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What “Monster Porn” Says about Science and Sexuality

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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What does woman want?” Freud once whined. Turns out quite a few women want fantasy sex with T. rex, Sasquatch or a boar-headed god. That, at any rate, is the implication of “monster porn,” which serves up X-rated versions of such demure classics as Leda and the Swan, King Kong or Beauty and the Beast.

Evolutionary psychology and other gene-oriented modern paradigms cannot explain why many women enjoy reading "monster porn."

Also known as “cryptozoological erotica” or “erotic horror,” monster porn has flourished in the Internet era, which offers abundant platforms for self-publication. According to a report in Business Insider, some authors—most apparently female–are making serious moola peddling tales of humans—most apparently female—coupling with “creatures of every possible variety, from minotaurs to mermen, cthulhus to leprechauns, extraterrestrials to cyclops.”

Prudes have attacked monster porn for promoting sexual violence and bestiality. In response, Amazon and other purveyors have at least temporarily blocked access to some e-books, like a popular series featuring Bigfoot. Defenders of monster porn accuse Amazon of inconsistency, noting that the company still offers works of the Marquis de Sade, who extolled the joys of sexual torture and murder.

Trying to explain monster porn’s appeal, freelance writer Bonnie Burton, host of the “Vaginal Fantasy Book Club,” writes: “Regular male characters in romance books tend to be over-the-top perfect glistening warriors and knights, but I want an imperfect monster who needs love to show that he can be just as sweet as his human competition… Why deprive the imagination of a great romance just because the protagonist happens to live for 600 years or has the occasional bout with fleas?”

Here’s what I love about monster porn: It’s a wonderfully wacky reminder that human sexuality is too weird, wild and woolly to be captured by modern science, and especially by theories that reduce our behaviors to genes.

Take, for example, evolutionary psychology, which seeks to find some adaptive purpose—adaptive for our Paleolithic ancestors if not for us–underpinning our thoughts, emotions, actions. Evolutionary psychologists assume that everything we do and feel must in some direct or indirect way promote our genes’ perpetuation (or have promoted it in the past). Evolutionary psychology is hard-pressed to explain homosexual lust, let alone lust for Godzilla.

Another popular bio-paradigm is behavioral genetics, which attempts to link specific traits to specific genes. The behavioral geneticist Dean Hamer claims to have discovered a gay gene, but this assertion–like virtually all those emanating from behavioral genetics—has not held up to scrutiny.

The key to our sexual tastes, Scientific American columnist Jesse Bering, my favorite sexologist, proposes, may lurk not in our genomes but in our childhood experiences. That, of course, is a foundational assumption of psychoanalysis, the steampunk theory of human nature devised by Freud more than a century ago.

In spite of his flaws and confessed befuddlement in the face of female desire (he once called it a “dark continent”), Freud offered far more insight into the twisted contours of sexuality than evolutionary psychologists and other genophilic modern scientists. He recognized that our desires are all tangled up with our fears.

In essays such as “The Uncanny” and “Medusa’s Head,” Freud suggested that some men are repulsed as well as entranced by female genitalia, which remind them of castration and death. [*See Postscript on "The Uncanny."] Wombs morph into tombs. I can’t find it, but no doubt somewhere in Freud’s oeuvre he discusses an analogous female ambivalence toward phalluses.

In her recent essay “Forceful Female Fantasy,” the literary scholar Laura Frost argues that modern scientific investigators of female sexuality—in spite of all their new-fangled instruments and theories–have not progressed much beyond Freud. Science still cannot explain why some women are “aroused by the idea of sex with strangers, dangerous sex and sex between women, men and animals.”

Researchers should supplement their clinical research with investigations of “the immense body of fantasy literature that already gives voice to women’s desire,” Frost says. Science must “open its eyes to culture rather than just confirm what is obvious.”

In other words, as I argue in a recent post, we need the arts and humanities as well as science to understand ourselves. Freud expressed a similar sentiment toward the end of his career. In his 1933 essay “Femininity” he wrote: “If you want to know more about femininity, enquire from your own experiences of life, or turn to the poets, or wait until science can give you deeper and more coherent information.”

