SEMANA/Sexuality | 10/31/2008 12:00:00 AM
The controversy over male nudity
Are women less visual than the opposite sex? SEMANA looked for the answers to this question, as a result of the reaction on seeing Colombian actor and entrepreneur Juan del Mar without clothes.
Comments on the magazine's website were also divided. Liliana Bernal wrote “what a shame that such a beautiful man is so empty”, to which Marcela Rosero answered that the magazine was not there to find out whether the guy was stupid or not. “Do you think men, when they see a naked woman in this magazine, start thinking if she is stupid or not? Please!”.
In the end, the debate started a series of questions among women, who asked themselves if part of the rejection is due to the traditional ‘machismo’ of Colombian society, which had permitted only women to show their bodies but hadn’t allowed men to do the same. Or if they have a different point of view, and although they admire a physically well built body, they are really not interested in looking at a full frontal view of a naked stranger. There's no clear explanation for all this controversy. It can be put down to novelty, a lack of custom, or simply female psychology.
Scientific studies have confirmed over and over again that men respond more to visual stimuli than women. With functional magnetic resonance imaging, psychiatrist John Gabrieli of Stanford University determined that the amygdala is more active in men than in women when they are exposed to sexual visual stimuli. Philosopher Roberto Palacio, author of No joy without a penis (Sin pene no hay gloria), concurs with this vision. For him, women don’t enjoy a front-view of a naked man in the same way that men enjoy looking at a woman without clothes. And it has been a bad understanding of equality, according to him, which has lead to people to think that if men have that opportunity, women should have it as well. As a result, situations arise in which men’s attitudes and interests are simply copied, without really exploring what it is that women really like. Palacio admires the fact that “many women enjoy a naked body, but generally of the person they love, and not just anyone’s”.
Nevertheless, for sexologist Carlos Pol Bravo, that is a myth, because both men and women can enjoy looking at the bodies of the opposite sex “just like God brought them into the world”. What happens is that in societies like Colombia, where there is a lack of sexual education, many people see nudity as something morbid or outrageous. “In an open, mature society, both men and women appear without clothes and no one gets shocked”, he says. This expert thinks it curious that people always relate the image of a naked man with sex. “Morbidity is boosted by a lack of education. If it were always like that, no one could go to a nudist beach”, he says. Or that the naked person is rejected due to his IQ level, when that has nothing to do with the matter. This last point reminds him of a problem with women who, like in the story of the green grapes, discredit it straight away because it is unreachable.
Art gallery curator Eduardo Serrano also believes that culture influences the way people see nudity, and this is why he believes that the controversy is also partly prudishness. “Not all nudes are art, but there are beautiful photos, with good composition and light, that can be seen without problem”. Photographer Patricia Rincón agrees, and thinks that this type of nudity is an interesting approach. “This country does not create a scandal when small children get raped, but it does with a naked man”, she laments. Seen from the perspective of art history, experts consider that not only has the body of women been more uncovered than men’s, but nudity in general has nearly always been seen from a male point of view. And when photography appeared, these nudes started to have a major impact, because “unlike drawing, which is part of the artist’s imagination, a photo is a testimony of reality”, says Serrano. According to him, nudity arrived very late in Colombia, only at the beginning of the 80s, perhaps because of the country's Catholic tradition, which would explain why people can’t get used to seeing the naked body of a stranger.
Some women think the problem is that the body of a man is not as nice as that of a woman. For sexologist Carlos Pol Bravo, what happens is that a man’s body needs to be in better shape than that of a woman if it is going to be shown. “A little tummy in a woman looks nice, but it is not the same if the man has a big paunch”. Other women believe that even when looking at someone who is in the nude, women are more selective than men. “It is not that easy to separate the body from the person, as men do with women, and that is why we like to see some of them naked, but not anyone”, says María Clara Gómez. Gloria, who was at the hairdressers' salon, thinks that seeing a man with an erect penis only interests her in bed. Palacio finds a reason for that. A man’s penis, according to human psychology, is seen as an “internal organ that has come out” and is viewed culturally as the “acting element in the sexual relationship”. “This is why it is seen as a dangerous element, one you have to protect yourself from”, she indicates. And she adds that it is not a question of not being interested in male nudity, but that “maybe what they don’t like is the explicit nature of men they don’t feel personally attracted to”.
This would explain the lack of magazines for women with male nudes. The best known has been Playgirl, but even then it never enjoyed the success of its men’s counterpart. For Karl Troller, who was Latin American editor of Maxim magazine for five years, you start out knowing that a project of this type probably won’t have a large circulation, even in societies which are supposedly more open, like the United States or Europe. Even women, when they produce magazines for women, tend to put females on the front cover rather than males.
According to sexologist Leonardo Romero, this analysis has to be done without considering prudes who don’t like to see these nudes, because every opinion deserves to be respected and it cannot be forgotten that these nudes are not common in Colombia. “In that sense, it is understandable that they are rejected”, he said. But what is apparent is that there is a need for men to be more sensitive and to learn more about the art of sensuality, which can only be achieved with more culture about human sexuality. As Pol Bravo says, “what we see in a nude is a body, and it should be seen like that, as something natural, like a sunset or a mountain”.