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.
Part I of this series (published November 30th 2015) examined the cultural, etymological, and societal definitions of erotica and pornography. Part II (published January 27th 2016) examined the potential differences between these two as it may or may not apply to the professionals working in each industry. Part III of this series will now examine what role, if any, the consumer of adult film may or may not play in the delineation of what constitutes Erotic Film or Pornographic Film and concludes this series with open ended inquiries and investigations yet to be explored. The reader should be aware that although the information in this article is drawn from statistical analysis and data that is clearly published, and although there will be generalizations drawn, in no way is the information provided here intended to stigmatize, define, or stereotype any one group of persons, or industry as whole. The purpose of this article is to open a healthy debate regarding the differences and similarities between these two subjects.
Most scholars, researchers, psychologists, therapists, and even viewers will agree that on some level erotica does not appeal exclusively to just our carnal need for stimulation and desire. Erotica, and in particular Erotic Film, engages our aesthetic sense of how this or that human figure or figures demonstrates the ideal of human ‘beauty,’ and how such ‘beauty’ impacts our understanding and thus our expression of human sexuality. Perhaps this is why there is an increasing trend towards many Adult Film companies beginning to employ and use male and female models representing a myriad of body types, sizes, ages, ethnic origins, figures, and interpretations of sexual expression, sexual contact, and sexual relationships. There is an increasing push in the Erotic Film Industry to represent the characters honestly, particularly the women, with the skin flaws, scars and so forth that are inherent in just being human and living on this dangerous planet.
Having stated this obvious truth, there is one other category to take into consideration as it pertains to the differences between Pornographic Film and Erotic Film or Erotic Cinema and it is a subject that I have purposely not introduced until the end of this series: that of the expression of human sexuality and the expression of this in a physical sense either on camera or off between consenting adults. Before we begin to delve into this very complex, sometimes bewildering, and definitely perplexing subject, we need to do so by clearly stating what I am using as terminology for this article. For the purposes of clarity, the following definitions are drawn from the American Psychological Association of sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation (American Psychological Association, 2011):
Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorized as male, female, or intersex (i.e., atypical combinations of features that usually distinguish male from female). There are a number of indicators of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia.
Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviors that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.
Gender identity refers to “one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender” (American Psychological Association, 2006). When one’s gender identity and biological sex are not congruent, the individual may identify as transsexual or as another transgender category (cf. Gainor, 2000).
Gender expression refers to the “...way in which a person acts to communicate gender within a given culture; for example, in terms of clothing, communication patterns and interests. A person’s gender expression may or may not be consistent with socially prescribed gender roles, and may or may not reflect his or her gender identity” (American Psychological Association, 2008, p. 28).
Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted. Categories of sexual orientation typically have included attraction to members of one’s own sex (gay men or lesbians), attraction to members of the other sex (heterosexuals), and attraction to members of both sexes (bisexuals). While these categories continue to be widely used, research has suggested that sexual orientation does not always appear in such definable categories and instead occurs on a continuum (e.g., Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953; Klein, 1993; Klein, Sepekoff, & Wolff, 1985; Shiveley & DeCecco, 1977). In addition, some research indicates that sexual orientation is fluid for some people; this may be especially true for women (e.g., Diamond, 2008; Golden, 1987; Peplau & Garnets, 2000).
Now that we have established, for the duration of this article, the terminology that will be used, we can explore the relationship between the expression of sexuality (and its sub categories as defined above) and that of the subject of Erotic versus Pornographic film. Why is this important? It is important because, as with all media and its productions, the question we need to ask is, “Does the media content, (i.e. the film being produced, whether Pornographic or Erotic), reflect the realities of the world in which we currently live?” This is an important question because it is the consumer who in some ways will partner with, and can at times dictate, the types of films produced in either category (Erotica or Pornography). At the end of all discussion on the subject of the differences between the two genres, there is the reality that a profit will need to occur so that the participants involved can receive their financial compensation for their professional work. The reader will notice that I did not use the phrase “payment for services rendered.” This is because today, thankfully, both industries are taking immense strides in treating their people as qualified, competent, experienced, and skilful actors, actresses, technicians, producers etc. and as such, are treating them with much more respect and regard as the professionals that they are.
