Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Matter of Perspective

Well, we’ve had several intriguing discussions this week. Is it erotica or is it porn? We’ve read the definitions, identified the characteristics that allow us to distinguish between the two and now are better equipped to assuage the bite of those naysayers who would lump them together.

The research for this week has been interesting, to say the least. My wife thanks you kindly.

I’m reminded of a skit Adam Sandler did back in the 90s called Sex or Weightlifting. The premise was fairly basic: he played an audio clip for random strangers and they had to guess whether it was someone having sex or lifting weights. Invariably, whichever answer they gave was wrong.

What does this have to do with porn vs. erotica? Well in both instances, it really comes down to perception. We’ll come back to that in a moment. First, I want to revisit the definitions from Wikipedia:

Pornography or porn is the explicit depiction of sexual subject matter, especially with the sole intention of sexually exciting the viewer. It is to a certain extent similar to erotica, which is the use of sexually-arousing imagery for mainly artistic purposes.

Erotica (from the Greek Eros - "desire") or "curiosa," works of art, including literature, photography, film, sculpture and painting, that deal substantively with erotically stimulating or sexually arousing descriptions. Erotica is a modern word used to describe the portrayal of the human anatomy and sexuality with high-art aspirations, differentiating such work from commercial pornography.[1] "Curiosa" is generally used to refer to erotica and pornography as discrete, collectible items, usually in published or printed form.

Various sub-genres of erotica exist. As with fiction as a whole, there are erotic stories with a science fiction, fantasy, horror or romance focus. Additionally, erotica can also focus on specific sexual behavior or fetishes such as BDSM, wearing uniforms, cross-dressing, polygamy and sexual promiscuity. Fan fiction featuring characters engaging in male homosexual acts has become known as slash fiction.

Distinction is often made between erotica and pornography (as well as the lesser known genre of sexual entertainment, ribaldry), although depending on the viewer they may seem one in the same. Pornography's objective is the graphic depiction of sexually explicit scenes. Pornography is often described as exploitative or degrading. Erotica, on the other hand, seeks to tell a story with sexual themes. It attempts to explore desire through mystery and intrigue.

In my humble opinion, it all boils down to what we want to believe. If a particularly narrow-minded person chances upon erotica book, hits the first sex scene and instantly labels it porn, there will not be enough definitions or persuasive arguments in the world to convince that person the book is anything but a sexual account and therefore dirty and all things dirty, as we know, are porn… or at least some would have us believe.

Sexuality is a marvelous thing, a glorious thing, a beautiful thing… a natural thing. Yet, there will always be those among us who are ashamed of their baser desires. I feel sorry for them.

Artistic merit, the empowerment of women and the eternal quest for love aside, why do we read erotica? We can find the above characteristics in any number of novels that take us to the bedroom door, offer us a tiny peek and gently shut it before they get down to the nitty gritty. No, for me (and I realize I may be alone here), the only reason I have ever read erotica is for the arousal factor. Are you not aroused?

A great storyline, vivid characters and an emotional journey make for a memorable read, but it’s the lure of sex that brought me to the few erotic romances I’ve indulged in, in the first place. True, the sex is usually that much hotter, because if written properly, you can almost feel the love between the characters and for me sex doesn’t get much hotter than when it’s done with someone you truly love.

In the end, it’s the sex that draws people to both erotica and porn. Yes the distinction is clear, but whether you choose to turn to erotica or porn to get your arousal fix, it really becomes a matter of taste and… perception.


  1. i appreciate that you take the "textbook" definitions and break things down but as you say, so much boils down to individual interpretation. i've had people pronounce things i've let my own children read or view as "porn" but i can assure you my kids haven't seen anything with jenna jameson or peter north (at least not that i have permitted).

    it makes me think of all those arguing congressman with tipper gore back in the 80s. "i'll know obscenity when i see it." good for you, so will i but what disturbs me is likely to be different that what disturbs some of them.

    oh heck, even my husband and i disagree on this whole issue. i don't mind the kids seeing a bedroom scene in a movie but get bothered by the depictions of graphic violence because of the desensitization factor. he'd let them watch the bloodiest, goriest thing but let a hand slip into a bra while the kids are in the room and he's flying for the remote.

  2. Hi lime, It's interesting that you bring up gore versus sex. It seems that your husband is not alone when it comes to acceptible viewing.

    We can slice, dice and string body parts from the rafters and still manage an easy "R" rating.

    But let a filmaker have a scene depicting a threesome with even the slightest amounts of nudity and the struggle to be awarded a not rated rather than an "X".

    It makes you wonder what's wrong with our culuture that death is more readily acceptible than sex...

  3. I think you probably hit it on the head when you said it had something to do with shame. How sad that we are ashamed of our desire.

    Excellent post.

  4. Thanks, Anny. It really is sad, almost tragic even. It just boggles my mind that mankind as a whole can take something so beautiful and natural as human sexuality and twist it and condemn it until the point the average person has to OVERCOME shame to have a healthy sex life...

  5. I agree with everything here, except the line that says ( and I realize that I may be alone here) :D :D

    Truly pornography can be differentiated from the erotic by the 'feeling' factor. Pornography concentrates on just the basics of the 'act' (I had a chance of watching one video and it seemed to me like an 'operation' being conducted; it actually appeared 'funny', it looked so ridiculously absurd) . Erotica on the other hand 'draws you in' (as in your words,it represents 'arousal' factor).

    Like you say, people would accept killing rather than sex in a movie. I agree that both the factors are reminiscent of 'animality' in humans. I guess that basic difference that lies with the acceptance of one and the denial of another is the Shame factor. While one (killing)can be envisioned as an act of bravery in certain situations, it becomes more acceptable, where as people see nothing exceptional in the act of sex and view it as a biological instinct that enslaves us ( given by nature of course) and makes one feel like a puppet in the hand of unconscious forces; where it feels like a 'humiliation' where one ( supposedly) loses ones dignity and since the promise that the instinctual part offers ( pregnancy) rarely gets delivered despite having indulged in the 'orgy' or whatever they might choose to call it.

