How to Do It

Everyone Else’s Biggest Turn-On Does Nothing for Me

I think it’s hot in an objective way—but nothing more.

Woman shielding herself with her arms with fireworks going off around her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by stockfour/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear How to Do It,

I love sex. But I realized after really thinking on it, that I’m not turned on by naked bodies. At all.

I can think they’re hot in an objective way, but there’s no link for me between nudity and arousal—if that makes sense. When I fantasize alone or get excited during sex, it’s all about the things we can do and how they feel good for us. Is that normal? I’m a 22-year-old bi woman, for reference.

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Rich: I don’t know how many times we’ve tackled the subject: Is that normal? I think that question is based on a false premise, but I’m happy to keep doing it. If there were one thing people would take away from this column, besides read Mating in Captivity, I wish that it would be that normalcy doesn’t matter. There is no normal. We can talk about incidence rates and commonality, certainly. We can talk about things being unusual. We see unusual things all the time come through. But normal is a standard that just doesn’t exist.

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I’m sure regular readers of the column are sick of me quoting this part of The Trouble With Normal by Michael Warner. “To be fully normal is, strictly speaking, impossible,” wrote Warner. “Everyone deviates from the norm in some way. Even if one belongs to the statistical majority in age group, race, height, weight, frequency of orgasm, gender of sexual partners, and annual income, then simply by virtue of its unlikely combination of normalcies one’s profile would already depart from the norm.” To find somebody who’s just normal, normal, normal, normal, that that would be abnormal. So there’s just no way of getting at that that makes sense. What we have is individuality and benign sexual variation.

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Stoya: But also I feel like it’s pretty typical to be more aroused by context, emotional resonance, interaction, feeling all of these things that are not the visual. And I think one conversation that makes that really apparent is early discussions of the male gaze. What is the male gaze? It’s very visual. Why is it the male gaze instead of the male arousal catalyst? There’s a reason that the phrase male gaze is what was gone for.

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And feminist porn—porn made specifically for women—is much more about the storyline, the authentic heat, and all of these things that are not visual. So having done several conventions over the course of my career, and met probably tens of thousands of people who watched porn and discussed what they liked and did not like about the work that I was doing, I don’t think it’s accurate that men are visual. I think that’s too broad of a stroke, within too binary of a category to really be functional.

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But there are certainly very many people in the world who are like, oh, visual porn. Awesome. That’s all I need. Show me a dick going into an oiled up pair of butt cheeks. I’m thrilled. But for many people, regardless of gender expression and sexual orientation, they need something other than that. So I would say normal is a fallacy, but our writer is not weird.

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Rich: Yes. And I think in some respects, our culture either over-sexualizes or leaves too open, the possibility of nudity being sexualized, when you look at other cultures where nudity isn’t sexualized. Or subcultures within our cultures, like naturalism or nudism, where it doesn’t have to be that way. I think sometimes we go a little bit too far in assuming that nudity has to be sexual. There are other reasons to be nude. It’s completely reasonable to need a little bit more than just a naked body. And in fact, in a sexual situation, you would certainly be getting more than that—certainly in a consensual sexual situation. That consent is another thing that can be eroticized.

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One more thing I’ll add to this is that in this study of responses to pornographic stimulation, it was found that vaginal responses varied with the sexual activity depicted, with more explicit sexual activity eliciting stronger responses. That’s in line with our writer’s experience.

Stoya: Yeah. And that’s fine. And our writer is OK. If they find themselves with a partner where there’s nothing they find arousing or sexual, move on. Even if they look like some sort of marble deity, if there’s nothing that our writer personally finds attractive, it’s OK to honor that and move along.

Rich: There are some people whose accelerator might be triggered by seeing a pair of breasts. But then there are other people who need to fantasize about what they would do with them in order to be turned on. Everybody’s accelerator is different, or at least there’s a lot of variation. So I think it only stands to reason that what does it for somebody else isn’t going to do it for you.

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Also keep in mind, there are people with fetishes and kinks who love clothing and different attire, different articles.

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Stoya: Gear. For people who haven’t read every single column, Rich taught me the word gear about a year ago, and it’s become one of my favorite concepts.

Rich: Yes, and so for those people, nudity may never factor into their arousal. That is rarer, presumably than people who do. But at the same time, it happens. The fact of the matter is that this writer loves sex. They’re so engaged with it, that what they’re eroticizing is the sex itself and not the attached things that come with it, including nudity. And that seems to me, really healthy.

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Stoya: So who cares if it’s normal? You’re great.

More From How to Do It

My husband and I have been married for 16 years. We have sex about once a month, after kids and lots of life stuff, and that’s fine for me. I think he’d like a little more, but he’s seemed OK with our current pace. I know he masturbates pretty frequently—he goes to a particular room, and I know what’s up—but I try to respect his privacy. Recently, I was cleaning in that particular room and I brushed his laptop, which was not password-protected. You probably know where this is going: He had left some porn up on the screen. The thing is, it was bisexual porn.

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