It’s a publishing phenomenon. It’s erotic fiction. Or is it porn? It’s the tired old distinction. The double standard. If women like it, it’s erotica. If men like it, it’s porn.

Whilst critics like Gail Dines and Melinda Tankard Reist are the most recent to make a lot of noise about the popularity of porn, or rather, male-oriented porn, they remained silent about a similar boom in female-oriented porn. Oops, I mean erotic fiction.

Doesn’t female-oriented erotic fiction deal in the same atrocious sexist stereotypes as male-oriented porn? I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and honestly, I am unlikely to. Not because of the subject matter but because of the poor writing. Just as male-oriented porn is often cheap and nasty, female-oriented porn… Sorry, erotic fiction, is often similarly cheap and nasty.

So why the double standard? Is it really as simple as the alleged fact that men prefer visual stimulation, which then leads to the visual depiction of real women engaging in graphic sexual acts, whereas fiction is just that, fiction and does not involve real people?

This argument breaks down at a number of levels. There can be no doubt that some male-oriented porn involves debasing real women, even if most of it is acting. But the criticism of male-oriented porn extends to any graphic depiction, including painting and drawing, which does not involve real women. Similarly, some female-oriented erotica includes visual material, including getting male actors to perform as a cliche romantic stereotype.

Now, seriously, how many men actually look like this? It takes a great deal of very specific exercise to create a body like this, and the lack of body fat indicates that this male model is on a strict diet (protein shakes, chicken breast and broccoli anyone?).

And let’s not kid ourselves that such gender stereotypes do not have as long a history as female gender stereotypes. For every Hollywood female sex symbol there was a male sex symbol. For example Errol Flynn, who was a ‘heart throb’ –  a good part of his appeal was his bad boy reputation and the rumours of his large penis (whether true or not).

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