It needs to be noted and acknowledged by the professionals in both industries, as well as the consumers, that “…the question of how media representations of the social world compare to the external ‘real’ world also raises several issues.” In their book Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences, Croteau, Hoynes and Milan put forward four very valid points: 1. Literature in media and cultural studies are not representations of reality because even if these are documentaries, they are crafted and edited by humans who will select and edit based on personal, known or unknown, biases and views, despite their best efforts to remain “true to reality”; 2. Media usually does not try to reflect the real world because, again, even if it is a documentary, “the limited time and resources” to present the piece will have significant impact on the final piece produced and distributed; 3. There is the issue of what defines the word “real” when referring to media representations, as clearly stated by the authors that, “In an age in which sociologists teach about the social constructions of reality and post modernists challenge the very existence of a ‘knowable reality,’ the concept of a ‘real’ world may seem like a quaint artifact from the past; and 4. Finally, media representations, particularly in both genres, as with all media and film, would suggest that representations of the social world should somehow reflect society at large. This is simply not the case, because film is used by many as an escape from reality, and because of this, “Gaps between media content and societal reality raise interesting questions that warrant our (the consumers’, the Professionals’, the Directors’ and the Producers’) attention” (Croteau, Hoynes, & Milan).
However, what is this ‘reality’ or this difference in media representations of ‘reality’ and societal constructs of ‘reality’ to which I am referring, and where does this come into play with the previous definitions of sex, sexuality, gender, gender identity, and gender expression as it pertains to this issue and the definitions of Porn versus Erotica? Why are all these seemingly unrelated topics important? These moving pieces/ definitions/ constructs are important because simply stated, sexuality, sexual expression, sexual relationships and the interactions of, expressions of, definitions of, and thus the portrayal of these human interactions are reflected in ‘real’ society; that is to say, an ‘average’ couple’s sexual interaction with each other, as well as what is portrayed in film, be it Erotic or Pornographic, is influenced by – as well as representative of – said pieces/ definitions/ constructs. Because of this fact, such a redefinition must include two concepts: person-based attraction and sexual fluidity.
In her book, “Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire,” Dr. Lisa Diamond states that “Most people believe that a relationship starts out with physical attraction and then deepens into a more significant emotional, intellectual, or spiritual bond,” whereas in her research in following a group of women over a period of years, charting their changes in sexual desire, expression, attractions etc. she found that the opposite was true (Diamond, 2008). While Dr. Diamond’s study focused only on women, and while it is true that current research shows that for the most part, “men with open gender schemas were typically heterosexually identified individuals who sought periodic same-sex contact for purposes of sexual release…(and) women, by contrast, (with) open gender schemas almost always entailed falling in love with a particular person,” it is still the case that both males and females, can, and do, “fall in love with” or become “attracted to” a person rather than a gender (Diamond, 2008). Because this is the fact, and because there is a tenuous link between the portrayal of said relationships in the media, and the media’s portrayal of said relationships as they appear in society, it follows that Porn and Erotic Film must and will change in order to take advantage of this two way link for the purposes of ‘staying in business.’ After all, at the end of this discussion Erotic Film and Pornographic film are both a part of the Adult Industry and as such, like any industry, it must make a profit in order to survive, so as to engage in the more advanced and esoteric ambitions of creativity and ‘art expression.’ To understand this relationship, all participants involved in the making and consuming of these genres, whether they realize it or not, experience two different types of sexual desire: Proceptivity and Arousability. “Proceptivity,” Dr. Diamond states, “or lust, can emerge spontaneously across a variety of environments and so can be thought of as situation independent,” whereas Arousability is situation dependent, i.e.:
A straightforward example of proceptive desire would be a general feeling of “horniness” that might emerge for no particular reason. The defining characteristic of proceptive desire is that it is highly motivating and often prompts individuals to seek sexual gratification. Arousability is quite different. It represents a person’s capacity to become interested in sex as a result of encountering certain situations or stimuli (such as the sexual advances of an attractive partner), even if the individual did not initially feel sexually motivated. The defining characteristic of arousability is that it is triggered by external cues or situations. As such, it can be thought of as situation-dependent [emphasis added] (Diamond, 2008).
Why does it matter whether the experience of a person or persons is an attraction based on proceptivity or arousability? It matters because inherent in all human beings is the longing to celebrate the varieties of sexual bliss, and the universal need for the human touch which can be found in participation in a carnal union. If this statement is true, then it follows that there has to be a re-defining, or at the very least a re-examination of the very definitions of sex, sexuality, gender etc. Toward this end, again, Dr. Diamond proposes a new model for defining, quantifying, and understanding sexuality and thus the expression of, and the engagement of, this one, uniquely human trait. She defines this new model as “A Dynamical Systems Approach to Sexuality” (Diamond, 2008). Please forgive me as I very purposely use a long excerpt from Dr. Diamond’s book, because I believe it to be vital that the reader grasp the concept of the Dynamical Systems Approach she is proposing and how relevant it is to the understanding not only of the diversities of Porn versus Erotica but also of human sexuality and sexual expression. There are two excerpts below. The first is cited from Dr. Lisa Diamond and the second from Dr. E. Thelen and Dr. L. B. Smith whom Dr. Diamond cites in her publication:
Dynamical Systems Models were originally developed by mathematicians and physicists to explain physical phenomena whose states varied over time, for example, swinging pendulums or cloud formations in the atmosphere. They analyze the multiple factors that determine the state of the system, to predict its pattern of change over time, which otherwise might seem random, arbitrary, and abrupt. In the late 1980s, a number of forward-thinking psychologists observed that the development of many complex human phenomena during infancy and childhood – such as language and motor skills – resembled dynamical systems. Specifically, they were characterized by periodic, abrupt, unpredictable spurts in skills and behaviors, contrary to classic models….
