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Subject: Pornography / Erotica Distinctions rss

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T. Nomad
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This came up over in the microbadge forum, when I requested a porn lovers' MB.

I maintain there is no intrinsic difference between the two, and that it is a question of word choice and possibly taste and sensibilities.

Have at 'er (the issue, that is).
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Kunnagh Scott
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Hmm... That's a hard one...
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colleens wrote:
I'm disappointed that your microbadge didn't make it in.


It didn't?

 
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Alex Treacher
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Right... cracks knuckles and rolls up sleeves for better hand-to-hand debating

OK, point one. We're not going to find any right or wrong answers from this, although it can be fun trying. While I feel that there is a distinction between erotica and pornography (and I'm not alone in that opinion) trying to isolate a specific definition will probably be forever elusive, since it's so much a matter of personal taste.

Right having said that, a few credentials. I'm a professional photographer and a large part of the work that I do is nude/fine art/erotica/fetish. I would hold that I don't shoot pornography however. Note that working in this field doesn't mean that my opinion is automatically right or wrong – but it is a topic that I often give thought to, talk about or am challenged on.

Dictionary definitions of pornography tend to include mentions of causing offence, being obscene or explicit. A typical example is this one that I've just grabbed from dictionary.com:

obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit.

Look up erotica and you'll find definitions emphasising a 'softer' art form – concentrating on desire, sexual love and the like. Again, from dictionary.com:
literature or art dealing with sexual love.

And yet, WordNet (whatever WordNet is, but that's not important!) defines erotica thus:
creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire [syn: pornography]

So that's nice and clear-cut, isn't it?

Basically I feel that we each create our own definitions. Mine are pretty much in line with the first two examples above – that erotica is artistic; it's beautiful to look at (or read, but I'm considering photos, art and sculpture mainly here) and not explicit. Often – and my own photography often falls into this area – little or nothing needs to be shown; merely hinted at. Erotica engages the mind, while pornography merely engages the eyes and the glands.

Pornography is more 'workmanlike'; it will show a couple having sex (or whatever else might float your boat) without any consideration or regard for its artistic merits. It won't hint or be coy, and won't beat around the bush (if you'll forgive the pun!).

Erotica is a candlelit meal following by a fur rug in front of a real fire; pornography is a back-alley quickie.

Obviously a person's own taste, experience and broad-mindedness makes a huge difference to where they might place any particular example. Occasionally I'll have someone consider my work to be “a bit strong”, but that's uncommon. I dare say that for many people it's a bit tame.

A very good percentage of the buyers of my work, probably a bit over half, are women. Then couples, and finally the smallest percentage is probably single males. (Considering why this might be could be another topic entirely!) When a straight woman can look at one of my photos of another woman and say that she really likes it, then I consider that to be erotica rather than pornography. When I'm showing someone the results of a shoot and they're surprised, astonished and pleased, saying that she's never seen herself like that before, then that's a very pleasing moment for me – and not pornography.

Time for me to now get off my soapbox and hand the mike over to someone else...

Alex
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Joe Grundy
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So what about a fetish (carved figure) from an ancient culture? eg especially one showing a single human figure which is almost asbtractly grotesquely exaggerated in a sexual way.
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Alex Treacher
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jgrundy wrote:
So what about a fetish (carved figure) from an ancient culture? eg especially one showing a single human figure which is almost asbtractly grotesquely exaggerated in a sexual way.


Depends on how the viewer sees it. To little old granny, it's probably pornography. To someone else, erotica.

Personally I wouldn't classify it as either. It's a historical artefact, almost certainly symbolising fertility in one way or another - either on a personal level, or as an icon of a fertility god/goddess.

Context changes as time passes. Also different cultures have completely different views on the subject depending (usually) on their primary religion. I wouldn't put present day values or terminology on a four-thousand year old artefact without referring to its probable origin and context. Can you imagine what someone from the year 6,000 might make of photos from today - say a latex-clad dominatrix wearing a gas-mask? Chances are they probably wouldn't get it 100% right either!
 
