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'07 Authors Insider Tips

by Louisa Burton
Formatting Your Manuscript
Scams / Choosing an Agent
Pitching Your Novel...
From The Call to Published...

Hard Business
From Greg Herren
Who Is Telling This Story?
It’s Work, Not A Hobby
Where Ideas Come From

Sexy on the Page
With Shanna Germain
Plotting Erotic Fiction
Seducing Your Muse
Creating Characters...
Description, Action & Dialogue
Fucking on Paper
Ten No-Nos of Erotic Fiction
Climactic Moments: First Draft
Critique Groups
Revising Your Erotic Story
Finding the Perfect Markets...
Just Submit Already
Rejections and Acceptances

Two Girls Kissing
With Amie M. Evans
Verb Tense Confusion
Coming Up with Story Ideas
Attend a Writers’ Conference
The Fundamentals of POV
Should I Sign That?
Etiquette for Authors
Erotica is Serious Work
No Body Writes for Free...
Shameless Self Promotions
The Myth of Writer's Block

The Write Stuff
From Ashley Lister
The Time is Write
The Beautiful People
A Book by Any Other...
Synopsis: the Necessary Evil
Erotica or Porn?
Feedback Whine

2007 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
What's it like being a writer?
An Apology to Salespeople

Get All Worked Up
With J.T. Benjamin
About Secrets
The Perfect Fuck
About Choices
The Age of Consent
The Kingmaker
Kids and Sex
The Price of Beauty
The G.O.P.
All Worked Up About Hate
Real Men

Pondering Porn
With Ann Regentin
Good Sex: A Physics Lesson
Meet Frankenstein
Thoughts on the Orgasm Gap
The Very Bloody Marys
The Doomsday Erection
Online Threesome Porn

The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister

Erotica or Porn?

I know this subject has been touched more times than a glamour model's tits. And I know it's as sensitive as the haemorrhoids of someone who uses sandpaper toilet paper. But I've been a member of ERWA for many years now, and I've watched the topic rise and fall through countless arguments in Writers and Parlor, and I don't think I've ever said much to either hinder or help clarify my stance on the subject.

The question is: what's the difference between erotica and porn? My first response when I heard this was: about 1p per word. But flippant remarks like that don't move any of us to a satisfactory conclusion. And, as I've recently discovered, dictionary definitions are equally unhelpful.

My copy of the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] defines erotica as "erotic literature or art" and denotes that erotic means "relating to or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement." The OED goes onto explain the word's etymology comes on a circuitous route (through French) from the original Greek erōtikos "sexual love."

The same dictionary shows that porn, derived from a 1950's contraction of pornography, is defined as "printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement." Interestingly, it says the word is derived from the Greek pornographos "writing about prostitutes."

On the surface this shows that the words are virtually synonymous. Both describe materials expected to arouse sexual desire or excitement. If we're being picky we could point out that, for a work to be deemed pornographic, it should include "explicit description […] of sexual organs or activity." But, aside from being the mainstay of much that is deemed pornographic, explicit descriptions of sexual organs and activity are also apparent in classic erotic literature from the Marquis De Sade, through Pauline Réage and beyond Henry Miller. All of which means this minor distinction is of little value.

The etymology for erotica suggests there is an element of love involved that is absent from pornography, but I personally think this point might also be unhelpful and misleading.

In Pauline Réage's The Story of O, the heroine loves her master. This affection should make the story fulfil the criteria of being unequivocally erotic. But because the story is only written from the heroine's perspective, we don't know the motivations of Sir Stephen, the martinet at Roissy who sexually dominates the heroine. If Sir Stephen loves O, then the story can be deemed erotic under the aforementioned definitions. If, on the other hand, Sir Stephen is simply a cruel bastard who gets his jollies from subjugating women without any emotional involvement or affection, then The Story of O becomes unmitigated porn. In this case it would seem the distinction hinges on the motives of one character in the story. And, as Sir Stephen's motives can never be known, we can never definitely say whether The Story of O is erotic or pornographic.

It should also be noted that the ideology in the OED's definitions invest "sexual love" with a status of being highly esteemed while "sex for cash" languishes with far less respect at the other end of the cline. This is apparent in the phrasing of the different definitions, with erotica pertaining to "literature or art" and pornography referring to material that is simply "printed or visual." The implied ideology here suggests that erotica is in some way superior to pornography with literature and art being considered of higher value than printed or visual material.

But these definitions also mean that all erotic literature—if it has been printed—can be classified as pornography. All erotic art, paintings, photography, sculptures—being visual mediums—are categorically pornographic.

Therefore: all erotica can be described as being pornographic.

