Why do women go gay for pay?

A new book, ‘Lesbians for Men’, showcases heterosexual women performing homosexual sex in front of the camera – here we explore why it’s one of porn’s most long-standing trends

Pin It
Lesbians For Men
Photography Nobuyoshi Araki, courtesy of TASCHEN

Lesbians, or more correctly women acting as lesbians, have always had an enduring appeal for masculine heteronormative culture; the idea that females fuck, lick and pleasure each other is often treated as a fleeting sexual orientation that can be disrupted by a penis in the room. Faux lesbian sex on-screen, in magazines and on the internet is the proverbial dish of the day, with countless models and performers going “gay for pay” to satisfy a thirst for promiscuous, adventuresome girls who will do anything to get themselves off. Let’s be clear about one thing: almost all pornography is made for the male fantasy (bar some pioneering pro-female filmmakers) and the habitual use, or appropriation, of queerness is far from revolutionary. In fact, these sexually free, clit-in-mouth girls are the by-product of a voyeuristic gaze that values men’s arousal above all else.

This phenomenon has been documented for centuries but Dian Hanson, the sexy books editor at Taschen and “Queen of Smut”, is flipping the lid on faux lesbian representation with her new book, Lesbians for Men. Page after page sees stylishly shot, whimsically inventive photographs of girls who kiss, fondle and cum all in a day’s work. Hanson has enjoyed an unparalleled publishing career in the porn and fetish industry, founding the 1970s hardcore journal Puritan and heading up a host of men’s magazines, including Big Butt, Juggs, and Leg Show. Since 2001, after a series of unfortunate events and the decline of the magazine industry, she was picked up by German publisher, Benedict Taschen, and now has one of the most enviable job titles in the world (well, to me anyway).

Lesbians for Men is Hanson’s candid, no-holds-barred approach to this well-established but misunderstood trend, and she’s certainly not worried about offending anyone. “Faux lesbian sex has either been underrepresented or represented poorly by writers,” she says. “Books come out saying that seemingly bisexual girls are just exploring their fantasies, and I look at that and say ‘bullshit’.” Hanson’s historical and anthropological stance breathes new life into a twisted narrative as she traces its origins from as early as 1890 right through to the present day. Contemporary photographers featured in the book include Nobuyoshi Araki, Guido Argentini, Bruno Bisang, Bob Carlos Clarke and Ren Hang; a diverse catalogue of artists in their own right. Here, we explore the history of lesbian sex for men.

“Most women I have met prefer working with women as it’s gentler, less tough on the body and you’re not getting your vagina pounded” – Dian Hanson

CASHING IN ON THE CLIT

Money, power and sex are the three pillars of modern life, so it’s no surprise that the porn industry and society at large plays on this relationship like a dog with a bone. The adult industry’s explosion after a fractured sexual revolution in the late 70s and early 80s gave rise to big businesses with even bigger wallets, and a core audience was identified: the straight male who will pay hard cash to get his jollies. “During the 80s the porn industry became institutionalised and big production companies were cashing in on female sexuality,” Dian explains. “Unrealistic standards for women became the norm and it became the bloated industry it is today.” Porn and erotica helps assist a fantasy, so the more you want to be the man with his head in two girls’ crotches, the more money you’ll pay (at least before the internet that is).

As for the models and actresses themselves, more often than not, Dian argues, these women are in it for the pay cheque. She says, “These females have been hired by a photographer or director to please men and get paid. Almost all the subjects featured in Lesbians for Men are heterosexual-identified. Most women I have met prefer working with women as it’s gentler, less tough on the body and you’re not getting your vagina pounded.” Too often, as consumers, we want to believe that what we’re watching is real — an authentic portrayal of spontaneous vagina rubbing. But, as Hanson points out, “it is heterosexual women performing for heterosexual men, without the pretence it’s anything other than that.”

TITTILATING THE MALE GAZE

Questions about authority and who holds the power is contentious when it comes to shooting the female nude. An entrenched voyeurism that upholds the active gaze, vis-à-vis male, while objectifying the passive model (female) is problematic, and the matter is brought to a spearhead by the sheer number of photographers who are men themselves. Ownership of a particular image fundamentally lies with its creator, therefore lesbian sex directed by men throws up a whole host of unanswered questions and suspicions.

The commander of the gaze is unequivocally male even if there’s no man in sight. For Dian, faux lesbian sex is straight male fantasy without the phallic panic of couple-led porn. “Men will explain it to you in different ways,” she says. “Some don’t want another man there because it’s competition, and others will tell you it’s the idea that these women are so sexually excited they will do it with each other and if he walked into the room they would just leap on him. I don’t think they’re really seeing them as lesbian girls but as opportunistic and sexually liberal women who will do anything.”

According to Dian, studies have shown that men aren’t really interested in real, loving sex acts between lesbian-identified women, therefore the power lies within ambiguity. On top of this, woman-on-woman porn is also one of the most popular genres for straight females, perhaps because this elusion of adventure is scrambled up with conflicting social scripts. A distortion of constructed sexual binaries creates a meta-narrative about identity politics in a larger sense; sex becomes so muddled that we’re not sure exactly what or who gets us wet (or hard). “It’s all a manipulation of desire,” adds Dian, “and there is a lot of power in this.”

