The always-fantastic billierosie asked me to post this little essay I wrote about the differences between erotica and porn ... and if there are any. Enjoy!
Erotica or pornography? To be honest, how I answer that question really depends on who asks it -- though I have often thought about the distinction. Personally, if it's a fellow writer asking if what I is erotica or pornography, in other words high literature or low smut, I have a tendency to answer with 'erotica' for obvious reasons. If it's someone who rings my doorbell late at night, or at some other obnoxious intrusion, I snarl that I'm a pornographer, and I have to really get back to writing nasty stories about equally nasty sex -- if just to get rid of them.
This playful ducking of the issue aside, some people really do take the idea of a different between the two very seriously. A common definition between the two is that pornography is 'just' sex, in other words the author appears to be doing nothing that just arouse the reader, while erotica is aiming for a higher purpose. The problem with that though is that one man's erotica is another's pornography: that the reaction to a story is completely subjective. Besides, who knows what the intent of any writer really is?
Another attempt at definition is that erotica is refined, while pornography is course, rough, ham-handed. The idea behind this is that there is some kind of vocabulary litmus test that can be made against a work to see if it passes or fails. This also falls flat because a lot of sexuality simply is course. An honest story, talking about someone's real sex life, can sometimes use language as salty as the crustiest sailor's.
A classic way of telling one from the other is the old favorite that pornography is "without any redeeming social importance." Again, this falls flat as who can say what impact anything artistic will have -- either today or hundreds if not thousands of years from now. I'm sure a lot of contemporaries of Beethoven, DaVinci, Shakespeare, Rodan, and so forth looked on their works and wrinkled their noses in disgust. Not that I think something from Hustler will seriously be hanging in the Louvre someday, but who knows what folks will someday find artistic.
What I think is even more alarming that censors and social commentators trying desperately to find some simple way of differentiating between smut and art, is that many writers are trying to separate the two as well. In other words, the same folks who are trying to keep it out of 'inappropiate' hands have intentionally or unintentionally, have joined forces with the people writing it.
Erotica has changed a lot in the last twenty or so years. Once the mainstay of the desperate writer, people are now actually either pursing erotica writing as a respected and fairly well-paying job or are using it as a stepping stone to bigger things. I wouldn't be writing this column, and having my stories, published in magazines like this without erotica. I even have books -- three collections, and have edited over a dozen anthologies -- because I write about sex. That's quite remarkable, especially considering the stigma sexual writing used to have.
But as with many things, success has a price. Some writers are desperately trying to draw a line in the sand, if only so they can feel just a bit better what they do by elevating themselves through lowering others. "You," they say, "write pornography, while what I do is erotica." Their reasons are understandable, for the first time sex writing is getting respect, some money, and has been opening some otherwise closed doors. In their eyes, it doesn't do then any good to be grouped together with course, "just sex," or works "without any redeeming social importance." The problem is their criteria are just as nebulous as those who want to be able to prosecute for one, while grudgingly permitting the other. The problem is they are both have the potential to be very dangerous.
As I said, there is no absolute definition between literary erotica and pornography. A classic case of this was the quote from Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see it." In other words, it's all a matter of opinion. The problem is, while some writers who are part of this new form of sex writing are looking for a way of telling apples from oranges simply to preserve their new-found self-respect, there are others who are trying to tell the two apart to send the writers of what they consider to be 'pornography' to jail. What better way, they are beginning to say, to draw the line than to use the rules that writers themselves are using?
Allowed to continue unchecked, puritans and hysterics who want to protect the world from what they see as the 'evils' of sex writing will be using these attempts to discriminate between high and low, art and "just porn" to draft laws, ban books, and possibly even fine or imprison authors.
My name is Chris, I write under the name "M. Christian." I am a writer. I write many things: essays, columns, reviews, articles, novels, short stories, and a lot of pornography -- and, no matter who asks or why, I'm very happy doing all of it, including writing pornography. Sex writing is daring, risky, innovative and touches on something that most everyone on this world has experienced, something that makes us human.
I'm a pornographer, and proud of it.