Or read Taken by the T-Rex.**

*Postscript: I was distressed to discover while reading “The Uncanny” that Freud was a free will doubter. The old grouch mocked “all those unfulfilled but possible futures to which we still like to cling in phantasy, all those strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, and all our suppressed acts of volition which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will.” Freud was wrong about free will, just as he was wrong that what women really want is a penis.

**Post-postscript: See my next column, in which I describe my relationship with a real-life monster.

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Uncle.Al 4:54 pm 01/7/2014

    1) Males aged 14 – 19 re Portnoy’s Complaint,
    2) If only a Hitachi Magic Wand could be made that snuggled, and shot at intruders.
    3) Visit Palm Springs during an LPGA or WTA tournament.
    4) Topical male testosterone gels elicit clitoromegaly from diurnal small applied doses. Women can have anything they want (including side effects).
    5)The Japanese did it in 1989, 妖獣教室 and 妖獣教室外伝.

    Link to this
  2. 2. rationalrevolution 6:02 pm 01/7/2014

    I don’t buy this, because the reality is that other animals also have sex with members of different species. I think it’s as simple as the fact that animal sexual desire is very crude and very generalized.

    This is WHY, as Darwin noted so long ago, sexual selection can result in such bizarre evolutionary outcomes, like peacocks.

    The same thing that drives birds to select mates with absurd tails is what drives people to fantasize about “monster porn”, after all, what is a peacock but a monster?

    It is a highly exaggerated trait. That’s what monsters are, being with highly exaggerated traits.

    Women desire (actually not all women, but the ones that apparently like monster porn) things like mates that are very physically powerful, aggressive, etc., and monsters are just extreme forms of that, that some people are attracted to the same way that some birds are attracted to the biggest tails possible. I mean you can take a peacock and give it a tail 10 times larger than normal and the female will be all over it. That’s how sexual selection works. I don’t know that anyone fully understands why, but ti does work that way and it is genetically based.

    Also, animals engage in homosexual sex, and they also spontaneously mate with other species in the wild.

    Let’s not forget it’s not just people who fantasize about bestiality and monsters, it goes both ways. Dogs will try to mate with just about anything, including not just people, but people’s feet or legs even. It’s simply an over active sex drive that isn’t particularly precise.

    Some people have it, and some animals do to. Our sex drives simply aren’t all very specific, many of them are just rooted in gross patterns, like “bigger is better”, and even when “bigger” is taken to absurd extremes, out sex drive just gets more and more attracted to it.

    That’s all “monsters” are really.

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  3. 3. Tue Sorensen 6:51 pm 01/7/2014

    This argument does not make proper sense: “but I want an imperfect monster who needs love to show that he can be just as sweet as his human competition”. Any monster in monster porn is just as much an idealization of masculine traits as the “over-the-top perfect glistening warriors and knights”, only dirtier, more savage, without the impeccable manners and clothes. Dirty up a shining knight and make him grouchy and hairy, and you’ve basically got the same thing. Fine, but not a huge difference to make a big deal out of.

    You attribute the view that “Science still cannot explain why some women are “aroused by the idea of sex with strangers, dangerous sex and sex between women, men and animals.”” This is true only to the extent that science cannot explain much about sexual arousal, period. But evolutionary theory in fact has plenty to say about these things, and has said it many times. Strangers are appealing because we want variety. Danger is appealing because it stands out, and anything that stands out and garners attention is automatically impressive (hence the appeal of the peacock’s tail, and hence women’s attraction to men of great social status). There are plenty of logical and reliable answers and good theories about these things, and saying that science cannot explain it is a half-truth at best.

    You can’t state that Freud was wrong about free will, because free will is one thing that science really doesn’t know anything about. That’s still up in the air.

    I agree that we must listen to the arts and humanities to further our understanding of many things about ourselves, but I’m not sure any real answers will be found in erotica. Shakespeare is a rather safer bet.

    I also agree that genophiles and evolutionary psychologists are most often wrong, and that cultural elements are a crucial part of the journey towards understanding our variegated sexual desires. In my view we all have an inherent capacity for desire, but it is not pointed in any particular direction until cultural influence enters the picture. Most people become heterosexual because this is the norm, and because it has always been the norm in human cultures, since procreation depended on it. But some people just break with the norm, and this can have many and complex causes. The more you are rationally aware of your passions, the more you can also guide and control them. Studies have shown that reason influences emotion just as much as emotion influences reason.

