For those of us who have never pondered upon the fact that porn and erotica are different, Fisher’s comment comes as a surprise. Though the statement has subtle undertones of class consciousness on her part, it does arouse our curiosity. Very few of us have ever thought about erotica and porn as separate entities – they have always been overlapping each other in our minds.
Erotica is any artistic work that deals substantively with erotically stimulating or sexually arousing subject matter. All forms of art may depict erotic content, including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music, or literature. Erotica has high-art aspirations, differentiating it from commercial pornography.
On the other hand, pornography can be described as a creative activity (writing, pictures, films, etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire.
Furthermore, retired American clinical psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, in a 2011 article distinguishing erotica and pornography wrote:
“If the work has been executed erotically, it’s generally assumed that the creator viewed the subject matter as praiseworthy. Something to take pleasure in, celebrate, exalt, glorify.”
He further adds, “Unlike pornography, it doesn’t appeal exclusively to our senses or carnal appetites. It also engages our aesthetic sense, our judgment about how this or that figure illustrates an ideal of human beauty.”
The biggest point that Seltzer makes about erotica helps us get a better understanding of what he is exactly trying to say: “What finally determines the work’s eroticism is how the artist (or, for that matter, author or composer) APPROACHES their subject.”
Meanwhile, the sole objective of pornography is to turn on the viewer. The aim of the pornographer is not to help their audience rejoice in the human form or honor physical intimacy in any way. Thus, pornography’s only purpose is immediate and intense arousal.
This often leads to the question that doesn’t erotica end up having the same effect as porn? The answer is NO. The idea behind erotica is to celebrate sexual bliss and the universal desire for carnal union. It won’t grow old or become stale over time – as pornographic images generally do. After all, how many of us go back repeatedly to the same pornographic video we watched five years back?
In addition, pornography is mainly a money-making venture, which is not always the case with erotica. Also, an issue about porn that feminists have been voicing for a long time is that pornography, by objectifying women, reduces them to sex objects whose core value is to satisfy a man’s lustful needs.
Despite all the variations between the two, what is one individual’s erotica may well be another’s pornography and vice versa. Furthermore, what is banal to one person (for example, a sculpture of a mermaid) may elicit a sexual response in others.
Finally, we as a society are not good at discussing sex, and yet the argument over what counts as porn and what is erotica very relevant. At least the act of differentiating these genres opens conversations and helps to sort out what some of the problems are with writing, and reading, about sex.