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Joe Grundy
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Mulling some thoughts for the sake of mincing words:

As always with trying to "define the meaning of ..." I think there are multiple valid meanings to both words.

eg Something can be "erotic" in the sense that although not at all explicitly sexual it evokes sexual feeling. Whereas something can be "erotica" by being clearly about sexuality without being explicity and without directly evoking any direct sexual response.

In the general sense, I think the terms overlap. I reckon you could shoot a movie, where if you watch the first two thirds you'd call the whole thing "erotica" and if you watch the last two thirds you'd call it "pornographic".

Or another possibility... "pornography" is the entire space of explicitly sexual depictions (regardless of whether they depict actual sexual activity). There's a whole market of "soft porn". To be ironic... it's "erotic" if it invokes explicit sexual feelings in the viewer (a purely subjective reaction) which rumour has it much or most "pornography" fails at dismally... probably because it's so subjective. But it's "erotica" if it doesn't invoke explicit sexual feelings in the viewer while not offending them either.

If you take an "elegant and artistic photo" of a female nude, and she likes it and hangs it on her own wall, it's erotica. If her ex steals a copy and posts it on the internet, the same work becomes porn.
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Bela's dead and Vampira won't talk
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Thankfully there's already legal precedence for this one in Jacobellis v. Ohio.
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Rob Herman
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Erotica = what I like
Pornography = what you like

Alternatively, the Brunching Shuttlecocks has a pretty good checklist that should help you distinguish: http://www.brunching.com/eroticaorporn.html
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Isaac Citrom
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le_cygne wrote:
Thankfully there's already legal precedence for this one in Jacobellis v. Ohio.


"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it,...."--Justice Potter Stewart
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William Boykin
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Lighting.

Erotica: Soft Lighting.
Pornography: Direct Lighting.

The rest is details.

Darilian
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Alex Treacher
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Darilian wrote:
Erotica: Soft Lighting.
Pornography: Direct Lighting.


Heh - you're actually not a million miles away from the truth there!
 
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tommynomad wrote:
I maintain there is no intrinsic difference between the two ...


Two words: DEAD EYES
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It's simple really...

Erotica is material that engenders more intense experiences with your partner. Whether through the excitation of your imaginations or through exposing your mutual desires, it heighthens expectations and prolongs the pleasures you both enjoy.

Porn is what guys beat off to.... or gals diddle to.
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"It's not porn unless someone's getting sticky."- Bill Hicks
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DWTripp wrote:
It's simple really...

Erotica is material that engenders more intense experiences with your partner. Whether through the excitation of your imaginations or through exposing your mutual desires, it heighthens expectations and prolongs the pleasures you both enjoy.

Porn is what guys beat off to.... or gals diddle to.


I call BS on this. I've known women who read "erotica" and there is nothing about engendering "more intense experiences with your partner" -it is sex for the sake of sex. Period. IMO it is a way for some people to experience pr0n and feel better about themselves because they call it something else and treat it as "natural human sexuality" so they can feel OK about it and they convince themselves it doesn't objectify and blah blah blah - although IMO it still does.

I agree with the OP - no diff or the lighting thing is probably also accurate although less so in written form

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T. Nomad
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Prodromoi wrote:
're not going to find any right or wrong answers from this, although it can be fun trying. While I feel that there is a distinction between erotica and pornography (and I'm not alone in that opinion) trying to isolate a specific definition will probably be forever elusive, since it's so much a matter of personal taste.

Which is exaclty why I suggest in the first place that there is no empirical difference: what many consider erotic, others call pornographic, and vice-versa. The only difference is in the seeing, and the seer. I therefore use the words interchangeably.

Quote:
Right having said that, a few credentials.

I have a lifelong interest in both sexually-themed art (got my first look at Playboy about when I started learning to read), and in questioning norms & "values." I have been taking pornographic pictures since I was 20, and writing erotica since I was about 23, including one short published work. I have a Master's degree in feminist pornographic literature.

Quote:
Dictionary definitions of pornography tend to include mentions of causing offence, being obscene or explicit. A typical example is this one that I've just grabbed from dictionary.com:

obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit.