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  4. 4. rshoff2 8:48 pm 01/7/2014

    It all boils down to our instinct and the bell curve. I’m sure there is cause for, or no harm in, interspecies sex somehow, but seemingly very little. To a certain extent if it were the norm it seems it could be dangerous by introducing pathogens (and possibly DNA) as well as displacing human intimacy. I think the concept of sex with Siri is going in that same direction (displacement of human intimacy).

    All I have to say personally about it is ‘yuck’, ‘yuck’, and ‘yuck’. Human instinct manifests itself differently for me. No monsters or machines for me. But whatever makes your boat float. Seriously, no judgements here!

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  5. 5. rshoff2 8:52 pm 01/7/2014

    “but I want an imperfect monster who needs love to show that he can be just as sweet as his human competition… ”

    Then try the (human) lug next door. He needs love and nurture. Throw in some sex. What about him?! Not glamorous enough, eh?

    The quote above is about power, not love.

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  6. 6. A_Red 12:00 am 01/8/2014

    Very interesting article, Professor! Here’s some information that I think explains some of the lust for Bigfoot.

    Many modern humans (apart from sub-Saharan Africans) have some Neanderthal admixture. Interestingly, the admixture does not seem to result from Neanderthal mothers and homo sapiens fathers; rather, it comes from Neanderthal fathers and homo sapiens mothers.
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaic_human_admixture_with_modern_Homo_sapiens#Genetics

    I am speculating here, but is it really that much of a stretch to imagine that selection pressure favored the homo sapiens women who were able to enjoy their Neanderthal lovers’ company?

    In my mind, this would explain the rapey feel I got from reading some reviews about “Moan for Bigfoot” (which I thought was a joke, by the way).

    On the other hand, I could just be a militant evolutionist.

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  7. 7. helloScience 9:46 am 01/8/2014

    I don’t buy this statement here, it seems too superficial, ontologically suspect, and I feel there is at least one fallacy lurking in here:

    “Here’s what I love about monster porn: It’s a wonderfully wacky reminder that human sexuality is too weird, wild and woolly to be captured by modern science, and especially by theories that reduce our behaviors to genes.”

    Of course, the line “theories that reduce our behaviors to genes” sets up a straw man. I don’t know of any credible contemporary work in human evolution that does this . . . even earlier bad work often relied on ‘hertiability’ and that is not the same concept as gene-behavior isomorphism. That said, there are 100s of studies linking genetics and behavior (in the statistical, not deterministic sense) in the biological literature. Here’s an idea John: Maybe, instead of setting up straw men to support your ideological preferences you could be a credible science writer and investigate the actual evidence.

    Oh. But that would be hard. And it might challenge your cherished beliefs.

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  8. 8. rationalrevolution 11:15 am 01/8/2014

    I want to also add that trying to understand sexual attraction through the methodologies of Freud is completely absurd, because sexual attraction has very little to do with the individual’s psychology.

    Sex is not really about “you”, it it about your offspring.

    This is why women so often complain that they are attracted to “the wrong guys”, and they end up in bad relationships that they don’t like.

    It’s because what women want for themselves is very different from what their DNA wants for their children.

    Consciously and intellectually, what a person wants for them-self is guided by their self-interest to have a person who cares about them and will be nice and helpful for them.

    However, what a person is driven by their hormones to desire are traits that will produce “successful” offspring.

    For women, this often means being attracted to hyper masculine, aggressive, assertive, dominate males, who may be rude, physically abusive, and egotistical, because the woman’s biology is evolved to associate those traits with “successful offspring”.

    Presumably, evolution tells us that people with these traits are successful, or at least they were millions or thousands of years ago.

    Therefore, women would be attracted to these qualities because it increased the likelihood of them having children that would survive and have children of their own, even though the women having the children may themselves be worse off for it.

    That’s the way evolution works, and I think that’s a far better explanation than any Freudian nonsense.

    I think this also explains “monster porn” to a degree as well. The monsters are just hyper masculine, super-aggressive, super-strong, “high survival” beings, which tweak women’s instinctive urge for mating with “super survivors” to pass on their traits to their offspring.

    I think this is key really. Sex isn’t about us, it’s about what type of progeny evolution has engineered us to create.

