Erotica v. Porn

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One of the many things in life, especially in the writing sphere, is to confront topics that we see as uncomfortable. Namely, when you see the title to this article, I know there are some odd feelings riled up. Well, maybe “riled” isn’t the right word, but rather a pique of interest. Whether that interest is good or bad is variable, but I hooked you, didn’t I?

Recently, there’s been a lot of debate centered around one topic: sex. The discussion is aimed mainly towards how this topic is being presented to society. After my post about Fifty Shades of Grey, I really wanted to write a post on the question of erotica and pornography. A lot of people say that this book was written to be a romantic erotica for the woman who wants to be sexually stimulated. Yet, when I read this novel, it was more like losing your virginity through the use of very explicit description of sex scenes. As a matter of fact, I tried to read the book by skipping these scenes, because it was getting a little weird. When I finished the book, however, I realized that I had no idea what the book was about, so I went back and read every single page. Guess what? All of the plot is in the sex, which takes up more than half the book.

Here’s the question, though: why was I so disturbed by these descriptions? As a writer, I fully support the use of language to help the reader fully understand what is going on in the story, and E.L. James did that. Besides the fact that she needs to improve some of her writing and grammatical skills, I thought she did better than most young adult authors who tried to write a crappy novel about summer romance. The way she uses certain vocabulary (sexual vocabulary) is disturbing to some people because that’s not what we normally see in everyday life. We don’t have lunch with other people while casually describing in physical detail our late night hookups: it sort of makes you want to puke.

Erotica and pornography have a similarity, though. They both seem to be everyone’s guilty pleasure, because, for some reason, it is hard to believe that we can be sexually aroused by a book. Or anything, at all. To be completely honest, I don’t understand why people are so disgusted when others become sexually aroused or turned on. Maybe it’s the fact that some do it in public? PDA? You mean, Please Don’t Already…

Yet, reading this book isn’t necessarily a public act. We don’t have to read Fifty Shades of Grey in public, and most people don’t for that very reason. Just like most people don’t watch porn in public. If we know that everyone is reading and watching this type of genre, then why do we even bother hiding it? It’s a waste of time.

So, yes. I was very honest in my post. I have read all three books of Fifty Shades of Grey, and I did watch the movie. As a writer, I do not see this as being a very well-written book, but I do applaud E.L. James’ courage to come out and write a book like this. She may not be a good writer, but she’s a smart one. To sell a book, you’ve got to get the readers’ attention, and she knows that. She did it, and it worked. Romantic? Perhaps, but it is a very different type of romance than your Jane Austen or Atonement setting. This isn’t hearts and flowers. And if you only read one scene, and not the whole book, you will mistake it as pornography.

Maybe not “mistake.” It could be pornography. Where is the line between erotica and pornography? It seems as if these days we are blurring the two categories to heed the heading of “guilty pleasure.”

As artists in this world, it takes courage to confront the things that discomfort us the most. As artists, we are expected to do just that, though. Blasphemous language and cuss words. Loud sexual displays. Or even the act of economizing sex as a business activity. Things that are not “socially acceptable” are the things that can scare us the most, and are likely too, as well. Full out admitting that you watch porn may earn you a label as a “pervert,” which I can guarantee you it does. It’s why so many people keep it a secret.

You should think about that, next time, though. Especially when you’re writing. Why are you holding back from using the cuss word? Is it because it makes you feel uncomfortable or because society won’t allow it? How do you feel about using the language?

Because we care too freakin’ much about what others think about us, we do things like this. We make mistakes that we could easily avoid. From a literary perspective, erotica and pornography are not the same thing. Sex is supposed to be “beautiful” and “special,” not exploited and meaningless, according to society. So we blur the two phrases together, because we have absolutely NO idea how to define them.

Crack a book, my friends. Or, perhaps, think a little outside your realm.

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2 thoughts on “Erotica v. Porn

  1. What society are you talking about? It makes a difference. Chin P’ing Mei is a pornographic novel, yet it is considered one of the six Chinese classic novels. Why so? The border between pornography and erotica often depends on a society’s concept of sexuality. It would be a mistake to assume that America’s concept of sexuality can be applied to the rest of the world!

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    • Of course this post is aimed mainly towards American society. Perhaps my lack of exposure to this type of reading affects my point of view, especially in American literature. I know with many Asian literature that this type of writing is actually more common. The problem is that the line is blurred because there is a lack of discussion on the topic, especially among the younger generations who seem to either be condoning or mocking this type of literature.

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