't sweet and tender and kitteny enough for you, try Sean Bean/Viggo Mortensen. (This is Real Person Fic. Some people may find this Disturbing.)
Now, it's possible that a taste for written pornography is more common in women than in men, while more men might prefer visual pornography, and that such a difference might be biological rather than socialised. (Though then why describe women who like visual porn as "risk-takers"?) What's not possible is that A Billion Wicked Thoughts can make any credible contribution to the conversation.
Speaking of credible contributions, I'll take this opportunity to blatantly link-whore a new site, The Lady Garden. I'll be writing here in future, along with Coley, Tallulah and Deborah. We'd love it if you dropped in, said hi, maybe had some tea and cake.