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  9. 9. rshoff2 1:11 pm 01/8/2014

    @rationalrevolution – WOW, I like your rationality. Wish I could ‘thumbs’ up your observation!

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  10. 10. babby 4:56 pm 01/8/2014

    Wow, d’ya really think that wife beaters are tolerated by their mates because the women think they will get superior babies from them? What about a monster who maims or kills his wife & offspring? There are plenty of them around & I’ve often wondered what makes a woman stay with such criminals.

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  11. 11. ssm1959 5:52 pm 01/8/2014

    My 80 year old mother has been a Sasquatch reality show nerd for several years. Needless to say tis topic has provided a great deal of mirth over the holidays for us.

    On a serious note, I appreciate Mr. Horgan using this topic as a springboard to address the shortcomings of strict genetic/evolutionary explanations for our most complex behaviors. Emergent complexities can not be fully appreciated through a dissection of the component parts.

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  12. 12. bonniegrrl 9:11 pm 01/8/2014

    Thanks for quoting me in your article and linking to my CNET article about this subject. But you misspelled my name. It’s not Bonny Burton, it’s Bonnie Burton. ;-)

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  13. 13. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 7:35 am 01/9/2014

    Sorry about that! Will fix now. Any further thoughts on significance of monster porn would be welcome indeed.

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  14. 14. Keapon 2:38 pm 01/9/2014

    I liked the ‘it’s about power, not love’ comment. It helped things ‘click’ with me.
    Ok, thought exercise. No, I don’t claim this is rational or that I’m correct. Abstract out the Monster Porn ‘story’, switch genders. What do you get? It’s a rape fantasy.
    Read it through(not an actual story, I’m not into that kinda thing). A woman uses the Power Between Her Legs to dominate, subjugate and ultimately transform a man. If you switched genders, a man doing that to a woman, it’d be a rape/sex slave story and everyone would call it that.
    Theme seems to be, via article and comments, a woman takes a Monster(who represents an uber-male, a fantastic concept of ‘ultimate masculinity’) who represents an ‘powerful man’, and, via the Power Between Her Legs, transforms him into a ‘softer man’(still a man, but now he likes to cuddle). That is: a more domestically acceptable man, the man she always wanted.
    Aren’t most male-orientied rape fantasies about how the guy uses the Power Between His Legs to turn some Cold Bitch(The Monster) into a perfect housewife/sex kitten?
    Double standards.

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  15. 15. DJinBoston 9:48 am 01/10/2014

    @rationalrevolution
    Thanks for your comments. Very much agreed.

    Mr. Horgan, aren’t you aware of how problematic Freudianism is? Not that it isn’t brilliantly creative in coming up with possible narratives as to “why” we humans do or feel certain things or ways. But it suffers from the severe problem of lacking an ability to “disconfirm” the narrative. As Karl Popper and others have pointed out so well, no amount of positive observations can confirm any theory, as we cannot prove that there does NOT exist other observations that could disconfirm it. In fact, disconfirmation is about the only thing we can prove. As such, science is stuck with this empirical method that makes many observations seeking to confirm a hypothesis, when all can really do is find an observation that disconfirms the hypothesis. Freud’s writings also suffer horribly from the “narrative fallacy”. We think we can explain something by coming up with a narrative that seems to make sense to us and others. Try reading Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan, and see if you come out of that thinking that the narrative fallacy is not important.

    Other areas of human thought also suffer from this problem, including evolutionary psychology, of course. But I agree very much with rationalrevolution that you have really set up a straw man regarding gene determinism.

    I’m not saying that our early childhood experiences have no effect on our sexual preferences. Why would anyone seriously say that? But to think that our sexual desires haven’t been subjected to strong (even if crude) genetic influence is equally absurd.

    @babby: your point is PC, but rationalrevolution is not saying that women are actually “thinking” rationally about this. In fact, for the great majority of human history, we humans did not know we were doing when we were having sex. And it is likely (though not at all provable) that no animal has the foggiest conscious idea of what it is doing or why when they are mating. There’s a fascinating argument that the most likely time when humans figured it out was approximately 200,00 years ago. The corollary is that a large portion of our sexual desire programming had to work even though we had no idea what we were doing or why. That’s not to say that we don’t rationally think about it now; of course we do. But the basic sexual drives have to work without our knowing what we’re doing.

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