‘What do women want?’, is the title of a long feature by Amanda Hess at Good Magazine, based around a 25 year-old male (straight) porn star called ‘James Deen’, illustrated with some long-shot snaps of him fully-clothed, lounging around his ‘porn mansion’, looking like a young Roman Abramovich. 

Despite ‘Deen’ turning out to be somewhat less interesting than he’s billed as being (he likes burritos, apparently), the piece nevertheless throws up some interesting questions about what women want from porn. And also, along the way, what men might want too.

Essentially, Deen is a nerdy twink. (A ‘twerd’, if you will.) It seems this is big news in straight porn.

‘Deen has carved out a niche in the porn industry by looking like the one guy who doesn’t belong there. Scroll through L.A.’s top porn agency sites and you’ll find hundreds of pouty women ready to drop to their knees, but just a few dozen men available to have sex with them. These guys all have a familiar look—neck chains, frosted tips, unreasonable biceps, tribal tattoos. Deen looks like he was plucked from a particularly intellectual frat house.’

In other words: Deen doesn’t look vulgar and low-class and thus is worthy of Ms Hess’ and Good magazine’s interest.

‘It’s not that more normal-looking guys don’t want to be in porn, it’s that the industry isn’t exactly looking for them. Within the major porn talent agencies, female performers outnumber male ones almost 5-to-1. The directors and producers hiring them are mostly men. They’re staffing porn’s workforce with an eternally refreshed slate of female bodies, and a handful of guys who look like what men think women want: Big arms. Big abs. Big dicks.’

Hang on. The reason the directors and producers hiring them are mostly men is because the audience for porn as you have admitted is – overwhelmingly – men. And so it follows that the men who become porn actors are not chosen because it’s thought they will appeal to women (though this may be the ‘no-homo’ rationalisation that goes through some men’s heads).

They’re chosen because – in addition to being able to maintain a large erection for hours in front of a camera and crew, something which most mortal men can’t manage – they appeal to men. Most men like and admire big arms. Big abs. And big dicks. Men are so low-class.

‘The porn machine churns out performers to satisfy every fantasy, be it MILF, dwarf, fat, granny, or gang bang. But if you’re interested in watching a young, heterosexual, nonrepulsive man engage in sex, James Deen is basically it.’

So every male porn model doing straight porn, apart from your twinky, slightly dull, and frankly rather homely-looking Deen, is repulsive? Fine. More for me then….

Once upon an 80s time, in the early days of hardcore straight videoporn, when men were first negotiating their anxieties about masturbating over another man’s penis, it was often the case that male porn actors tended to be deliberately ‘repulsive’ – or at least, their appearance was heavily signalled to be ‘completely unimportant’.

But in recent years the appearance of male porn actors is no longer unimportant. It’s expected by the men that consume porn who have themselves become more image and body-conscious that male porn models will take care of themselves. They are not always just a self-propelled penis. More of their body and even their face appears on camera, and hence the body is usually worked on to make it ‘worthy’ of display.

At the very least, the guys watching porn today expect to see male performers who reflect their own metrosexual preoccupations. More than that, I think many young men expect that male porn actor’s bodies should give them visual pleasure. (Deen complains that he gets hate mail from men – who frequently tell him he ‘needs to work out’.) Though it’s true that at the moment there isn’t exactly much variety in that visual pleasure.

You can of course though watch lots of ‘young, heterosexual non-repulsive men’ engaging in sex – but gay-for-pay sex. While the same kind of worked out, tattooed male bodies Hess finds repulsive dominate in gay porn too, because it’s catering mostly to men who have a preference for their own sex it naturally has a much larger range of ‘niche’ ‘types’ available. Which is perhaps part of the reason why some women like it. And I’ll wager there’s at least a dozen gay websites specialising in Deen-ish ‘intellectual frathouse’ twerdy types. (And as this article states further down, they’ll be paid up to ten times as much for it as they would for doing straight porn.)

Then again, I know lots of gay men who only watch straight porn – because they say they prefer the guys in it. And because of course, no matter what kind of male models are used, or however you disembody them, or try to disavow it, hardcore straight porn is by voyeuristic definition bisexual. Gay porn on the other hand is determindedly monosexual. Sexual difference simply does not exist. You never, ever see a vagina in a gay porn flick. Unless it’s in an arthouse movie made by Bruce LaBruce (whom I suspect only puts them in to piss off The Gays).

Anyway, I’m not terribly convinced by Hess’ idea of ‘normal’. She talks a lot in the Good piece about how ‘normal looking’ and ‘naturally-muscled’ Deen is, and how unlike other male porn performers he is. But then mentions, almost as an afterthought, ‘His penis is 9 inches long.’

Assuming this has been, er, fact-checked, statistically this makes Deen literally a fucking freak. Only 0.1% of white males have a penis that ‘normal’.

