Erotica and Pornography
Article originally written by AM. Appointment
Do you like reading steamy novels loaded with sexual tension?
Do you enjoy classical paintings stippled with nipples? Could you sit for hours basking in the splendour that is Michaelangelo's David? Do you turn the volume up during sex scenes in your favourite movies?
Do you watch pornography?
As we continue these conversations about sexual wellbeing, pleasure freedom and the female gaze, I've noticed a lot of chat about erotica versus pornography. Chat about how one discipline is considered art, and the other smut; about how one exclusively (and unfeminist-ly) caters to male interests whilst causing harm to women and young people; about why you should embrace one and criticize the other.
Most discussions online about erotica and pornography have very strict definitions of each type of expression. Erotica is popularly seen as narrative or prose, written by-women-for-women, featuring plotlines punctuated with sexual encounters. Pornography is generalized as video-based sex scenes with little to no preamble, focusing on (primarily) straight male pleasure. However, I would argue that plenty of erotica exists outside this term - in poetry, painting and illustration, video and sculpture. And also that pornography does not exist exclusively in the dark corners of the Internet, secretly watched by underaged boys who don't understand they're melting their brains away.
Another way to compare the two is: Erotica is art, porn is capitalism. Erotica is subtle, porn is explicit. Erotica is to be appreciated, porn is to be vilified.
Frankly, one could argue they're the same thing and we are simply getting caught up in terminology as a way to cope with discomfort around the subject.
In Episode 6 of The Appointment Podcast, guest King Noir - porn performer and co-founder of Royal Fetish Films and Jet Set Jasmine, LLC - shares his opinion. "Erotica, honestly … the word itself makes me tired and bored," he says. "Usually the people who come and say that 'This is erotica,' it's just some wordy-ass shit to cover up that they wanna fuck."
Depending on how you answered the series of questions at the beginning of this article, you may see how similar pornography and erotica really are. It depends on the audience's experience. From the viewer's perspective, they are both capable of inspiring arousal, prompting one's imagination, and allowing us to insert ourselves into a narrative or scene.
From the creator's view, however, the difference between erotica and pornography is more definitive. Erotica - whether in sculpture, painting, narrative or performance - is meant to allude, titillate, and provoke. The artist/author/director/performer wants to glorify the human form in all its natural beauty.
Pornography is designed to turn us on, illustrate our fantasies explicitly and without allusion. The artist/author/director/performer wants to glorify fucking.
Erotica is sipping on a glass of wine, with notes of juicy berries and rich oak. Porn is shoving handfuls of juicy berries into your mouth with gusto while sitting next to a rich, oaky campfire.
However, lots of creators have aimed to produce erotica only to be judged as pornographers.
So again - it's all in the perception of the audience.
In a 2011 Psychology Today article, Leon Seltzer, PhD. describes the comparison as
"Pornography propos[ing] a temporary 'fix' for our sexual frustrations; eroticism offers us something more elusive--an opportunity to experience sensuous delight of a higher order."
This description implies a sort of hierarchy - as though we should strive to appreciate eroticism, but more often go slumming with porn, succumbing to carnal desires. We want you to feel comfortable enjoying whatever you like, however you will. Succumb to those desires; treat yourself. There is no judgement if you would rather hit up Pornhub than crack open a Nancy Friday novel. If perusing the ancient erotic poetry of Pompeii or the Kama Sutra is more your pace, more power to you!
You may have noticed the very narrow lens through which this article is written: the sex-positive, pro-porn, conscious consumer and masturbation enthusiast. We are not interested in discussing the damaging effects of too much porn on too young minds in this space, right now. That is a topic for another day.
Yet seeing as it's 2019 and ethics and politics do play into how we experience pleasure, it's very easy to boycott pornography as degrading, empty, damaging, and anti-feminist. And it's true. A lot of porn out there exploits young women, portrays unattainable body types performing acts that are demeaning, degrading and borderline abusive. Erotica as it's traditionally created and portrayed is much more artful - posed models and imaginary figures. Scenery, dialogue, emotion.
We are blessed to be in the midst of a pornographic revolution right now.
"Feminist pornography" is bridging the gap between artistic expression and explicit demonstration, allowing moments of intimacy and natural human bodies to shine through the steamy sex happening on screen. Or, it's carnal and messy and savagely WOMAN - not always so nipped and tucked as "conventional porn" so often is. Performers are taking control of how they're filmed - through camming sites or self-directed production. This is why this article is titled "Erotica AND Pornography," not Erotica VERSUS pornography. The lines are blurring, we are free from the need to choose. As far as visual stimulation goes, we can have both.
Emerging discussions online about the ethics behind porn production and other facets of the sex industry are continuing to shed light on the positive and negative aspects of porn production and consumption. For the sake of this article, I want you to walk away feeling comfortable and shame-free about how you enjoy visual stimulation. Erotica, porn, it's all an avenue to pleasure to us.
Article written by Phoenix Tarampi for AM. Appointment