Women's attitudes to pornography are changing. It used to be taken for granted that feminists condemned it; there was no room for discussion. But a new willingness to question those attitudes has coincided with a spate of steamy novels by feminist writers, and now a book of photographs of naked men by women artists, entitled What She Wants.

The book's editor, Naomi Salaman, who once regarded the anti-pornography campaigner Andrea Dworkin as 'God', identifies a new confidence that allows women to explore responses to erotic images they previously refused to acknowledge. But, at the same time, she says: 'There are a lot of defences against looking at the male body.'

She was not surprised that the initial reaction of most of the women I showed the book to was 'Yuck'. There is a bewildering variety of images, but only a few are what I would call erotic. There are men masturbating, men tied up, men in bras, close-ups of penises, bottoms and chests. Many are jokey, as if to hide the photographer's awkwardness. A few - a foot squashing a penis, a hand up a bottom - appear to oppress men in the same way that male-engineered pornography subjugates women.

The reason for women's repulsion is not only down to the images in the book. As Ms Salaman says, most women feel uncomfortable looking at naked men. What women are supposed to like are Mills & Boon-style fantasies that address their emotions, not their bodies. One woman I showed the book to had reservations about this. 'People say that women are really interested in the relationship. That's true for me with real live men. But if I'm reading something for a quick turn-on, I don't want to go through pages about the relationship.'

The truth is, everyone's different. And there's little you can do to change your body's responses to erotica or romance.

Most of the women whose initial reaction was 'Yuck' went on to say: 'Well, I do quite like that picture . . .' One took a closer look, in spite of her repulsion: 'At first the textures of the male body - lots of hair, coarse skin and wrinkles all over the penis - turned my stomach. I was surprised by my reaction because I like the idea of a book of erotica, and it annoys me that there's so much for men and so little for women.

'When those feelings of shock and fear faded, I was quite hungry to look at the book, and I found pictures I really liked. There's one of a guy with his pants down, looking embarrassed and covering his penis, which I really like because you can see his face, you can see a person and it's humorous. And there is one of a man holding his huge, erect penis which I like because the size of it is exciting.

'There is also one of a woman's hand going up into a man's bum, which is a bit of a turn on. But the most exciting picture is called 'Advancing'. It looks like a strong, aroused male body with droplets of sweat and his hand coming towards you - that's very sexy. I like the fact that there's not a cock staring at you. The real turn-off is a penis on its own, with no subtlety or intrigue.'

Another woman talked about the importance of a sense of discovery: 'I think the most erotic images for men and women are slightly hidden, slightly naughty. Many of these pictures leave nothing to the imagination - it's all whack it out, let's look at it, which I don't find erotic.

'I certainly get turned on by images of men. The first time I saw Michelangelo's David I thought it was the most erotic thing I'd ever seen. My favourite picture in this book is a close-up of a chest, with the man's head thrown back, away from the camera - that has some passion in it, it's truly erotic.'

What She Wants is for women who want to think about erotica rather than respond spontaneously. The brief for the exhibition on which the book is based was very wide - the editors invited photographs of male bodies, but no couples or sex. Naomi Salaman admits that she was expecting a world of women's porn to open up, and sounds disappointed that it didn't. But she hopes the book will move the pornography debate on.

It probably will if only because, like other feminist ventures into erotica, it gives women permission to think in private about what they do really want.

'What She Wants: Women Artists Look at Men', edited by Naomi Salaman, is published by Verso, pounds 11.95.

(Photographs omitted)

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