Writer’s Digest…What Erotica Is

Many of our opponents suggest that because the boundary between porn and erotica cannot be perfectly defined, that it’s hopeless to try. Many pornographers would like to fudge the issue to make their products seem more acceptable. Nevertheless, useful distinctions can be made. Writer’s Digest explores the issues in “On The Edge: The Power of Titillation”:

“There’s now more confusion about what erotica is,” says Vastiana Belfon, managing director of London-based Brown Skin Books. “On one hand, there are attempts by those selling pornography to hijack the term, and on the other, you find romance marketed as erotica…”

“I think that some publishers rushed out material that was just writing about sex rather than erotic,” Belfon says. “There’s a huge difference. Many writers submitting material to us believe that just because they know how sex works, they can put it down on paper and, somehow, that will be erotic. They’re so wrong. It takes a great deal of hard work, thought, intelligence and creativity, as well as an understanding of the writer’s craft to make sex erotic.”

Today’s erotica market is quite different from the 1940s when Anais Nin wrote the stories in Delta of Venus for $1 a page… Today more erotica is being released, and the term is more freely used. But the spirit of the work—sexual journeys ripe with character development—is largely the same…

…[A]ll these writers see a clear distinction between erotica and pornography. “To me, pornography’s chief purpose is masturbatory,” Campion says. “I’m not judging it. I’m simply arguing that this is its sole function. It’s graphic for the immediate payoff. There’s no art to it because there’s no need. Erotica can end at arousal but doesn’t have to, and because it tries to speak to us on multiple levels, recognizing that arousal can be mental as much as physical; it can aspire to art.”

Many erotica writers spend little time crafting sex scenes. “I have to start with the premise,” Campion says of her writing process. “It has to be one that can stand up on its own without erotic content.” Then she figures out what drives the sex scenes. “The characters can’t simply fall into bed every 20 pages,” she says. “You still need motivation for them to come together.” Whenever Zane comes to a sex scene, she simply types: “insert sex scene here” in a big, bold font. She writes dialogue first and continues developing her characters and plots. Her sex scenes are always written last…

See also this discussion from Porn vs. Erotica, in our left-hand sidebar:

We distinguish porn, which is generally harmful, from erotica, which
can be harmless or even beneficial. The distinction is not absolute,
but we suggest that erotica is that which supports love (examples), and porn is that which destroys love (examples). An article in The Guardian suggests that porn is much more about power and domination than erotica is…

A complex work of art may have characteristics from both groups. It
might be hard to apply a simple label to it. However, most porn is not
that complex. You will not find much Henry Miller or Anais Nin in your
typical porn shop.

While erotica may empower women, porn disempowers them. This is easy to see in the workplace, where porn has been used to harass and intimidate female coworkers.

Ultimately, the biggest difference between porn and erotica has to do with the long-term effect on the viewer, as well as the conditions
under which the entertainment was made. By educating people as to the
potential harms of adult materials, we hope they can look inside
themselves to judge the healthiness of their media diet.

5 thoughts on “Writer’s Digest…What Erotica Is

  1. One problem I have with this article is that a person can ascribe the presentation of sexuality and it’s titillation / masturbatory outcome AS the desired response. It often DOES take skill and a degree of planning to achieve this outcome. I reject the notion that love is either enriched or destroyed through displays of sex acts in themselves, rather it is the display of behaviors during sex acts that tends to indoctrinate. Rather than arguing over the difference between porn vs erotica, why not instead concentrate on which behaviors presented in sex acts can cause behavior problems in society? Whether Maplethorpe is art,erotica or porn is really irrelevant. How his works affects society is the issue, which is something the dictionary definitions can’t capture

  2. For us, the terms erotica and porn are useful as a shorthand way to denote sex with and without love. Most porn today is sex with the love stripped away. This loveless porn is what you’ll overwhelmingly find at a typical porn shop. A content analysis of 50 top selling porn films reveals the following:

    “Less than 10% of the videos showed any kind of a positive act, and that included kissing… caressing happened maybe twice. Something like a verbal compliment, ‘Gosh, you look pretty’, not, ‘Slut bitch, come over here,’ that happened maybe five times in the 304 scenes. So we have a ratio of positive to negative behaviors of 1 to 9, which is not a sustainable, happy relationship.”

  3. … and that definition is extremely problematic. In my art school days, I took pictures of inanimate objects that resembled masochistic sex. While humans were devoid from the photograph, it was certainly erotic. I would have classified my work as erotic, not pornographic. There was , by no means, any sort of love involved. The work was designed to be a primal exploration of sexual interpretation. Titillation via inanimate objects, letting the brain interpret sexual deviance from commonly placed objects.

    In this re-definition of erotica, I see nothing but ideological totalitarianism and a cynical disrespect to those who actually produce erotic works. Erotica can be both emotional and emotionless.

  4. We offer these definitions as a point of departure for people to look inside their hearts and see what’s good and true. Other distinctions between porn and erotica are suggested in the left-hand sidebar that appears on every page. We don’t expect universal consensus, or that standards won’t fluctuate over time. However, we won’t accept that the fuzziness around these issues is a reason to avoid the subject entirely, not while real people are being hurt in the production and consumption of pornographic media.

    I observe you used no people in the production of your art. That right there makes it much less likely to be pornography in our eyes. However, if you found that large numbers of people were inspired by your art to hurt others, I hope that would give you pause. We are not calling for increased censorship, but for an increased sense of responsibility from people involved in media and sex businesses.

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