That is the question...whether 'tis hotter for a guy to be completely nude, or just bare from the waist up? Well, can't say as I have really given this much conscience thought, since I'm an erotic romance writer, not a photographer or visual artist. But if the tracking of my official blog, www.eroticawithsoul.blogspot.com, is any indication, it's pretty clear what most women are looking for. I just recently put a tracker on my blog home page, and although to date I there are only 476 keywords that have led visitors to the page, I'm seeing some amazing patterns already.
Believe it or not, searchers finding my blog are most frequently looking for somebody shirtless. Who is "somebody shirtless"? Well, the blog often discusses male celebrities, so it could be one of a number of people, but most often is John Krasinski--man, that guy is popular these days. Anyway, the "shirtless" keyword is #2 on the list, after, naturally, "erotica." Nearly 4% of the keyword traffic comes from "shirtless."
On the other hand, "naked" is currently ranked #19 on the list, at only 1.19%. How about that?
Don't think I haven't considered one possible explanation for this: women are smart enough to know there may be shirtless pictures of John Krasinski online but probably not naked ones, and ditto for the other male celebs with whom they are fascinated. There's also the factor that women never get to see John shirtless on "The Office" and their curiosities are killing them. Shirtless would be thrill enough to these fans.
I must admit this "don't look for what you can't find" factor is borne out by another interesting fact from the keyword records. I've gotten a lot of searches for "Les Stroud shirtless," but even more for "Les Stroud naked." (Since you are undoubtedly asking, "Who the heck is Les Stroud?," you must find that amazing.) Well, the deal is, Les has indeed appeared naked a couple times on his show "Survivorman," albeit with privates pixelated. So his female fans have a genuine hope that those searches may turn up something. Meanwhile, "Survivorman" has given Les-admirers several shots at ogling him shirtless, so naturally fans hope for a bit more.
Which brings us back to the "age-old question"--shirtless or naked? Well, we have some other evidence from romance book covers, do we not? I don't know if anyone else noticed, but a huge percent of covers entered in this year's Quasar Awards (EPIC's competition for ebook covers) featured male torsos. I realize decency is an issue on a book cover so that may account for staying above the waist, but you're not even so much seeing nice clothed male posteriors. Is it really the pecs women care most about? As an ass-woman I protest (geez, that term doesn't work as well as "leg man"!); I've been on the side of the bottom ever since that beautiful scene with Romeo naked from the rear in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film.
This is not to say I don't appreciate good shoulders, too--I'm definitely a fan, and have written poetry about men's shoulders on more than one occasion. But shoulders can look just as good clothed as naked, which is why I'm still not tired of seeing John Krasinski in a dress shirt. That said, however, I must admit the idea of John removing said shirt is pretty appealing...probably because of what it suggests. On one end of the spectrum, the gesture would indicate the intimacy of him changing for a quiet evening at home. On the other end...well, it would be the kickoff point of one of those great NC-17 fanfic stories about Jim and Pam. In other words, shirtless leads to naked....
At this point that I feel the argument becomes pretty circular, downright "chicken or egg."
All this confusion aside, I do feel the data confirms one thing: women are turned on by the verbal as much as the visual. After all, these googlers who search for "shirtless" and "naked" are not doing so in Google Images, they are clicking through to text on the subject of "shirtless" and "naked." Maybe a few of them are sincerely looking for Les Stroud with his pixels unblurred, but most, seeing on the Google results that their celebrity hero has been featured by some blogger who writes about "erotica with soul," want to read about shirtless and naked.
So as an erotic romance author, I'm happy to leave our question unanswered. As long as people still want to read about as much as to see the shirtless and naked, I've got it covered. Wait, make that uncovered.
But if you want to weigh in on the big "shirtless or naked" debate, please do!
Diana Laurence is the author of the Soulful Sex anthologies, most recently Soulful Sex: The Science Fiction Collection. Visit her at www.dianalaurence.com.