When is Erotica Not Porn?

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I know it when I see it.”

That’s what people say when asked to describe what they consider pornography and what they would call erotica. We at OH YES! PRESS had a rather lively chat about it. We all agreed that “I know it when I see it” wasn’t good enough.

The funny thing is that in the process of giving examples, we discovered a surprising amount of consistency in what we said was pornographic as opposed to erotic. We decided one of us should take a stab at explaining the difference. (I drew the short straw.)

Let’s start with the obvious. Some folks would say our topic begs the question about whether there is any difference between these two labels. To you, dear vanillas with your shirts all buttoned up to the collar, we say OH YES! there most certainly is a difference. But we understand your confusion.

Erotica and porn share a few key traits:

  • They are both forms of adult entertainment (not suitable for children).
  • They both contain genitalia.
  • They both depict people having sex (that is, doing things with genitalia).

For us, these are superficial similarities. And by the way, the second trait and possibly also the third are ones that porn and erotica would also share with medical texts and self-help books dealing with sex.

So what are the significant differences?

One place some people (not us) are tempted to draw the line is with the type of media used. If it’s written, it’s erotic literature. If it’s photographed, it’s pornography. This, too, seems a bit too simplistic to us. We take the position that words can be pornographic and images can be erotic. So where do we draw the line?

For us, the critical difference is with how people are treated in the story.

It’s porn if:

  • Some people are treated as objects.
  • Things are done to them largely without their consent or without concern for their pleasure.
  • Their only purpose is to satisfy someone else’s pleasure, and not their own.

It’s erotica if:

  • Everyone is depicted as a subject (with feelings, desires, and autonomy).
  • Things are done for them with their consent and participation because they find pleasure in the act.
  • All the parties involved want the experience to be mutually satisfying. (Seriously, shouldn’t all sex be like this?)

In a nutshell, erotica tells stories about people as subjects in their own right. Porn depicts some people, usually women, as things.

I guess it’s pretty clear from this discussion that porn is not our thing. That doesn’t mean we want it censored. It just means we don’t want to publish it ourselves.

Erotica, however, is most certainly our thing! We love the stuff! Explicit narratives about people having sex can be entertaining, enlightening, thought-provoking, cathartic, and downright good for you. Those are the kinds of stories we want to tell, the ones where the sex is great for everyone. That’s how you know it’s erotica!

 

When is Erotica Not Porn?

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