Dynamic Systems Models reject this idea, emphasizing instead that a person’s initial traits and subsequent environments are in constant, mutually influential interaction with one another, and that they come to progressively influence one another over time. As a result, you enter into each person-context interaction a slightly different person from the one you were at the last interaction. All your experiences are fundamentally shaped by what preceded them and set the stage for what follows.
As the psychologist Esther Thelen summarized with respect to child development (Diamond, 2008):
How a child behaves depends not only on the immediate current situation but also on his or her continuous short and longer-term history of acting, the social situation, and the biological constraints he or she was born with. Every action has within it the traces of previous behavior. The child’s behavior, in turn, sculpts his or her environment, creating new opportunities and constraints’ (Thelen, 1994).
Essentially, what Dr. Diamond is proposing is something those in the Adult Industry, both actors and actresses, as well as Producers, Directors, technicians and the like, have known for years, and it is a distinct reason as to why the industry has been around for hundreds of years in one format or another: Sex, sexual attraction, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and even to some extent, gender itself, are “initial traits” which we, being human, are exposed to different, “subsequent environments,” and these two factors “are in constant, mutually influential interaction with one another” which will “progressively influence one another over time.” Because of this fact, we will move from one “person-context interaction” to the next, “a slightly different person from the one (we) were at the last interaction.” In short then, all of our “experiences,” indeed our very existence living, breathing, and interacting with one another, “are fundamentally shaped by what preceded them and set the stage for what follows” (Diamond, 2008). The Adult Industry not only is aware of this fact, but in some sense, is a mirror reflection of, an active contributor to, and an influencer of, this very fact.
So then, what are the factors which create both stability and change in sex, sexual expression, sexual interaction, and sexual gratification and how can we better understand these factors so as to predict when they might possibly occur and why are we interested in Adult Entertainment? We are interested in this topic because of the above stated facts that film/media both reflect and influence, at the same time, the human condition. If this is the case then it stands to reason that Porn and Erotic film are going to both influence and reflect the participants and the consumers; and as such, all parties bear, whether they will accept it or not, equal responsibility in ensuring that such an influence is for the good of each party. Why?
It is increasingly clear that one of the ideas behind Erotic Film is to transcend its provocative subject and in so doing to add a third element or dimension: that of longing to celebrate the varieties of sexual bliss, and the universal need for the human touch which can be found in participation in a carnal union. Such a union may, in fact, carry deep within its caresses and/or expression, a hint of the divine: a divine, spiritual and metaphysical, as well as intangible and incorporeal, which exists in all human souls. An erotic film in most cases, for producers and participants, attempts to portray a perception of the human attraction between the participants, and the potential ecstasy that humans, through sexually joining, can share. Such a shared experience will not grow old, or become stale over time, whereas pornographic images generally do and as such tend to lead toward the more addictive behaviors exhibited by those who view such films and whose brazen and unashamed goal is simple and straightforward: titillation and immediate, intense arousal to cause an instantaneous stirring of the genitals. This is not to say that porn is either bad or good. It is merely an attempt to both quantify and qualify the reasons why both exist.
Admittedly, Erotic Film may wind up having the same effect on the viewer as was stated above. After all, it is the viewer of the film who is given the task of interpreting the final production. However, pornographers, and pornographic producers more often than not are far less motivated by the desire to faithfully represent what they may regard as beautiful or aesthetic. Rather, their undertaking is contrived to produce what they believe will turn the largest possible profit, (as always, stereotypical statements notwithstanding). Additionally, pornography is primarily a money-making venture. The very word porn, as stated at the beginning, invariably connotes a certain exploitation – at times degradation or desecration – of human sexuality. Many writers, producers, and Adult Film professionals and workers, (particularly feminists) have rightfully complained that when pornography, by objectifying women, reduces them to sex objects whose core value is to satisfy a man’s libidinous needs, it has bordered on the obscene and crossed the line from art to that of a simple sex transaction. Furthermore, when care, concern, tenderness, warmth, emotion, and feeling are all allowed to be presented, and indeed, strongly encouraged as being a part of the final outcome in the production of Erotic Film, said film will portray its subjects in a manner that accentuates and highlights their inner and outer radiance, and the work itself will appear to manifest a passionate and powerful affirmation of life and the pleasures of this world. Pornography, on the other hand, may be seen as being derogatory, exploitative, and almost barbaric in its egoistic lack of caring and concern. Pornography then, by its word definition, can be, in many cases, portrayed as literally sex without relationship.
