Is Erotica The Same As Porn?


Weeeeeelp… This had to happen at some point, right? You must have expected it.
No? Well that’s your own fault.

First, I should say that I originally wrote this piece for Inspired Quill in 2011. They haven’t taken it up, so I’ve decided to change up the title and post it here; reworked for 2014 and my current audience. That’s you fine people.


So… IS erotica the same as porn? In a word… no. In two words; ‘fuck no.’ In several words… see below.

I want to talk about both erotica and porn in a grown up *snerk* and sensible way. Just to make it clear (to you) what I mean when I say I write ‘smut’ or ‘erotica’ or ‘porn.’ Okay?

Goodie. Let’s go.

The Collins English Dictionary (yeah, I know, but bear with me) defines pornography as; ‘writings, pictures, or films designed to be sexually exciting’ while defining erotica as; ‘explicitly sexual literature or art.’ Both of these, I feel, need a little examination.

First, let’s take pornography as defined by the Collins English Dictionary. Films and pictures aside, there are very few novels I have read that I would describe as pornography or pornographic, even though there are sections within them which I found sexually exciting. These novels, at their core, have been thrillers, horror or fantasy books, with only the smallest, normally negligible focus on sexual relationships. Similarly, novels or short stories I have read, which were specifically designed to be sexually exciting or stimulating, were neither of these things. In fact they were downright hilarious and often foolish.

When I ask people what they think pornography actually is, the general consensus seems to be that pornography is designed only to provide sexual stimulation and often does so through explicit and/or vulgar images, words and sounds. People also tell me that they feel pornography has no discernible plot and that it is put together in a manner that is both demeaning and degrading for those involved and for those watching. They feel that it is dirty.

Oh well.

In truth, very few people will admit to watching or reading porn. They feel embarrassed by it and the old joke about locking oneself in the bathroom with a ‘dirty magazine’ seems to strike true. Pornography, it seems, is something to be enjoyed alone, behind closed doors and in utter secret.

A far cry from the definition provided by Collins, right?

Erotica is something else entirely. I’ve read several (that might be an understatement, actually) books which claim to be collections of erotic short stories and poems and I have found these incredibly enjoyable. Many of these were indeed sexually exciting with overtly explicit narrative, while others were soft, gentle tales which actually left everything remotely sexual to the imagination of the reader. It was these stories that I found a deal more powerful. In fact, even though these collections are described as erotica, I find them closer to romance as defined by bookshop style genre labelling.

red valentine's heart to replace Mills & Boon logo

Romance novels (I refer mainly to Mills and Boon) are designed to tell a story about life and emotions. They are an escapism, in which the final happy ending is almost guaranteed. These novels manage to tell their stories just as well with references to sex as they do without and at the end of it all, boy and girl live happily ever after (I’m yet to find any Mills and Boon featuring homosexual relationships as the primary plot, though it has been a while since I last picked one up). This seems to fit perfectly with the Collins English Dictionary definition of romance (one of many) which reads; ‘a story or film dealing with events and characters remote from ordinary life.’

Isn’t that interesting? It seems to be that while pornography is gritty, dirty and frowned upon, erotica is sensual, emotional and idealised. Neither of these match up with what Collins has to say.

In 1787 The Marquis de Sade (Donatien Alphonse François de Sade) wrote a short story called Justine. It was published in 1791 and told the story of a 12 year old girl named Justine who travelled to France in a ‘quest for virtue.’ Though certainly less explicit than some of his later work, de Sade describes a long list of sexual ordeals this girl must go through before she ends up in prison after being found guilty of theft. The ‘abominable’ book was later ordered destroyed in 1815.

Now in 2014, I doubt very much that a reader within the age brackets of 20–45 would be in the least bit concerned at the ‘pornographic’ nature of the book. They may even call it ‘erotic.’ Even Wikipedia classifies the work as a ‘classic erotic novel.’ Yet at the time of its original publication, the work was condemned and de Sade was jailed for the last 13 years of his life.

Sucks to be him, right?

Kajira symbol from John Norman's Gor books

Credit: AnonMoos @ Wiki Commons

Related to this, the Gor series, begun in 1966 by John Norman, features a fantasy world in which women are naturally and happily submissive to the wills of the men who keep them as slaves. Though the first few books don’t exclusively document the dominance of men over women in a sexual sense, as the series progresses this becomes more and more obvious.

There are certainly thousands, if not millions of people who find these books sexually exciting and would describe them not as pornography, but as erotica. There are others who feel so strongly about the ideas that Norman offers, that they have adapted their lifestyles to match those of the novels’ protagonists; keeping women as willing ‘slaves.’

From my own personal stand point, I feel that erotica tells a story. Though scenes, dialogue and themes of a sexual nature may be involved, it is not these things which make the story. They are a sideline or an enhancement and should not be graphic or gratuitous. Pornography, I feel, is designed to be exactly these things; it is gratuitous, it most certainly is graphic and most of all pornography is centred around a theme of pointless, plot-less sex. I feel that if you were to take the sex away from these stories, you would be left with characters that you do not care about because they are two dimensional and lifeless. Doing the same to erotica would still leave you with a story about people with real feelings, emotions, lives and thoughts.

My Meeting Each Other series would work just as well without the sex. They’d be a hell of a short shorter, but I hope that you would still care about the characters. Well… except for one story… coming up in the next few months is one of them that, even for me, rides the fine line between erotica and porn. Oh well.

BDSM logo

Slippers & Chains, even with its strong core of BDSM and D/s relationships is still just about a couple who want to get on with loving each other. ‘Smut with brains’ I like to call it. ^_^

I haven’t had any more trouble from this one member of my critique group. I don’t know how long they will remain quiet, but this post is cathartic as well as useful in explaining my thoughts on the matter. Maybe I’ll slip them a copy of this post next meeting.
…maybe not. -_-

Raven's Signature In Black

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About Raven ShadowHawk

I take great pleasure in writing erotica and am merely one side of the proverbial coin. My other half, 'Ileandra Young' writes fantasy and the occasional comedy piece. My six-part series 'Meeting Each Other' is available in full, through Amazon and Smashwords while my debut novella 'Sugar Dust' is now re-released (!) available through Amazon via Little Vamp Press.
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7 Responses to Is Erotica The Same As Porn?

  1. Thank you for explaining this so well.

    Like

  2. DaPoet says:

    Like most everything else erotica and porn are in the eye – tainted by bigotry – of the beholder.

    Like

  3. Pingback: ‘Cum’ vs ‘Come’ Is There Really a Difference? #AtoZChallenge #AprilA2Z ‘C’ | Writing: A Conversation Without Interruptions

  4. Pingback: Jokes And Humour In Erotica #AtoZChallenge #AprilA2Z ‘J’ | Writing: A Conversation Without Interruptions

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