Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What women want?

According to this NY Times article, it isn't what most people think. For those of you too lazy-- *ahem* I mean busy to click the link, I'll boil it down to the bare bones for ya. When it comes to erotic material, women want pretty much anything: man, woman, men, women, sex in any gender combination or permutation as long as those portrayed are having a good time. I can't say I'm particularly surprised, since the research findings in the Times article dovetail nicely with another article I linked to awhile back in this here edumicational post, which lays out the not insignificant differences between men and women regarding what gets them off.

I'm not sure whether this means women are more open than men to actually experimenting with their own sex, or whether they're just merely interested in watching/reading about it. Either way, it makes me wonder what's holding the f/f and f/f/m romance subgenres back.

I find it curious, especially considering the fairly mainstream popularity of shows like The L-Word, that even the mildest girl-on-girl content in ebooks is often viewed with dismissal and disdain.

Is it that women who are members of the typical romance ebook reading demographic are not as open to the idea of fluid sexuality as younger women seem to be? And will those women who are now in their late teens and early twenties be the f/f/m romance readers of the next decade? Are we poised on the edge of a new trend?

Or is it, as Emily Veinglory suggested, that women looking for f/f and f/f/m simply can't find the kind of stories they like? Is it that publishers aren't putting the right books in front of the right eyes?

Is it that many straight women have never given the idea much thought, or have just never tried it and don't know what they're missing? That is not to say that every woman will enjoy a lesbian or f/f/m menage romance. I just wonder why so many insist they don't, or wouldn't, or can't, or couldn't, when current research finds this simply not to be the case most of the time.

Is the prevailing sentiment that f/f is a tough sell actually true, or is it just that those on the extreme hetero end of the sexual continuum are the most vocal in their disapproval, while all those millions upon millions of middle-of-the-Kinsey-scale, potential girl-on-girl readers are just not quite curious enough to bother seeking it out?

What do you all think?


MB (Leah) said...

Well, Kirsten, you know what I think.

Actually, before I started reading romance and then erotica almost 2 years ago, I never really thought about such things. I've never shied away from looking at women and appreciating them or hanging out with bisexual/lesbian women, but it was never an issue that stood out for me as something to bother about. Until one day, and I can't remember why, I had this desire to read girl-on-girl and actively looked for it.

But I felt a bit embarrassed to admit that on my blog, even though I did. Then you came along and since then, we've found that there are many women out there who like to read it, but at various levels.

Some, like you and I, actively look for it. Others like it if it's there, and others don't mind if it's there but wouldn't look for it.

I know that Emily Veinglory is correct in that some of the problem is finding it. There just isn't much out there outside of straight up lesbian material, which is not really what we are talking about.

And she did bring up the fact that in m/m the audience might be higher because of the straight women and some gay men. Whereas, with f/f, most of the market for that is straight men, if it's not romance, and lesbians. But I think there are many straight women, like me, who like to read it as well and we've been seeing them come out of the wood work.

Part of the problem is also the material. You and I like bisexual f/f, wherein a guy is in the mix somewhere, but not as for the sole purpose of the guy's pleasure. These stories are really hard to find. I enjoy reading lesbian romance because at least there's more of it available and I can get my f/f fix. But I prefer what you write. It floats my boat more. But what you write is extremely rare out there and I think more women on the fence would ask for it, if it's easy to find.

I know this topic has been discussed over and over and no one really has an answer.

But I do think the more material that is out there, the more accepted it will be and those who are on the fence or feel shy about the fact that they like to read f/f will feel more comfortable coming out. Because it's being brought up over and over on many blogs, and since you and others are are talking about it, we've seen more and more women saying, yeah, we do like that and would like more available to us.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think it's all about the story. I didn't think I'd like m/m either, but "Paul's Dream" by Rowan McBride opened my eyes...and my mind.
Nina Pierce's opened my mind to f/f and I've never looked back.
For my own part, I've seen a definite preference in my own readers. For example; The Command Series at LSB is BDSM science fiction. Male Dom? Sells awesome. Fem Domme? Nope. Not so much.
Why? I have no idea. It's just a fact. One that a few people told me when I wrote "Resisting Command". Fem Domme doesn't sell. It doesn't stop me. I'm writing another one.
But it does indicate a preference for a "men in charge" thing.
Perhaps that applies to your question as well.