Conversely, if an example of any pornography can be deemed to have any artistic merit, it can also be effectively described as erotica. As the term artistic merit has been used to describe the attributes of various Turner Prize Winners (which include light bulbs, elephant dung, formaldehyde and dead cows) it doesn't take a strong argument to suggest that the term artistic merit is highly subjective and open to a very broad interpretation.

Consequently, it's arguable that the words erotica and pornography can be used interchangeably. Trying to define a difference between them is comparable with the difference between going to see a movie and going to see a film.

Yet still the argument rages on. And on. And on.

The key issue here is not to define the difference between erotica and porn: but to ask why we should need to define a difference. If we're reading or writing material that is sexually arousing, does it matter what it's called?

A long time back on ERWA I remember that M Christian planted his tongue firmly in his cheek to eruditely demonstrate the subjectivity of this debate. "I read erotica," he explained, "you read smut, and they read porn."

And, in essence, I think that sums up the main issue of the whole debate. The denotations of the two words are strikingly similar. The connotations are societally imposed. Erotica is associated with literature and the high arts and has implications of elitism. Pornography is scathingly regarded as slap-off material for the lower echelons. The difference between the two is not in the subject, content or material. The difference isn't even in the audience's interpretation. The difference between these two categories is usually decided by outside parties who simply wish to pass judgement.

So, what do I think is the difference between erotica and porn? In writing this article I've changed my mind from my original glib and flippant response. I no longer think the difference is 1p a word. Now I'd say the difference isn't even that much.

Ashley Lister
September 2007

Find more of Ashley's Write Stuff in ERWA 2007 Archive.

"The Write Stuff" © 2007 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

About the Author:  Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, Swingers: True Confessions from Today's Modern Swinging Scene (Virgin Books), a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his first title published under his own name.
Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica.  Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto.  He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.
Email:  Ashley Lister

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'07 Book Reviews


A for Amour / B for Bondage
Review by Ashley Lister

Best Women's Erotica '07
Review by Ashley Lister

The Butcher, The Baker...
Review by Ashley Lister

C is for Coeds
Review by Ashley Lister

Cream: The Best of ERWA
Review by Ashley Lister

Cream: The Best of ERWA
Perceptions by Cervo

Coming Together for the Cure
Review by Lisabet

Review by Ashley Lister

F is for Fetish
Review by Ashley Lister

Got a Minute?
Review by Ashley Lister

He's on Top
Review by Ashley Lister

Love on the Dark Side
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Lust: ...Fantasies for Women
Review by Ashley Lister

The Mammoth Book Vol 6
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Naughty Spanking Stories
Review by Ashley Lister

Quickies 1
Review by Angelika Devlyn

She's on Top
Review by Ashley Lister

Sixteen of the Best
Review by Ashley Lister


Amorous Woman
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Boss
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Burning Bright
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Call Me By Your Name
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Review by Lisabet Sarai

Review by Ashley Lister

Dark Designs
Review by Ashley Lister

Equal Opportunities
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Review by Angelika Devlyn

Review by Angelika Devlyn

Gothic Blue
Review by Ashley Lister

Review by Ashley Liste

The Lords of Satyr: Nicholas
Review by Helen E. H. Madden

Love Song of the Dominatrix
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Review by Angelika Devlyn

Riding the Storm
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Silver Collar
Review by Ashley Lister

Review by Ashley Lister

Suite Seventeen
Review by Ashley Lister

Sweet as Sin
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Tiffany Twisted
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Top of Her Game
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Whalebone Strict
Review by Ashley Lister

Wife Swap
Review by Gary Russell

Wings of Madness
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Gay Erotica

Historical Obsessions
Review by Erastes

Homosex: 60 Years of Gay...
Review by Erastes

Mammoth Book of New Gay...
Review by Erastes

Review by Lisabet Sarai

Lesbian Erotica

Iridescence:...Lesbian Erotica
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Sex Guides

The Path of Service
Review by Ashley Lister

Secrets of Porn Star Sex
Review by Ashley Lister

Touch Me There
Review by Ashley Lister


Concertina: An Erotic Memoir...
Review by Rob Hardy

Daddy's Girl
Review by Ashley Lister

Dirt for Art's Sake
Review by Rob Hardy

Entangled Lives
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Impotence: A Cultural History
Review by Rob Hardy

I, Goldstein: My Screwed...
Review by Rob Hardy

In Praise of the Whip
Review by Rob Hardy

Insatiable: ...Porn Star
Review by William S. Dean

Letters of a Portuguese Nun
Review by Rob Hardy

Mississippi Sissy
Review by Rob Hardy

Ron Jeremy
Review by Rob Hardy

Virgin: The Untouched...
Review by Rob Hardy

The Year of Yes
Review by Rob Hardy