Look up erotica and you'll find definitions emphasising a 'softer' art form – concentrating on desire, sexual love and the like. Again, from dictionary.com:
literature or art dealing with sexual love.

Dictionary definitions are records of use, not statements of meaning. If enough people call a tree "falafel," lexicographers are duty-bound to record it. Nevertheless, there are literally thousands of examples of sexually-themed art which confound and/or conflate these two (or any two) definitions.

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Basically I feel that we each create our own definitions.

My position exactly. Which to me means the same thing as
"As far as content goes, there is no disctinction to be made between the two."

Quote:
Mine are pretty much in line with the first two examples above – that erotica is artistic; it's beautiful to look at (or read, but I'm considering photos, art and sculpture mainly here) and not explicit.

What about beautiful stuff that is explicit? By putting forward two elements in the definition, you leave the door open for art that defeats it.

Quote:
Erotica engages the mind, while pornography merely engages the eyes and the glands.

I like it, but it's still problematic. What if something is clever, subversive, and hardcore explicit at the same time. Have you seen "The Good Girl"?

Quote:
Pornography is more 'workmanlike'; it will show a couple having sex (or whatever else might float your boat) without any consideration or regard for its artistic merits. It won't hint or be coy, and won't beat around the bush (if you'll forgive the pun!).

As long as puns are intended, they're a perfectly valid and honourable art form, I say.
I think lots of pornographers strive to create beautiful, striking art. Mapplethorpe comes to mind. (see what I did there?) I also think coyness can be contrived, boring and inartistic. Lots of Benny Hill is coy, and sexual: that doesn't make it erotic to me.

Quote:
Erotica is a candlelit meal following by a fur rug in front of a real fire; pornography is a back-alley quickie.

What about a candlelit meal followed by a back-alley quickie (next to a fire-in-a-garbage-can) with a werewolf?

Quote:
Obviously a person's own taste, experience and broad-mindedness makes a huge difference to where they might place any particular example. Occasionally I'll have someone consider my work to be “a bit strong”, but that's uncommon. I dare say that for many people it's a bit tame.

And yet millions of people call Playboy "pornography" or even "violence." Again, the definitions are not based in content.

Quote:
A very good percentage of the buyers of my work, probably a bit over half, are women. Then couples, and finally the smallest percentage is probably single males. (Considering why this might be could be another topic entirely!)

Fifteen years ago as part of my research, I interviewed a representative of the largest porn retailer in Canada. They sold toys, films, kept a swingers database: basically served the kink community in every way, and all behind glazed windows so as not to offend the general public (except that those same people were their customers). Even in a shop that was unabashedly 'pornographic' by virtual all definitions, their clientele breakdown was roughly 50% couples, 40% single men, 10% single women.
Who buys it does not define what it is any more than who produces it.


Quote:
When a straight woman can look at one of my photos of another woman and say that she really likes it, then I consider that to be erotica rather than pornography. When I'm showing someone the results of a shoot and they're surprised, astonished and pleased, saying that she's never seen herself like that before, then that's a very pleasing moment for me – and not pornography.

Even if the picture is--for example--a graphic representation of that woman having real sex with multiple partners? Or sitting facing the camera, legs spread, masturbating? I know (or at least I think I know) you don't take those pictures, but there are lots of women who might admire in the same way hardcore representations. There are lots of women who make hardcore representations.

Quote:
Time for me to now get off my soapbox and hand the mike over to someone else...
Alex

I don't think you were on a soapbox at all (maybe we define soapbox differently, too!). I thought your contributions, especially coming from someone who produces erotica, were wonderful!
 
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tommynomad wrote:

Quote:
Erotica is a candlelit meal following by a fur rug in front of a real fire; pornography is a back-alley quickie.

What about a candlelit meal followed by a back-alley quickie (next to a fire-in-a-garbage-can) with a werewolf?


Heaven.
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Bela's dead and Vampira won't talk
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(You didn't think this microbadge was for the game, did you?)
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jgrundy wrote:
So what about a fetish (carved figure) from an ancient culture? eg especially one showing a single human figure which is almost asbtractly grotesquely exaggerated in a sexual way.