Amy C said...

I grew curious. I seeked it out and have enjoyed what girl-girl I've read. I'd love to see more. Maybe someday with blogs like this, letting the publishers know that it would sell. That there are those of us that would buy and read it. How do the publishers know it wouldn't sell? If it's not been there to buy, how can they say one way or the other?

I still don't understand why a woman would choose to read m/m and not want to read f/f if studies show that women are just as likely to get a kick-start to their libido watching women as well as watching men and often more so while watching another woman.

Thanks for the great post and the link to the article. It's all very interesting to read about.

kirsten saell said...

Hey, Jen, thanks for dropping by.

I think your comment and Leah's kind of intersect in an interesting way. Women do like men to be in charge, but there's nothing appealing (to me, anyway) about two women vying for the sexual attention of one man.

So if we're talking about f/f/m that will appeal to women, I think the (or one of the) woman has to be firmly positioned at the center of the menage relationship at any given time, without the man becoming (or seeming to become) diminished. Which is a HARD line to walk, believe me.

And for pure f/f, I do think you kind of have to cast one woman as the alpha and the other as the beta--but it can be really difficult to do that and still have that alpha heroine appeal to women readers.

Because I think in some ways women in general still want to be seduced, wooed, pampered, taken care of (which is, I think, where much of the popularity of m/f/m comes from--two guys, totally focused on a woman's needs, despite the fact that in reality it would be next to impossible to sustain).

And I think we do so much in our daily lives to take care of others, we're supposed to be so in charge of every aspect of our families, homes, careers, we don't always want to read that "woman on top" kind of story. Or if we do, we're turning to genres that aren't romance for it--Urban Fantasy, for example--because we're still not ready in a lot of ways to give up that fantasy in a romantic context, even if in reality most of us are probably the alpha dogs in our marriages.

Although I've never really been "women in general" when it comes to what I like. I think a woman who wears the pants is damn sexy. I've been wanting to read Resisting Command for a long time--I'm gonna have to try it. :)

Hmmm. Lots of stuff to think about...

kirsten saell said...

Hey, Amy!

I think there is evidence that f/f doesn't sell in romance ebooks (print is another matter entirely). And sometimes that's purely about the sexual content, sad to say. I know there are women who simply find it doesn't appeal to them, and that's cool. A few are much more vehement in their dislike of it (or m/f, for that matter) but that's a topic for another day, LOL.

But I also think the f/f (and especially f/f/m) subgenre could be better served by authors and publishers. That is, making it easy to find. Acknowledging that there are differences between f/f fiction and lesbian, just like there are between m/m and gay. Understanding that many women who would be cool with, or seek out, menage stories--like Michele DeLully's La Bonne, or my Bound by Steel, or Bonnie Dee's Awakening in LSB's anthology Three--aren't necessarily interested in lesbian romance.

In other words, there seems to be lots of lesbian erotic romance out there (even in ebooks), but not so much for bi or bi-curious women who aren't ready to kick the man right out of the relationship. And very little that isn't contemporary.

Not that there aren't any other genres at all, mind you. There's Emma Wildes' Regency era stuff, and Crystal Jordan's paranormal Total Eclipse of the Heart. I read an anthology of shorts from Torquere that had some really interesting historical stories, including one set among a wild west show touring England in the 1800s, and another in set in the 1940s if I recall.

But for the most part, f/f/m menage is contemp, and that's not a genre I personally choose to read. In fact, I only ever read it if the sexual content is outside the norm in some way.

So I think it's a matter of hitting the right note and putting it in front of the right eyes. And being willing to take the odd chance--because Jen's Resisting Command might not sell well now, but in a few years when all these young, sexually fluid women start picking up romance novels, that could certainly change.

