You won’t find “Hustler” magazine or X-rated movies at your local Target, but you will find something comparable.

“Porn” has an automatic, largely negative connotation, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Pornography simply is, according to Webster’s: “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.”

But for some reason(s), we’ve generally labeled and judged as “porn” the sort of erotic depictions men typically consume. It is true that X-rated videos and magazines are pornography, but they are just one kind — what we might call masculine porn.

What about feminine porn?

Explicit sex novels may be considered dirty or even smutty. But they’re generally not considered pornography.

They should be.

I understand the attention paid to masculine porn. It’s visual, noisy and, when men abuse it, the side effects tend to be worse. But that doesn’t make “Fifty Shades of Grey” — the best-selling novel whose film version is being widely released on Friday — any less pornographic. In fact, books like this serve the same purpose for, predominantly, female readers as videos do for, predominantly, males. Each are gaudy with contrived characters and situations designed to trigger a respective gender’s sexual instincts and fantasies.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is about a man named Christian Grey. He is the “epitome of male beauty.” He’s mysterious and rich — but not banker or oil-tycoon rich. He’s rich because of green technology. What a perfect way to neutralize any concerns about joining “the 1 percent” — not just a man with money but one who’s saving the world. He flies his own helicopter. He speaks French.

Oh, but our hero has a dark side, untreated pain, and he wants to take you to places you can only imagine. Want a ride? Apparently, many women do — just as many men might enjoy the vicarious experience of being the boss whose sexy secretary comes into his office after a hard day’s work and announces she can’t take it anymore. She has to have you.

Christian Grey is the sexy secretary, or the woman whose home repairman finds more than a dishwasher that needs attending to.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this content. But let’s call a spade a spade. These books are no more artistic or classy than your average pornographic film. And they’re just as vulgar, describing in vivid detail actions and anatomy that a visual medium would merely show. Yet while “Hustler” is a “dirty” magazine, no one calls “Fifty Shades of Grey” a “dirty” book. Rather, it and books like it are considered risqué and edgy.

The only reason it’s sold in mainstream stores is that the content is in print. (And it sells. Women consume their porn eagerly, just like men. Go to the free section of the Kindle store and the most popular offerings are cheesy, cookie-cutter romance novels.)

I’m not saying retailers shouldn’t sell these books, but I want to point out the absurd inconsistency of it all. If Target put “Playboy” magazines in its stores, that would make the news. Meanwhile, a book with descriptions of sex more obscene than any typical pornographic film is for sale in checkout-lane endcaps right next to bubble gum and Pez dispensers.

This is good for feminine porn consumers. The lack of taboo means they can enjoy their diversion at a Little League game, as I saw a mother doing a few summers back. Though I wouldn’t want to see men watching XXX videos in public, I do think that we need to put all pornographic media on the same level. If I had asked that woman at her son’s baseball game “How’s your porn?”, she probably would have been insulted.

My aunt had her porn collection out in her living room bookcase for my cousins and me to giggle at. My uncle (presumably) kept his hidden away.

 

Brandon Ferdig is a Minneapolis-based writer. He can be reached at brandon@theperiphery.com and followed on Twitter @brandonferdig.