It is this distinction which brings me to my final point: it is the human interaction, in other words the relationships which are built in the Erotic Film industry between the professional models participating in the film and the producers and technical professionals aiding in the completion of the final product, which may ultimately define the distinction between these two concepts.
Erotica and its sub category Erotic Film delve into how sex is a natural expression of and desire of being human and an expression of coupling which includes the sensuality of human touch, and that the sensation of this type of touch may be, for some individuals, necessary to their (our) very existence. It is part of a much larger, complex, interesting, and fuller, sensation and deeper story. It’s normal. It is just the act of ‘lovemaking.’ Review any Adult Erotic Film in which the relationship between the actors/actresses is clearly tender, endearing, caring, and involving mutual respect and warmth. The scenes and images will be diverse to be sure, yet there is always the underlying element of sensuality, sensitivity, affection and passion. In a truly Erotic Adult Film where all parties are willing participants, there is an acceptance and melding of bodies, nerve endings, and emotions which is readily portrayed in the final product and is an inescapable truth inherently seen by the viewer. The viewer may not know why he or she prefers this product over another film which is produced only for money and at the possible expense of its professional models; but they may instinctively recognize the difference, however subtle this difference may be. To quote Gloria Steinem:
There is always a spontaneous sense of people who are there because they want to be there out of shared pleasure… Now look at any depiction of sex in which there is clear force, or an unequal power that spells coercion… It may be very blatant… It may be much more subtle… In either case there is no sense of equal choice or equal power… The first is erotic: a mutually pleasurable, sexual expression between two people who have enough power to be there by positive choice… The second is pornographic: its message is violence, dominance and conquest. It is sex being used to reinforce some inequality, or to create one…”
The line between erotica and pornography can be extremely difficult to draw, as we have seen. One person’s erotica can be another person’s pornography. Yet, the real issue may be to discover what it is that promotes healthy sexuality, versus what depicts people as mere expendable sex objects who are only here to gratify our animalistic urges without any thought to their wellbeing as living, breathing, sentient, and ultimately, sexual, beings; beings who are to be respected, revered, and cared for as a unique creation and extension of our whole human existence. Pornography in the form of monetary exploitation of its workers will continue to be made as long as the public buys this product. Ultimately, if we believe there to be an abuse, debasement, and desecration of the individuals involved in the making of the product, by choosing not to use their services – and also by choosing not to pirate from free sites those films we actually DO believe to be Erotic Film – only then can we ensure that both the viewer and the individuals on screen have an erotic experience instead.
American Psychological Association (2011). sexuality-definitions.pdf. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from www.apa.com: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf
American Psychological Association (2006) Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients Retrieved February 17, 2016 from www.apaoutside.org: http://apaoutside.apa.org/PubIntCSS/Public/pdfs/Guidelines-for-Psych-Practice-with-LGB-Clients.pdf
Gainor (2000) Gainor, K.A. (2000). Including transgender issues in lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology: Implications for clinical practice and training. In B. Greene & G.L. Croom (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on lesbian and gay issues: Vol. 5. Education, research, and practice in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered psychology: A resource manual (pp. 131-160).
Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard (1953) Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.
Klein (1993) The bisexual option. (2nd ed.). New York: Harrington Park.
Klein, Sepekoff, & Wolff (1985) Sexual orientation: A multivariable dynamic process. Journal of Homosexuality, 11(1/2), 35-49.
Shiveley & DeCecco (1977) Shively, M.G., and DeCecco, J.P. Components of sexual identity. J. Homosexuality. 1977;3:41-48.)
Diamond, L.M. (2008). Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire. Harvard Press.
Golden (1987) Diversity and variability in women’s sexual identities. In Boston Women’s Psychologies Collective (Eds.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp. 19-34). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Peplau & Garnets (2000) Issues in psychotherapy with lesbians and gay men: A survey of psychologists. American Psychologist, 46, 964-972.
Croteau, D., Hoynes, W., & Milan S. (2008) Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences.
Thelen, E.A. (1994). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Steinem, G. (1978) Erotica and Pornography: A Clear and Present Difference. Ms. November 1978, p. 53-54.