    Yet I feel that whatever is given to us by existence is precious and of value so the approach should be not of rejection but of usage. I view sex as a tremendous power because its an energy out of which all Life arises.Plus it makes you experience orgasmic moments of blissful and thereby health via happiness.

    If you have read Indian scriptures like Kama Sutra or Tantra, you will realize that here it is actually seen as a mode of spiritual transformation. ( not that Indians have utilized it wisely though :D :D )

    Interestingly, in ancient Indian monuments, specially of Khajurao, you will find very visual images of sexual acts depicted in stone; it was supposed to be erotica created for diverting the attention of the males towards the females since the only thing that they seemed to be interested in was war. In ancient India, sex was seen as an ART and was taught in the universities!

    The bottom line is , that like everything, the advantages and the disadvantages of both erotica and porn depends upon the nature of their usage; and awareness is the key to it all.

    Statutory Warning : Use a condom to prevent AIDS & STD

    :D :D

  6. Excellent blog, James! This line struck me the most: "there will not be enough definitions or persuasive arguments in the world to convince that person the book is anything but a sexual account and therefore dirty and all things dirty" fabulous assessment.

    The sex/weightlifting phenomenon came out this week in our family. I was watching Blade with Scott in the next room. The scene where Blade finally bites the heroine, Karen, to get his strength against the bad guys hit the screen. She panted and moaned, he thurst his fangs every two seconds which set her rhythm. Scott asked me if the sounds he was hearing were graphic sex. Uh no, just vamp feeding. But you see the point remade, dontcha?

    And the weightlifting thing is especially interesting as most workout places seem to be a pickup joint for singles. I think it has less to do with hopefully fit bodies and singles and more to do with the suggestive eroticism of panting through a workout, sweat, and skimpy clothing. People check out other's physical endurance overlapping it with sexual innuendo and get a preview of expressions and sounds brought on by exertion. Just a thought.

  7. Terrific post, James and very on-target. I loved Lime's comment about her DH rushing for the remote to shield the kids. My DH and kids loved watching "exploding head" movies with so much gore it was unbelievable but let a bare breast enter the scene and he's changing the channels. War is more obscene that sex!!!!

    And James, I know you're right. It we're honest, we read erotica or other very sexual books because we really want that sexual excitement.Pornography doesn't do it for most of us because sex/love/emotion involves the BRAIN. Let's finally be honest about it. Many of us LOVE hotter than hot sex scenes and will often buy authors who will deliver it. Don't know how many times a friend will suggest a book and, this is great BUT there's not much sex. You nailed it.


  8. Namaste, Mona. Excellent illustration of the point.

    I have indeed read the Kama Sutra and often strive to make my love making a tantric experience. There is something almost humbling to reach a level of transcendence at the moment of climax. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried it.

    Thank you, Kelly. Definately a good point on the vampire's kiss, but then (according to some folklore) I'm not sure the sounds of feeding are that different than the sound of sex. The are sensual creatures (the romantacized versions anyways) by their nature and the act itself is said to be nearly orgasmic for the vicitim. Well, its that way in the vampire stories I write anyways. :D

    I think you may be on to something on the singles in the gym. :D

    War is more obscene that sex!!!! Having an intimate knowledge of both, I couldn't agree more, Regina. Give me sweaty bodies over scattered ones anyday. :D

    WE all want to be aroused, it's in our nature whether we admit to it or not. Men (and women) are often driven to greatness... and ruin by the pursuit of sexual satisfaction.

  9. Gee, James. You're so eloquent. You oughta be a writer or somethin'.


  10. lol, thanks, Kelly. I may have to give being a writer a try. It sounds exciting. :D

  11. *giggle* Very interesting discussion, coming from the perspective of authors struggling with this issue in their work. I wasn't sure what to expect when I accepted your invitation to catch this topic, but I'm well pleased.

    I think Mona's comment is dead-on, in that "porn" is an almost mechanical or clinical act, while "erotica" tells a story. I, too, have seen the occasional pornographic clip that seemed detached and unappealing. It could just as well have been moving machine parts for all the sensuality it offered. Whereas in erotica you know who the participants are, and why they're there doing what they're doing... and if their purpose is the sort of thing that you find arousing, then you get turned on for reading/viewing it.

  12. Yay, James! Great first post.

    A local radio show has taken the concept you mentioned to new heights. It's called "Pike or Porn" and the audio clip the listener has to identify is either sex or fishing. YOu'd be suprised how many times "yeah, baby, come on...that's it..oh god, oh, god!" is a guy reeling in a big fish.

    And you are also very correct. Erotic romance IS about arousal. But it's the merger of sex and romance that makes it work for some.

    I'll admit to being a female who has watched porn a time or two. In college with friends to laugh at the spoof flicks--"Flesh Gordon" comes to mind. A time or two (wink) with my husband. Hey--worth a try, right? But being the person I am, I've discovered that I need the story. Again, to each his/her own.

  13. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Smarmy. And thank you for adding your thoughts to the discussion. :D

    Thanks, Cindy. :D lol, actually I can totally see the "Pike or Porn", I have a friend that goes fishing with us (oddly enough, my wife enjoys fishing and we go as a family from time to time) and he gets very... animated when he sets that hook, lol.

    lol, I remember "Flesh Gordon". I went to a party my freshman year in college and someone put it on near the end of the fiesta. We all got a big laugh out of it. :D

    Again, to each his/her own. In the end, that's really all that matters, no? :D


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