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All Worked Up About Writing Porn

by J.T. Benjamin


J.T. Benjamin

“Why porn?”

I get asked that question a lot. “Why do you spend so much time writing about sex and pornography and watching porn and reading porn and contributing to the ERWA website? You could be applying your talents and energies to so many more worthwhile pursuits.”

Let me answer these questions in reverse order, if I may. Firstly, I contribute to ERWA because it’s the classiest and best forum for the readers and writers of porn (excuse me…erotica) on the internet and I consider it an honor to be, in some small way, part of what makes it great. (Shameless plug).

To answer the next question, I look at porn movies and read dirty stories and visit porn websites for …uh…research purposes! Pure and simple. Next question.

Why do I write porn? The answer to that question’s a little more complicated. First, we need to clarify exactly what is “pornography.” The most popular definitions of porn usually involve legal authorities, such as, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it,” as quoted by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, or as the old legal maxim puts it, “Pornography is whatever gives a judge a hard-on.” The most effective definition I’ve ever come upon was by writer and social commentator Wendy McElroy, who said, “Pornography is the explicit artistic depiction of men and/or women as sexual beings.”

Ms. McElroy’s definition is useful, but for the purposes of this essay I want to go a little bit further. Specifically, I want to go back to the very beginning. The very word “pornography” didn’t come into common usage until the latter half of the 19th Century. That’s when British archaeologists began digging through the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, two Roman cities which had been buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in C.E. 79. The archaeologists were shocked to discover perfectly preserved examples of highly erotic writings, etchings, sculptures, frescos, and other artistic depictions of sex. The British intellectual community was highly troubled by these discoveries, so much so that they encouraged the passage of the first anti-pornography laws to keep these sexually charged finds away from the wandering eyes of the general public. The fears of the British intellectuals were—and I’m not making this up—that if the masses learned of the existence of these highly erotic works of art, they’d be so sexually worked up they’d spend all their time masturbating instead of working, and the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of the British Empire and, dare it be said, the advancement of all mankind would correspondingly grind to a halt.

Therefore, from the very invention of the word, there have been two critically distinct elements of the word “pornography.” First, the term “pornography” indicates content of a sexual nature and, correspondingly, when the content is of a sexual nature, the element of “art” is removed. This much is obvious. While the artistic depiction of nudes has been commonplace throughout history, it’s only when the depiction takes on a sexual context that the question, “Is this porn and is it therefore unartistic” arises. Compare reactions to the famous sculpture, “Venus de Milo” with those of Manet’s “Olympia” and you get the idea. Manet’s model is blatantly and unabashedly sexual in her pose and in her depiction by the master. It’s a stark contrast to the most common reaction to the “Venus” sculpture, which is that of a pristine, untainted depiction of the female figure.

More recently, a few years ago the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case in which the central question was whether Erie, Pennsylvania could prohibit public nudity without violating the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. In a nutshell, the Court concluded that if a stripper wore pasties and a g-string, any message she was trying to convey was as completely effective as if she’d been wearing nothing at all. In other words, pure sexuality, in and of itself, has no artistic value. In fact, it detracts from the artistic value of the message.

Secondly, once it is clear that the artistic depiction is sexual in nature, the common reaction is that the depiction must be kept away from exposure to the general mass of people. Let people stare all they want at non-sexually oriented media, but once the element of S-E-X enters the picture, hide it away. This turns the common perception of art completely upside-down. Under most circumstances, the uneducated masses are free to look at all the uncouth, ugly artistic depictions that they want; the higher, more refined depictions of the human experience are reserved for, and are more appreciated by, the cultural elite. However, when it comes to depictions of sex, the more ugly and graphic depictions should be reserved for the elites, while the more sanitary and more culturally bland stuff is best left to the unwashed masses.

These two concepts appear to contradict each other. Sex has no artistic value in and of itself, but sexually charged media has so much impact upon people that only the truly educated and sophisticated can appreciate whatever value it may have.

If we extend that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, it therefore seems that when it comes to graphic depictions of sex, the more explicitly sexual content a form of media has, the more closely that media resembles…high art, right?

No. That can’t be right. All those x-rated websites and magazines and books and stories that leave nothing to the imagination, those can’t be considered “art”, can they?

Just for fun, I went digging through some of my library’s books of quotations, and I came across a few gems.

“Art was made to disturb,” Georges Braque, French painter.

“True artists scorn nothing,” Albert Camus, Nobel Prize-winning French novelist.

“Art is vice. One does not wed it, one rapes it.” Edgar Degas, French artist.

“Art is always subversive. It’s something that should NOT be free. Art and liberty, like the fire of Prometheus, are things that one must steal, to be used against the established order.” Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist.

“The task which the artist implicitly sets himself is to overthrow existing values, to make of the chaos about him an order which is his own, to sow strife and ferment so that by the emotional release those who are dead may be restored to life.” Henry Miller, American writer.

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” Anais Nin, American writer.

Taking these artists at their word, (and why shouldn’t we?) it seems clear that to them, art challenges the established order; it subverts the conventional paradigm. It sows strife and ferment. It disturbs. It shocks.

What, then, is more disturbing and shocking to most people than the explicit and graphic depiction of men and women as sexual beings?

When it comes to motives, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself. However, speaking only for myself, the answer to the question, “Why porn,” is simply, “Because I am an artist, and porn is art.”

It’s art! Art, art, art, art, art, art, ART, dammit!

J.T. Benjamin
March 2010

If you have comments or questions about this column, please drop by J.T. Benjamin's blog or send an email to J.T. Benjamin

Get All Worked Up with J.T. Benjamin in ERWA 2010 Archive.

"All Worked Up" © 2010 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

About the Author:† J.T.Benjamin says, "I'm a generalist. I write about what interests me, which is just about everything." His resume reflects the diversity of his interests. He's been a disk jockey, insurance salesman, private investigator, journalist, college professor, child advocate, political activist, truckdriver, thief,, lawyer, Indian Chief. He's currently trying to start a hippie commune in the Denver/Boulder area.
Email:† J.T. Benjamin

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