Amy C said...

Kirsten, you and Leah both have so much to say and say it so well. I enjoy reading your views and ideas on this topic.

MB (Leah) said...

And for pure f/f, I do think you kind of have to cast one woman as the alpha and the other as the beta--but it can be really difficult to do that and still have that alpha heroine appeal to women readers.

Hmm... as a het woman who likes to read f/f, I think you hit the nail on the head with this one on why many het women balk at f/f.

For me, I'm a bit turned off by really butch women,(butch doesn't equal strong women to me, but pushy and aggressive) and the lesbian romances that I like the most are those where the women are kind of on equal ground. Of course, like you said there is going to be a more dominant one, but both can be soft and vulnerable, which is why I like more bi stuff because the dynamics between the women are different than in pure lesbian stuff.

Because I think in some ways women in general still want to be seduced, wooed, pampered, taken care of

I totally agree with this because like you say, in many cases we have to be the strong one and take care of so much. And the image of a big, strong male coming in and just taking care of us is a big turn on. But I wonder then why does m/m appeal so much if that is one reason why f/f is not so popular?

In most of the m/m I read there is usually one who is more dominant, but not necessarily alpha. And if I say it how I experience it, I think many times I'm reading f/f with two cocks and some male characteristics thrown in there. Not even a m/f imitation because the guys are so emo and chatty about their feelings.

Since the huge contrast like in m/f where the man is definitely the alpha and the woman is taken care of, doesn't really seem to happen too often in m/m, I wonder then why is it more appealing to straight women who really like the alpha male character? This is not counting Yaoi of course, which is a whole different m/m type.

That is, making it easy to find.

Again, I agree as I stated above. The labeling sucks. I've found a few books quite by accident that weren't labeled f/f, or having any bisexual content, but which had a fair amount. And like you, I wish epubs at least would label them correctly.

MB (Leah) said...

Amy, you do too as well. :D

Kelly Jamieson said...

Hi Kirsten, interesting post. I don't have answers, just the same questions. I personally don't read a lot of f/f or m/m stories. Don't know why, other than I'm hetero so maybe for me a HEA is a man and a woman. But I do enjoy reading (and writing!) various combinations! I know that m/m romance is hot in ebooks and recently saw a news article about a NY publisher starting a line of m/m romance "written by and for women". Interesting that women are so into m/m stories and not f/f stories. I always wonder if it's just that women don't want to admit to bicurious fantasies.

kirsten saell said...

I do think that's part of it, Kelly. I'm sure many women believe that if they enjoy reading or watching girl-on-girl, it must mean they're lesbian or bi, and that's not really the case. Women and men are completely different in this regard, and it makes me feel really fortunate to be a woman, in that I can enjoy reading/watching the entire spectrum of human sexuality and not really get squicked by any of it. Men aren't so lucky, lol.

And for those who aren't made uncomfortable by the thought of f/f, they still might be reluctant to give it a try. I think there's a pervasive impression that it's going to be porny. Because to be honest, there's always been plenty of f/f erotic material out there--it's just aimed at men, and therefore isn't likely to appeal to women. If all women think when they hear the term "lesbian erotica" is Girls Gone Wild vids, I can't blame them for not wanting much to do with it.

The butch/femme dynamic that's more common in lesbian produced material may not appeal to straight women, either. And I don't necessarily think that dynamic is the norm in lesbian relationships in real life. But it does seem to be abundant in porn produced by and for lesbians.

I don't read many f/f or m/m stories, either. But I do adore a very well-written m/m/f (not m/f/m, though) or f/f/m, whether the happily ever after is for two people or three (and again, yours was totally blammo, Kelly). I like the idea of being able to have it all sexually, of having three (or more, hehe) people all sharing each other.

Whether my girl-on-girl stories sell like whoa and like damn or not, they have found an appreciative readership, and that's gratifying. And it's also been a huge boost to discover that I was someone's first foray into f/f action and now they can't get enough of it, LOL. It will be interesting to see where f/f is in five years, or ten, as more people discover they enjoy it.

