The case for why men don’t really prefer porn star bodies
In BLONDES I discuss how tall, super-skinny hipless bodies aren’t as desirable to most men as many women think. The average catwalk strutter has a body mass index of 16.5 — skinny enough to be subfertile. Among other reasons why fashion models are long and wispy is that clothes appear more striking on them than on shorter, curvy women. The industry also happens to be dominated by gay men. Fair enough. But what about porn models? Wouldn’t those gals represent the male ideal of the female form?
The answer is not really, according to Eric Holland in the latest issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior. Responding to an earlier study on the measurements of successful porn actresses, Holland, who has become a public voice for the “red-blooded” straight male, made the following points:
1. Porn stars didn’t achieve success in their profession because they have optimal bodies. Holland points out that it’s wrong to assume that just because a woman represents the feminine “ideal” just because she has made it to the top as a porn actress. Her success is attributed to more than looks alone. It may be that those who make it to the top are willing to partake in more extreme acts with more enthusiasm.
2. Women who have many sex partners, or high sociosexuality, tend to have higher testosterone levels. [*] According to Holland, many porn stars have high-testosterone “masculinized” features, e.g. a higher waist-to-hip ratio (more tubular shape), flatter backside, and stronger and more prominent jawline. Men prefer a more feminine body type, says Holland. Breast implants, airbrushing, posing, and fancy filtered lights confuse the eye because they feminize an otherwise high-testosterone look. Holland claims many top porn stars have body types that, if seen pre-op and without light tricks, would strike us as surprisingly masculine. (Focusing on stars, he fails to address the legions of poorly-paid no-name actors with unambiguously feminine body types.)
3. Playboy centerfolds are more masculine because they’re picked by a man thought to be bisexual. Hugh Hefner, the magazine’s editor-in-chief (who has a strong role in the selection process) tends to choose women with more masculine features, especially stronger jawlines. (Hefner, in his bio, has admitted to having had gay sex.) Holland claims that Hefner’s tastes aren’t necessarily those of most straight men. Holland’s photo gallery of popular “masculinized” centerfold models is here.
4. Porn actress measurements are often unreliable anyway. The stats indicate that the median BMI of popular porn stars is 18.3, which is below the threshold of a healthy body weight, whereas some studies have found that men in western societies actually prefer a BMI more like 19.5-20.5 or higher. That said, Holland claims the measurements that accompany a centerfold’s photo might not always be a true reflection of her weight. Sizing up the centerfolds’ bodies, it appears they are heavier than reported. (I describe women’s WHR and BMI in some depth in the book.)
The interesting questions, some unanswerable: Do straight men agree with Holland? To what degree are men’s tastes influenced by porn? Would a guy subtly shift his sensibilities after seeing an erotization of androgenization? Are preferences context-specific — e.g., in porn, are hard tubular bodies and fake oversized breasts hot, whereas in wives they’re not? To what extent does race matter? What does it take to be a porn star, and is there really an implicit selection process that favors more “masculinized women”? Given the range of men’s erotic tastes, which surely involve more than beauty, is Holland’s hypothesis even testable?
Only one thing is clear here: When it comes to women’s bodies, many have much to say, but there’s no clear arbiter of taste. Nor should there be.
* A reader wrote to ask for a study that supports Holland’s assertion that high testosterone in women is associated with having more sex partners. Here’s one (sorry, full-text version for subscribers only).
Straight guys: Do you agree with Holland’s points?