About the author: SexArt member BlackWing has a Bachelor of Science in Health and Safety Education, minor in Physiology, and a Master of Science in Computer Science, Network Engineering Concentration. BlackWing is also a fully qualified and experienced paramedic and personal fitness trainer who enjoys outdoor activities, running, martial arts, teaching, mentoring, and hacking.
The following article is Part I of a three part series, which will explore the similarities and differences between Erotica versus Porn as it applies to Art and to the Adult Film industry in particular. Part I of this series examines the cultural, etymological, and societal definitions of erotica and pornography. The reader should be aware that although this information is drawn from statistical analysis and published data, and although there will be generalizations drawn, in no way is the information provided here intended to stigmatize, define, and/or stereotype any one group, persons, or industries as a whole. The purpose of this article is to open a healthy debate regarding the similarities and differences between these two subjects.
Erotica Versus Porn: Which do you support?
“Human beings seem to be the only animals that experience the same sex drive and pleasure when we can and cannot conceive.” – Gloria Steinem
A “touch-less” society can lead to failure to thrive and death in newborn babies, something that came to light in the early 1900s. Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, then known as one of America's first and finest pediatricians, came to the conclusion that parents spoiled their children by cuddling and holding them too much. Parents wishing to be on the cutting edge of good child rearing took notice and began following this newly touted theory. Thus began the trend of “hands-off parenting” and “a child should be seen and not heard.” Within a few short years of Dr. Holt’s egocentric pronunciation, doctors across the United States began to notice a deadly trend: a catastrophic increase in infant deaths, particularly in seemingly healthy babies. The medical studies which followed revealed that these infants experienced “failure to thrive,” simply because they were not getting enough human contact through touch. There are numerous studies of infants in orphanages who suffered from touch deprivation and achieved only half of the height normal for their age.i
Why is this an important fact? Because it is well known that we, as a species of the animal kingdom, are the only species who not only have developed the unique capacity for human, spoken language, yet also the unique capacity for human touch; and, as we become adults, this capacity to experience the pleasures of touch in the form of sexual expression is completely independent of the need for procreation for the purposes of extending the life span of our species. Thus enters the debate of Erotica versus Porn. Which is which, and which of these two are we supporting? Why does this matter? If it does matter, then is Erotica “better than” Porn? More importantly, do the professionals in both industries see a difference? Do we as the consumers see a difference? Finally, how does our consumption of both affect those working in these industries?
Pornography is defined as “sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal,”ii and its origins come from the ancient Greek word pornographos meaning the writing of harlots, and from porne, a harlot + graphein meaning to write. The history of the word pornography can be further delved into. In 1843 a writer recorded pornography as being of or referring to an "ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus.” In the French language the word hails from pornographie originally meaning, or referring to, a person who was "bought, purchased" (with an original notion, probably, of "female slave sold for prostitution").iii From these definitions and from the word origin itself it is clear that the word pornography is meant to imply in some form or fashion sex and/or sexual acts, or sexually explicit material which is used for the sole purpose of eliciting some form of sexual arousal and, most importantly, to mean that some form of monetary trade “for services rendered,” occurs. With this monetary transaction and subsequent delivery of said “services” there is usually the result of one human having power over the other.
Erotica, on the other hand, is defined as “literature or art dealing with sexual love.”iv The word erotica comes from the Greek word eros, and the neuter, plural word erotikós.vAs the reader can see there is an extremely blurred line between what types of literature, art, paintings etc. constitute porn and what of these same artistic expressions constitute erotica. While American and European courts have yet to define the difference between these two terms, still struggle with what is settled as pornography versus erotica, and because the etymological definitions of the two words tend to confuse this issue even more, there does seem to be one underlying concept which is gaining ground as a possible defining element between the two: the purpose or motive behind the acts or depictions themselves, and in film, this motive is expressed in terms of the quality, type, and sexual expression of the human touch between the characters participating/acting in the films.