Thanks for stopping by, Kelly!

Kissa Starling said...

As a writer of lesbian romance I have certainly noticed a trend. I sell a lot of stories to print publishers and the print lesbian stories sell really well. On the other hand there is epublishing. Even those that claim they publish GLBT only list m/m titles. I had one publisher reject my story soley because it was f/f- and that was after their submissions guidelines said they published it. As a writer it's very frustrating. I'm hoping that more readers will ask for or buy lesbian or menage stories.


Mima said...

thanks for the conversation kirsten, in the blog and comments. i will read any variation of menage. *mima's little antennas go BING* and yes the content does trump genre for me. however, i rarely read m/m altho i do if a review/blurb is compelling enough to me. i'm sure i'd do the same for f/f if i stumbled across it... haven't yet. after thinking on this a bit after reading this series, i have to say for me, the resistance is DEFINITELY the resentment i feel every time i see lesbian stuff shoved down my throat in society, the predominant female nudity in the movies, the focus on women as sexual objects... i'm really really sensitive to it in visual mediums and it pisses me off. and i'm an erotic romance author who has occasionally used the fun word "smut" for her own stories. it's not terribly logical of me. but yeah, i can feel the resistance build just thinking about a f/f story. hmmmm. maybe it's because i'm protective of real f/f love, having lived it. it's not 2 girls in bikinis hugging each other at a car race. and it's not the constant female nudity where men never show full. i read for escape and entertainment, and i'd be much, much harder on a f/f story i read, because of this sensitivity. undeserved or not. i think that's what it is for *me*. and now i am determined to write a f/f storyline. just to see if i can.

kirsten saell said...

Even those that claim they publish GLBT only list m/m titles.

Oh, this drives me nuts, Kissa. When publishers use GLBT, they should really have a little L or B or T to go with the G. Leah did a post not too long ago rating various publishers on how easy it was to find f/f content on their websites, with some interesting results.

Lesbian fiction does seem to sell much better in print than in e, but I've been wondering how well f/f/m does there. My three published books have varying degrees of f/f and f/f/m content--with the third being an HEA for three. I'm hoping they'll do better in print than they have in ebook (which isn't abysmal, but isn't making me independently wealthy, either).

Another reason I love my publisher. Not only does Samhain welcome f/f content and lesbian fiction submissions (they don't see many, but they do consider them), but they understand that some books will simply sell better in one format than the other, so they don't base inclusion in their print program on a particular title's sales performance in ebook format.

But I think as ebooks absorb a larger share of the market, as more print readers make the move to digital, demand will increase for girl-on-girl(-on-guy) ebooks.

M/m has a distinct advantage right now because most straight women who enjoy it can't or won't purchase that kind of content in brick and mortar stores. They've been driven online in search of what they want, and because there's really no other viable source for it, it sells well in this medium. Lesbian fiction has always been easy to get in print. So I think it will take time to claim its share of the ebook market, but it will happen.

word ver: miumbuti

kirsten saell said...

hmmmm. maybe it's because i'm protective of real f/f love, having lived it. it's not 2 girls in bikinis hugging each other at a car race.

I think you've put it so well, right there. Because f/f is a pervasive male fantasy, and because we live in a phallocentric society (I mean, dude, they're only realizing NOW that women's arousal doesn't follow the same patterns as male?), and because men are visual, and we're surrounded day and night by visual media, we're bombarded with images of women together the way men want to see them.

You kind of get to the point where the idea of two women together gets conflated with that awful, porny, teased-hair-and-three-inch-long-nails image and it's the first thing that leaps into your head.

And don't even get me started on the kind of f/m/f that appeals to men. That's not my fantasy at all.

Mima, you need to write a f/f or f/f/m. You need to do it now. :D

MB (Leah) said...

I had one publisher reject my story soley because it was f/f- and that was after their submissions guidelines said they published it.