Exactly. History has many of us calling these things erotic, or suggesting they were about fertility. Maybe some of them were. Maybe they were just about making art about fucking.

At festivals around the world (I can think of specific ones in Peru, Japan, and India), women "ride" stone lingams as part of 'fertility' rituals. Sometimes the riding is contrived and token; but more ardent followers rub (hidden under dresses) to the point of orgasm. Real, public masturbation to orgasm (even with body parts hidden) crosses the "porn" line for most, I'd guess. Just another great way the definitions do not hold.

In addition, many of the phalluses at these festivals do not look anything like phalluses to anyone who doesn't know what they represent. So is a hard cock a hard cock if only some people know it's a hard cock?
 
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Sitnaltax wrote:
Erotica = what I like
Pornography = what you like

Exactly. Which is why I reject such poppycock. (Interesting word, that: "cock" here refers not to what you might think, but to excrement.)

Quote:
Alternatively, the Brunching Shuttlecocks has a pretty good checklist that should help you distinguish: http://www.brunching.com/eroticaorporn.html

I took their test using a favourite piece of xxx, hardcore pornographic literature as my guide. It's full of spankings, anal impalings, sex coerced under threat of punishment, and graphic descriptions of sexual activity using words you'd never use, in any context, in front of your momma. The verdict:
Quote:
What you have there is erotica. It goes well with herbal tea and equally herbal bubble baths.

 
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Darilian wrote:
Lighting.

Erotica: Soft Lighting.
Pornography: Direct Lighting.

The rest is details.

Darilian


See "The Good Girl:" lovely soft lighting, lots of wine-colours and earth tones, romantic, and yet the heroine still implores her one-night stand to "come on my face." He happily complies.

Still erotica?
 
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HiveGod wrote:
tommynomad wrote:
I maintain there is no intrinsic difference between the two ...


Two words: DEAD EYES

I have seen hours upon hours of hardcore pornography without any dead eyes. In ten minutes of watching beautifulagony (which is 100% nonexplicit) you'll see at least a few examples of deadeyes (which I find odd, but que sera, sera).
 
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vandemonium wrote:
DWTripp wrote:
It's simple really...

Erotica is material that engenders more intense experiences with your partner. Whether through the excitation of your imaginations or through exposing your mutual desires, it heighthens expectations and prolongs the pleasures you both enjoy.

Porn is what guys beat off to.... or gals diddle to.


I call BS on this. I've known women who read "erotica" and there is nothing about engendering "more intense experiences with your partner"

Sometimes that experience is a stictly solo (or sola) one: there is no partner implied or involved. Not to mention that I know more than a few women who read/watch/listen to/view hardcore pornography as part of more intense experiences with their partners. Finally, I "beat off" to the writings of Anais Nin--define that.

vandemonium wrote:
-it is sex for the sake of sex. Period. IMO it is a way for some people to experience pr0n and feel better about themselves because they call it something else and treat it as "natural human sexuality" so they can feel OK about it and they convince themselves it doesn't objectify and blah blah blah - although IMO it still does.
A little ranty and off-topic, but here again opinions and definitions clash. I'd suggest that objectification is one of the most thrilling, supercharged, erotic experiences one can have, if the objectifier knows what they're doing. Yet most people see it as an inherently negative thing.
I will concede that many people use "erotica" as a kind of rationalisation, which may or may not stem from their own hypocritical prudishness. But you know what Jeff Goldblum said:
Quote:
- Don't knock rationalisations. Rationalisations are more important than sex.
- C'mon: nothing's more important than sex!
- Oh yeah? Did you ever go two weeks without a rationalisation?


And of course lots of people distinguish between the two for perfectly legitimate, non-hypocrtical reasons. I just don't think any of those are rooted in content. Or at least, I think I could point each of those people to a piece of art that would confound their distinction, and force them to redefine.

vandemonium wrote:
I agree with the OP

Maybe on some things....
 
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le_cygne wrote:
(You didn't think this microbadge was for the game, did you?)


Which game? I don't get it.
 
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