Friday, January 19, 2007

Erotica vs. Pornography: Is There a Difference?

I feel like I give this explanation every other day, but it seems as if the world is not listening. Erotica is not porn. Pornography, by definition, is sexual, but that doesn't make it erotica. (Please be aware that this entry is entirely my opinion and not meant to demean the work, opinions, or persons who work in one or both genres.)

What is the difference?

In brief, the difference is content. I like to get on my high horse and say the real difference is quality of content, but that's not entirely true. Let me explain what I think the two are and why other people's perception of the two is wearing on my last nerve lately.

Pornography is material (pictures, movies, stories, music, games) of a sexual nature. It is intended for adult viewing/experiences for the purpose of sexual stimulation and/or gratification. There is no intent to display any defined artistic merit, no "deep" or hidden literary meaning, no social or political commentary or character interaction that does not lead towards a sexual experience, usually devoid of meaning other than the act itself. You look/read/listen, you get off. Period. (If you do not, you should probably find something more to your taste or interact with a real person.)

I have nothing against pornography. I shouldn't, I own enough of it. But there is really only one purpose for it and it should not be confused with anything else.

Erotica is material (a story, movie, etc.) where the storyline or underlying theme is related to a sexual subject. This can be anything from a story about a married couple having problems in the bedroom area to a movie where one character uses sexual dominance to exert psychological control over his or her partner. Erotic fiction can run the gamut from light and playful romantic stories to dark and violent suspense thrillers.

What's most important to remember about erotica is that the story or content does not consist entirely of sexual acts, nor does it exist purely as an excuse to include more sexual content. While all erotic material does not contain a deeper meaning than what is below the surface, it differs from pornography in it's intent. The whole of erotica is not created solely to sexually stimulate.

There is debate about my last comment and that is where my opinion differs from others. I don't believe erotica, whether it be a story, movie, or another medium, can be considered erotica if it is purely about a sexual act or a series of them. If there is no storyline and/or clearly defined characters, I would consider a story or other material pornography. In the case of photography, there may be a gray area, but again, part of the definition is intent.

On shades of gray:

I'm sure there are examples of movies or written material that skirt a line between my two definitions, but I think what I've written here covers the majority of adult material. Most people know if they consider their creative material to be one or the other. But then, some people see things differently from the way I do.

I am positively fed up with porn sites that label their stories, photos and movies "erotica." Look, I know search engines don't think for themselves. So, if I type "erotica" into a search engine, the only way I'd pull up a site promising "hot asian chicks getting nasty" or "barely legal hotties" is if a porn site was deliberately misleading people searching for adult material.You know, like websites that claim to provide "quality" adult reading material and really consist of a lot of squirting, slamming, and sharing of bodily fluids.

As an erotica writer, my reputation as a writer and my ability to promote my material relies on people's perceptions. Most people automatically think of erotic material as pornography because they've been conditioned to think of anything exclusively for adults as "dirty." Regardless of the content, many people think "erotic" and "porn" mean the same thing. Not only am I appalled that some people don't bother doing their research, I am irritated that pornographers don't seem to care that there's a distinction when promoting their own material.

What's frustrating as an erotica writer is how this perception affects me. A lot of people will automatically disregard me as a "real" writer when they find out I write erotica. Mainstream promotional sites will not accept material from me because it is not deemed family friendly. I have a difficult time getting heard in the adult world as well because they know erotica doesn't fully fit into their world. Why can adult sites promote their material as "erotica" but, for the most part, will not promote real erotica in return?

I want to know if it is possible to make the distinction between these two genres more clear to the general population, or at least those looking for erotica who don't wish to be bombarded by graphic sexual imagery and writing. What can we as erotica writers do to reach our target audience and be seen as what we truly are?

We are storytellers with more on our minds than getting off and moving on. We are creators who see the human body as more than a means to an end. And we are artists who believe that stimulation of the brain is just as important as stimulation everywhere else.

If only the rest of the world could see us this way.


Silent-Porn-Star said...

You know, I hear and read this rant often -- this is by no means meant to be dismissal (or why would I bother to post? lol) But the definitions are so subjective that it's really, Really tricky.

In fact, it's this too-tricky-to-define situation which (currently) saves our asses when it comes to persecution and censorship.

I'm always looking for the the definitions which seem to reflect more than 'me' but are ones which can be useful. So far, no luck ;)

Re: the matter of dismissing your work as an author due to subject matter, I am naturally in the same boat often. So I concur. But also, I caution you against slamming porn (however defined).

Porn may seem less moving to you &/or I than the lofly literaly erotica, but it has it's purpose. It moves an audience in a different manner, but moves them just the same. To move someone, you must have some skill... So I'd hate to dismiss a 'porn author' simply because it's not your (or my) cup of tea. Effort, skill and ability should count for something, even if it's not the genre you prefer.

Kitala said...

I just came across your blog and saw this post and (although years late) wanted to comment.

I think both porn and erotica have advantages, and obviously both appeal to different segments of society. But I agree with you erotica is not porn. I think erotica concerns itself with character and scene development, tends to be more descriptive in romantic terms, and aims to tell a well-developed story.

Porn on the other hand is concerned with "what to get, how to get it, when to get it, and when can I get it again." I write and would never describe my work as erotica -- it is straight up porn. And, although I believe I could write a well-developed erotic story, I choose the pornographic route because, hey, I have a pornographic mind (LOL). So I'll leave the erotic story-telling to those who have the head and the heart for it, and I'll continue to write those porn stories because truthfully, there are those times when people, male or female, just want a good ride and to "hit it and quit it."

Also, good blog (which I'll bookmark and revisit). Good luck to you. Kitala

Sara Winters said...

It's so strange to visit something I wrote eons ago and read different reactions to it. I didn't mean to offend anyone, though I know I did in a number of groups around the net.

@Silent-Porn-Star - Subjectivity was a strong issue when I wrote this post, but I think it came about at a time when I was upset about things being said about erotica writers in general. I really didn't intend to slam porn, just to differentiate between the types of work. I feel badly for writers who feel like they can't be read because people judge them without giving their stories a chance.

@Kitala - I think there are a number of people whose writing skirts a fine line between one and the other, simply because they enjoy more um...detail. And yes, those times when people just want to hit it exist and the stories that fulfill those needs serve a purpose.