Kissa, I hope you can get more stories out there in ebooks as well. I find it so odd that lesbian stories do very well in print only. If, like it is really that f/f doesn't sell well, and epublishing is willing to be the guinea pig in a lot of ways open to new frontiers, I just don't get the whole epub not taking a chance and dissing f/f.

When Samhain put out a questionnaire asking what would we like more of, I put more f/f, or f/f/m. Maybe it's needed that we readers write directly and say that's what we want. I don't know, but I hope you can get more out there since you write it.

MB (Leah) said...

i can feel the resistance build just thinking about a f/f story. hmmmm. maybe it's because i'm protective of real f/f love, having lived it.

Wow, I totally get this. I've never had an experience of f/f love personally, but I feel rather protective of my desire to read it. And even though I'm really out there with it, I feel some sort of need to keep it for myself so that I'm not judged or slammed for what I feel, nor that the idea of f/f love in general is slammed, which I think it is in the general romance arena.

the predominant female nudity in the movies, the focus on women as sexual objects..

And as far as the whole women as sexual objects goes, what I find interesting is that on my blog and many others, I feel fine about posting pics of 1/2 naked men with semi hard ons. But I feel very weird about posting women as an object of sexual desire for other women on this blog, because what pics are out there are all pin-up types for men. I hate to perpetuate that even though it's a turn on to look at naked women.

This totally stems from the fact that women portrayed as objects and it's demeaning.

Mima said...

well, MB, you've got me there. i hate it in hollywood but i use it myself. because i totally love to look at TASTEFUL erotic images of women and men, and often use such images in, for instance, my flash fiction posts. which i'm hosting tomorrow at liquid silver's sexpressions. and there will be f/f!

MB (Leah) said...

because i totally love to look at TASTEFUL erotic images of women and men

Tasteful is the key word here. They are hard to find. Believe me, I've done lots of searches for TASTEFUL pics of naked women and even ones that I think are fine for me personally, still trip my this is a male POV meter.

What is interesting though is that I totally love vintage erotic pics of women because I do think they are very tasteful even if at that time they were exploitive.

I guess I'll have to pop on over to your LS expressions post. :D

JenB said...

How the $%!@#$ did I miss this post???

I don't read much f/f because I can't find the types of f/f stories I like. I don't want to read about long-term f/f or f/f/m relationships. I want to read about f/f experimentation. Straight women that stray to the other side on occasion. Straight women that mess around with their best girlfriend(s), but not just in a porn video kind of way.

So I guess what interest me are stories about sexually flexible women. Women that can have sexual encounters with each other and not have OMG I'M A LESBIAN freak-outs. Women that can be best friends and occasional make-out partners. Women that can get pleasure from being with other women for reasons other than male attention.

Unfortunately, there's not much of a market for that. It's not erotica, and it's not romance. Therefore, it isn't done.

MB (Leah) said...

Jen-- What you said. Totally! Have you read Anne Rainey's Burn? It had just that kind of thing in it. With the book itself I had issues with the m/f relationship, but the two friends getting it on very easily just for the moment, yes, exactly! That's what I like to read as well.

kirsten saell said...

Kelly Jamieson's Love me is like that, too, Jen. Straight woman, testing the waters. It starts out as a ploy to make him jealous, then turns into something else when the heroine discovers she's having all kinds of fun with the other woman, without even thinking about him.

JenB said...

Leah - I bought Burn, but then I got distracted. I need to read that.

Kirsten - I'll check out the Kelly Jamieson book too. Thanks!

Did y'all ever read Cooking Up a Storm by Emma Holly? The book was kind of bizarre, but I did love the scenes between the heroine and her best friend. Oh, and Personal Assets...there's a really HOT scene in that one that involves a guy (maybe two?? I forget..), a girl, and the girl's best friend.

Madelynne Ellis had some cute f/f teaser scenes in Dark Designs.

So maybe I should read more Black Lace.

MB (Leah) said...

Madelynne Ellis had some cute f/f teaser scenes in Dark Designs.

She had a little one in A Gentleman's Wager as well.

Most Black Lace books have at least one f/f scene in it, which is nice.