According to Hess, ‘nonrepulsive’ and affectionate Deen is helping to inflate young women’s interest in porn. Maybe. But then again, young women’s interest in Deen as presented in the piece is often about anything other than the fact that he fucks women on film for a living. They treat him more like a boy-band star who happens to be working as a porn model while waiting for Simon Cowell to notice him.

“I think he is really cute (not in a sexual way),” one woman writes. “I want to talk to him and tell him why I like him,” another says. “It’s not only cause of his amazing talent, it’s because of his personality.” One woman shares a video that “doesn’t have James fucking her but he is there and he is being sweet so I think it’s cute to watch anyway.”

With their animated gifs and collages and focus on the way he gazes into the eyes of his female partners, or holds their hand, you get the impression his women fans are making a kind of fan-fic out of his back catalogue.

Perhaps Deen really does signal the beginning of a sea-change in hardcore porn consumption and production – involving women much more as consumers not just (well-paid) performers.

But probably not with porn producers like Joshua Lehman in charge:

“I get 300 dick pictures sent to my phone every day. I don’t want to see your penis. That’s not how you get into porn.” He advises straight men to “get the hottest bitch you can and make her your girlfriend,” then “go into a producer’s office and have her tell him that you’re the only guy she’ll fuck.”

So if you look like shit and you have a four inch penis you’ll have a career in porn because your girlfriend is a ‘hot bitch’? Yeah, right.

I think the guys sending Mr Lehman pictures of their cocks may have a better idea – or a more honest one – of what straight porn is about than the chap making it. After all, if you watch ‘straight’ online hardcore porn today you will probably see at least 300 (very large) penises in the space of an hour or so’s browsing. And considerably fewer vaginas. I know some working class straight guys who like to send one another pics and vids of especially large penises they’ve found in straight porn to each other’s phones. Which is sweet.

And of course, in the typical porn viewing scenario we have to always add at least one more, very, very important penis to however many there are on screen. The one in the hand of the chap watching it.

But the female porn models are undoubtedly the stars of straight porn – and get paid handsomely, compared the small change thrown at the male models. Partly because loads of gents would do porn for nothing. Partly because straight (and bisexual) fellas are, of course, very keen on the ladies. And partly because the ‘hot chicks’ are what keeps all this penis from being… GAY. Which would, ironically, spoil the virile pleasure of the penises for many of the men watching it (including my gay friends).

‘All of this changes, of course, when there are no girls involved at all. Gay porn stars make “a ridiculous amount more,” Lehman says. “The best male performers make $1,000 a scene on average. Some of the male performers in gay porn make up to $10,000 a scene. That’s why guys do it.” According to Lehman, “some of the guys who do gay for pay would rather be in straight porn,” but if you turn up in gay porn, “we don’t really want you on the straight side,” Lehman says.’

No, because that would let the cat right out of the bag, wouldn’t it? It would suggest some kind of well-lubed continuum between gay and straight porn – both of which are sausagefests. Lehman sounds like his job is keeping straight porn… straight. Less of a porn producer than a porn policeman.

‘Lehman tells me he was recently approached by “two well-known male performers” floating a DVD of their sexual exploits with women. “The box is basically them. Huge pictures of them. In the background, there’s a couple of hot chicks, but it’s real small,” he says. “I looked at it and said, ‘Is it gay porn? Because that’s what it looks like.’” Lehman cannot imagine a future in which this rule does not hold. “Even James Deen. You may see him in every movie, but do you see him at the center of a box? I don’t think so,” Lehman says. “If you put a man in the foreground on a box cover, male and female customers are going to assume it’s gay porn.”

This anxiety is, Hess suggests, part of the reason why (straight) porn doesn’t appeal to women very much.

‘The straight male performer must be attractive enough to serve as a prop, but not so attractive that he becomes the object of desire. As Curry puts it, “No one wants to alienate the male audience.”’

Of course, despite all this careful policing and presentation of hardcore male/female porn as rigidly, conventionally ‘hot chick’ heterosexual, male viewers, just like the female James Deen fans, are very capable of reading it their own kinky way.

I’ve lost count of the number of bi-curious straight men who have told me they were turned on to the joys of sucking or riding penis by watching straight porn. Never ever underestimate the greediness of male voyeurism. In the privacy of their own filthy minds men don’t conscientiously restrict themselves to identifying with the male ‘stud’. They also identify with the ‘slut’ who is ‘getting it’ – from all directions. Particularly since in straight porn she’s the one who is actually allowed to enjoy herself.

Whilst the men have to busy themselves with their ‘work’, like naked gymnastic car mechanics in a hurry to finish their ‘service’, in the centre of all this activity the female porn actress enacts and vocalises – very loudly – the slutty, passive pleasure of sex.

And judging by the number of men they’ve turned into sluts they’re doing a very good job of it.

Tip: Tobias