Porn, Erotica & Romance Novels: Why Deciding For Yourself Is Important

It’s been a long debate. What is the difference between porn and erotica? How fine is the line between erotica and porn and is it really easy to tread between the two? How are they any different from the mess of other terms associated with smutty explicit content?

When I first started writing novels, almost ten years ago now, I investigated the traits of many many genres and, despite being a kid back then, I could understand the meaning of most of them and what they entailed.

By the definition there was back then ‘porn’ was considered a novel in which it was probably about 80% sex and 20% actual plot, with emotions and some development. It was considered ‘porn’ because the sex scenes would usually delve into very explicit detail of the physical aspects and not as much the emotional. See, then there wasn’t a massive difference when compared to ‘erotica’. Erotica was considered almost the same thing and, if you ask anyone today, they will probably tell you that the only difference is that writers will say that they write ‘erotica’ but readers would call it ‘porn’.

Perhaps the reason erotica fans feel much apprehension to explicit content being called ‘porn’ is because, to some extent, erotica tends to go a little deeper. By that I mean that more emotions are noticeable, obviously. Erotica also tends to leave a bit more to the imagination and, often enough, goes about things tastefully and with great respect to the typical story formula of having realistic and enjoyable characters, intriguing plot (however minuscule this may be) and development.

That all on complicates life more. It makes sense for one to ask, “so how is erotica different from a very-adult romance novel?” Really, if you look at the criteria for erotica when compared to porn, erotica is pretty much just an explicit romance novel. Or, and many romance novelists will scream in horror for this, explicit romance novels are simply erotica.

Book genres, whether we like it or not, are often split into ‘what is catered for women’ and ‘what is catered for men’. I have never been the type to think like that as, realistically, a man can like the work ‘catered for women’ just like women can like things that are ‘catered for men’. The argument when it comes to porn, erotica and romance novels is actually pretty heated amongst the sexes. It’s quite entertaining but how demeaning it becomes makes it not even worth the discussion.

Why is it demeaning? Because of the women who assume that men only want ‘porn’ and the men that assume that all women want the frilly emotional stuff. Such stereotypes came from somewhere; it can’t be said that there’s no truth to any of it. But to say that all of either gender are like that is insulting.

Painfully putting that aside for just a moment, it’s all quite skewed anyway, don’t you think? We often hear of ‘erotica catered to men’ and ‘erotica catered to women’ but…if erotica was always defined as sex with some plot then isn’t that considered catered to women, and not to men? So what is ‘erotica catered to men’ when by peoples definitions of what men are like ‘erotica catered to men’ is ‘porn’? It’s funny that the same people defining the difference between ‘porn’ and ‘erotica’ are also the ones with these ideals of who reads what and why.

You’re probably wondering why little me is going on and on in circles, basically pointing out the flaws in peoples callous and hardly-thought-through definitions. Well, it’s because it serves as a silver platter to serve up my stressed-case on.

Read books and define them for yourselves.

People think that we should do these things just for deciding what is good or not, or what is enjoyable and what isn’t. That’s not the case. Our judgement of a book starts from, at the very least, the title, but even the sound of the genre can attract us or cause us to cringe, immediately disregarding a book. That’s hardly fair because people get it wrong or don’t quite know what to call something and slap a label onto them with no consideration.

Most recently this series has garnered plenty of controversy and heated discussions:

 

Indeed, 50 Shades of Grey has to be the most talked about series at the moment and not without good reason. I’m not going to discuss it specifically here, nor am I going to voice my opinion of it. What’s worth discussing is it being dubbed ‘mummy-porn’. I mean, really? Putting aside that it sounds absolutely ugly as a statement isn’t it incredibly inaccurate?

Apparently, the reason it was given this ‘title’ was because it is like ‘porn with emotions and plot’ and ‘porn disguised with a plot and some romance’. Pardon? Does that not make it a romance novel? Or, at the very least, just erotica? As always, based on similar peoples descriptions of what erotica, porn and romance novels entail.

Book readers who act like experts are the ones who claim to know things about books and their genres, the same ones who critique writing with flames, are only making things worse for everyone by attaching silly titles to things. If they made sense then they wouldn’t be an issue at all but the connotations to certain words can be insulting to more than just an author or a book, to an entire fanbase and to an entire genre of books also.