Because such key distinctions are gaining ground, some have argued that pornography has a tendency toward graphic depiction of sexually explicit scenes, while erotica "seeks to tell a story that involves sexual themes that include a more plausible depiction of human sexuality than (is portrayed) in pornography.”vi Indeed, for us as humans, only we have the capacity to experience the act of sex itself as a way of giving and receiving physical, mental, emotional, pleasure, touch, and comfort, as a result of the bonding that occurs during sex. Due to the fact that we as humans explore our sexuality as completely separate from procreation, and that this exploration between adults, when engaged in in a healthy, consenting way, can and should delve into desire, love, sexuality, human anatomy and passion through the mystery and intrigue of the physical touch which occurs during sex and sexual acts, sexual acts between said consenting adults are subconsciously thought of by most, if not all of us, as an act of very realistic tenderness with “dangerous” consequences: it allows us to connect to another human being in a way that is completely intimate and open and thus in some ways bares the core of our nature to the other consenting participant(s). The very existence of this inexplicable, potential connection between the participants involved in the mutually reciprocated “carnal act,” is what makes “erotica” and “pornography” both so fundamentally different yet so confusing as to potentially cause immediate “shock” or a sense of “disgust” towards anyone who engages in, uses, or in any way participates in the creation of, production of, and dissemination of, either one. Quite frankly, as humans, we prefer anonymity and become uncomfortable with any person(s) or circumstance(s) which question or shed light on our deepest desires which are to be seen for who we are: thinking, feeling, sexual beings. And most of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves and/or each other, usually prefer to believe that if we do not discuss the issues of our desires, sexuality, and sexual expressions, they therefore must not exist. Both the creation of Erotica and Pornography shed blinding light on all three of these items with unintentional but brutal impartiality and honesty.
Add to these facts that a movie, an art depiction, a picture, etc. might have elements of both the erotic and the pornographic, and it must ultimately be left to the viewer to subjectively determine what is erotic versus pornographic in their own minds. However, that being said erotica has arisen as an art form, particularly in the Adult Film industry as beginning to “out pace” porn in terms of its production and consumption for viewers. There is some speculation that because erotica tends to have a compelling story, well-developed characters, particularly the female characters, ultimately conveys an underlying, mostly positive message, and tends to have well-crafted sex scenes integral to the story which may or may not necessarily arouse the audience; it is therefore seen as a movie that portrays sex contextually and has artistic merit. (An example of this would be the erotic film “Like Water for Chocolate.”)
It goes without saying, but nevertheless must be noted that, speaking in terms of concrete reality, (and I use this definition very loosely), anyone who believes they can draw a hard and fast line between the two is greatly mistaken. Both erotica and porn are designed to arouse, yet they will, for the most part, take very different pathways to that same destination. Additionally, erotica and porn are also subjective terms; what is classified or defined in one person’s mind as erotic and what is classified or defined in another person’s mind as pornographic is going to be utterly, completely, and distinctly different and unappealing to each other. It is very clear that the criterion, which is used to differentiate Erotic Film from Pornographic Film, is embedded in personal moral, aesthetic, religious, and cultural values. It is also clear that many cultures and societies regard these two orientations to the expression of human sexuality as being superimposed upon one another and/or being essentially identical. However they actually do exist on very different planes when one takes into account the participants involved. Herein lies the crux of the argument: since the viewer’s opinion of the distinction between these two is subjective then perhaps further examination needs to be extended to the performers of these two types of films themselves?
In Part II of this series we will examine the professionals both in front of and behind the camera who produce these features to see if any common correlations can be drawn to differentiate their views on these two subjects. In the meantime we would like to elicit comments from both the consumers and the professionals in the Adult Film Industry. What are your viewpoints, opinions, and ideas? What are your experiences? Please feel free to engage in this discussion before the next installment as hosted by SexArt.
iThe Care and Feeding of Children,” Dr. Luther Emmett Holt, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther_Emmett_Holt
ii "pornography," Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 11 Nov. 2015. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pornography
iii "pornography." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 11 Nov. 2015. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pornography
iv "erotica." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 11 Nov. 2015. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/erotica
v "erotica." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 11 Nov. 2015. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/erotica.
vi "Erotica,” Griffith, J., Mitchell, S., Hart, C., Adams, L., & Gu, L. (2012). Pornography Actresses: An Assessment of the Damaged Goods Hypothesis Journal of Sex Research, 1–12 DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2012.719168 Is Not Pornography". William J. Gehrke. The Tech. December 10, 1996.