Let's start with the headline: "Can an ex-civil servant finally persuade women to buy erotica?"
Suraya Singh , says the Independent, developed a desire to see a "a classy erotica magazine that women like her would be happy to buy," when she found herself paging through a succession of interchangeably vapid ladymags during her lunch breaks while"working for an education quango." Men's mags, she observed, didn't seem to have a problem mixing the erotic and the frivolous; why shouldn't a woman's? So, she founded the self-funded quarterly Filament. As the website says, Filament is all about "images of men made for the female gaze," intelligent writing, and doesn't include "fashion and cosmetics, diets, or celebrity gossip."
Marketed as "the thinking woman's crumpet", the first issue features a semi-naked man in a praying position on its cover. Inside, artistic photoshoots of scantily clad male models are juxtaposed next to erotic short stories and erudite articles on off-beat topics such as the merits of being a geek. And if you tire of the sex, there's always a recipe for spicy celeriac bake to keep you busy.
Spicy celeriac bake aside, this is hardly a novel notion; the article describes successful women's porn as "a holy grail" of print media; Playgirl and Penthouse's For Women were, Singh feels, just about repackaging a gay male aesthetic rather than trying to figure out What Women Want, while Cosmo and their ilk treat sex alternately as something naughty or cherry-flavored. "Erotica," meanwhile, has often carried the tinge of "lovah"-inflected purple prose and horrifyingly cheesy images of Joy of Sex-style earnest shenanigans. Singh decided to take it to the streets, and her focus-testing showed that rather than Playgirl-style beefcakes, her target demo was more interested in "toned men with oval-shaped, often quite feminine faces," and she recruited models who met these criteria off the street. (Judging from the images on the website, we dig dudes who look like a cross between Donovan and Russell Brand.) So far, there's no full-frontal, but Singh isn't ruling it out.
But even if she nails the formula (whatever that is), "the thinking woman" can't help but wonder whether a print mag is really a practical concern: whatever the new openness towards female sexuality, surely the internet is a more likely target than a quarterly? As any hardcore mag can tell you, there's not much need for anyone to "buy erotica" nowadays. Perhaps hard-copy helps reinforce the idea of respectable, arty "erotica" as opposed to covert porn, but it seems like a large number of intelligent female sex writers and aggregation sites have already taken pretty large strides towards achieving Singh's goal - and with the web's bounty of media at their fingertips, no less. Of course, it's true you can't exactly read Literate Perversions on your lunch break - and Filament will, obviously, fill this void.