I’m aware that there are plenty of people, the ones that also don’t care for their integrity, that aren’t particularly keen on playing nice so I won’t waste my breath appealing to them to do so. Instead, I tell readers to decide for themselves whether they like something or not, to research for themselves properly about something, before they decide that something is not for them at all. This is not the case just with porn and erotica, and the fine line with romance novels. People call things by labels that may not be accurate at all and which can keep you from tackling some truly interesting reads.

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One thought on “Porn, Erotica & Romance Novels: Why Deciding For Yourself Is Important

  1. I’d argue that the difference between porn and erotica is actually almost empirical.

    Erotica is literature about human sexuality that has some redeeming social value, in that it illuminates aspects of our psychology that are unapproachable in any other way. It may reveal an alternative world-view or philosophy whose tenets can only be conveyed by describing sexual situations and the interactions that surround them.The principal aim of erotica may be to arouse, but it gets to that aim by way of the mind, not the body, and is characterized by an implicit respect for the characters that is reflected in their veracity. If it’s erotica, you don’t think “why would she do that?” but, “given who she is, it makes sense that she could be aroused in that way”.

    Porn, on the other hand, can be characterized by a lack of redeeming social value, an almost nihilistic disregard for consequence, and the absence of any attempt to place the actions of its characters into a larger context or provide a philosophical framework that explains their activities. Explanations are self-serving, there’s no rhyme or reason to the characters’ actions other than the need to get them into sexual situations. There’s no deeper message, no redemption, it’s just fucking for fucking’s sake.

    It’s not a male-female thing, but a matter of intent or lack of skill, which authors of either sex can be guilty of. It’s also not a matter of taste, because even erotica written about something that turns one’s stomach can be well-written, provide insight into the motivations of the characters involved, and arouse one almost against one’s will.

    I’m something of an expert on this, in that these matters have concerned me for almost thirty years, and while at first it was a purely prurient pursuit in adolescence, over time I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur. One introduction to a Victorian-era novel has stuck in my mind and informed my views.

    The publisher refers to the author’s work as a shining example of “the cult of woman as expressed by man”, and that description struck a chord. In these more enlightened times, it goes both ways, and I’d argue that “the cult of man as expressed by woman” is currently enjoying something of a renaissance. These cults speak to something deep in human nature that has been obscured by our religious institutions and the orthodoxy of the scientific community, which due to confirmation bias has until recently upheld a standard narrative of human sexuality that defies the evidence.

    Upholding the “naturalness” of monogamy has kept us in the dark about our own natures, but recently social scientists have finally dared to ask the question, “if it’s so natural, why doesn’t it come naturally?” This simple question has opened up new interpretations of existing data, and points towards a far more nuanced understanding of human sexuality than was previously available. The work is ongoing, but the point of this aside isn’t simply to highlight the findings, but to indicate how little we truly know about something so central to our nature.

    Without getting too deep into the subject of religion, I’ll just say that institutions serve their own needs first, and those of their adherents second. If you can control a person’s sexuality, something so personal and central to their sense of self, what _can’t_ you control?

    To my way of thinking, this institutional need to control the expression of sexuality as a means of extending control over other aspects of behavior is central to our attitudes about pornography and erotica, and our understanding of where the line is drawn between the two. This makes the distinction difficult, largely because of the difficulty of defining “redeeming social value” and how various people will interpret the meaning of such a phrase.

    It’s been said that one person’s porn is another person’s erotica and yet another’s romance, but I believe that a dispassionate approach can yield a meaningful measure that isn’t held hostage to the mores and prejudices of any given time or place. A broad survey of pornography and erotica throughout history (which I’ve undertaken almost without intent) reveals common themes and recurring stories that point the way towards an almost scientific understanding of the distinction.

    “Redeeming social value” should be interpreted to mean, “revelatory of human nature, psychology, or aspiration” or “indicative of a yearning for meaning” or “showing a way to heal and be healthy in one’s approach to sexuality”.

    There’s still plenty of room for disagreement about specific works, but for agument’s sake, the work of Anais Nin qualifies as erotica, as does that of the Marqui De Sade (although De Sade’s work is more philosophy disguised, in much the same way as Ayn Rand’s novels barely qualify as novels).

    Pornography is more difficult to pinpoint, because it’s a rare work that shows a complete lack of redeeming social value. Even outwardly nihilistic works like “Roman Orgy” can be taken as reflective of dark truths. I guess it boils down to skill.

    Porn not only doesn’t aspire to be anything more, it also just sucks, and is only appealing to uneducated palates. It’s like comparing made-for-television films to Hollywood blockbusters.

    Book snob out. 😛

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