FETISHISING THE OTHER

There’s no doubt that mainstream porn and erotica is predominantly white-washed, youth-centric and heterosexually-driven; a carnival of unrealistic standards of beauty. Even in Lesbians for Men, most of the glossy pages are brimming with traditionally beautiful, flat-stomached, mostly Caucasian, girls who would most likely get anyone’s underwear in a bind. A lack of diversity has been one of porn’s main criticisms from various feminist groups, and often when there is variation it’s fetishised or classed under a niche category. Dian notes, “I always try to get diversity in there with people of different ages, races and bodies, but it’s not always possible because you’re dealing with what people produce. I don’t believe that everything in the book should appeal to everyone who reads it as you get a bigger artistic statement, but I do have to work with what Benedict Taschen likes.” Since the porn industry in LA has crumbled under cheap and free online usage, smaller collectives and individuals are making their own work for greatly diverse audiences, but this too is largely focused on particular fetishes.

Re-appropriating lesbian sex for male pleasure, in itself, is a way of fetishising non-normative practices without tapping into the reality of LGBT lives. In many ways, this is like the blackface of the porn world – exploiting and mimicking cultural identities to gratify a group who have no interest in its genuine form. Dian admits to being shocked when colleagues and readers have misread the faux lesbian canon as a celebration of gay sex, rather than as a blatant plagiarising of queer subjectivity. “Lesbians for Men is a purely heterosexual book,” she says, “but if you’re a lesbian woman who can perfectly appropriate this book for your pleasure, well then that’s sexually and ecologically sound.” There’s no question for Dian that her work is marketed to a male audience, and she wants readers to be under no illusion that the images speak of a true lesbian experience.

BISEXUALITY AND THE ‘COOL’ FACTOR

Women can fuck women and men but still remain in the safety of heterosexuality. In fact, cultural attitudes towards bisexuality in women are in stark contrast to that of men. Girls are encouraged and rewarded for exploring their sexuality, often at a young age, whereas men are instantly categorised as homosexual because they threaten the masculine order. A fixation with girl-on-girl sex can also be read as a fear of feminisation: how can you be gay if there isn’t a dick in the room? Dian adds, “Women aren’t disgusted by the idea of having sex with each other in the same way men claim that they are. Society doesn’t condemn female experimentation, but men often identify gay sex as unfeminine and undesirable. We still haven’t reached the point where the average straight guy can just laugh it off.”

Growing up in a sex positive, liberal America, Dian says being bisexual had the cool factor. “If you went to sex parties and clubs and someone asked if you were bisexual, you would always say “yes” as you didn’t want to disappoint people,” she tells me. “People wanted to appear sexually free and there was power in being desirable to men.” This trend has withstood the test of time as bisexuality is still revered in popular culture. Hanson cites public figures such as Miley Cyrus who are excited to proclaim their sexually fluid and non-binary orientation as it makes them appear multi-dimensional. The females who are ready, and willing, to both deepthroat and lick pussy are the true heroines of our time.

“Faux lesbian sex has either been underrepresented or represented poorly by writers,” she says. “Books come out saying that seemingly bisexual girls are just exploring their fantasies, and I look at that and say ‘bullshit’” – Dian Hanson

PRO-SEX REVOLUTION AND SHIFTING CULTURAL IDENTITIES

“Porn is a lot stodgier than popular culture,” says Dian. It can translate the desires and values of a particular era in a more dramatic and confrontational way. The fastest growing area right now is older women, perhaps because of ageing populations, and themes of seducing younger, sometimes related, girls. Dian’s landmark career in the erotic publishing business was born from a genuine love of sex at a time where liberal sensibilities were beginning to take charge in the US, and lesbian sex always featured heavily in her work. She flourished working for sexy magazines undeterred by the growing conservatism of second wave feminism in the 80s and its anti-pornography stance. “I first got into into men’s magazines in the late 70s when we were very sex positive before the second wave,” she explains. “I was never involved with feminism as a movement but at my core I have always been a feminist. It was pro-sex feminism that said we have a right to birth control, abortion, to control our bodies and a right to orgasms.”

Although many feminist-aligned women may find this attitude at odds with Dian Hanson’s career in male publications, she has long advocated for good sex, regardless of gender. Her role as editor of fetish magazine, Leg Show, celebrated persuasions of all kinds at a time when porn was thriving against a heavy backlash from feminist activists. Working with both men and women behind the camera, Dian admits there was little difference in their approaches except some female photographers demanded fewer pussy shots. Publishers figured a woman knew more about what men want so they were comfortable having her as their visionary. Faux lesbian sex was always a selling point and it remains one of the most wildly popular genres in the adult industry today, with no signs of its slowing down. The power of the pussy continues to confuse, overwhelm and question processes of identification and the limitations of male sexual fantasy.   

More Photography

Like this?
Like Dazed on Facebook