Lucy Fisher, an American film producer who is regarded as a trailblazer for women and working mothers in the entertainment world, famously said, “Pornography is blondes in nylon, whereas erotica is brunettes in silk. Pornography is for the lonely, unattractive, and uneducated, while erotica is for good middle-class literate people like us.” Fisher’s remark may come as a surprise to those of us who have never considered the distinction between porn and erotica. Despite the fact that her statement has slight undertones of class consciousness, it piques our interest. Few of us have ever thought of erotica and porn as independent entities; in our imaginations, they have always been overlapping.
Any piece of art that deals substantively with erotically stimulating or sexually arousing subject matter is referred to as erotica. Painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music, and literature are all examples of art that can represent sensual content. Erotica is distinguished from commercial pornography by its high-art aims.
Pornography, on the other hand, is a creative activity (writing, images, videos, etc.) that has no literary or artistic purpose other than to arouse sexual desire.
Furthermore, in a 2011 paper separating erotica and pornography, retired American clinical psychologist Leon F. Seltzer wrote:
“If the art was created erotically, it’s safe to presume that the creator thought the subject matter was admirable. Something to enjoy, celebrate, exalt, and glorify.”
He goes on to say, “It does not appeal solely to our senses or sexual cravings, unlike pornography. It also activates our aesthetic sense, our evaluation of how this or that person exemplifies a human beauty ideal.”
The most important statement Seltzer makes regarding erotica clarifies what he is attempting to say: “What ultimately determines the work’s eroticism is how the artist (or, for that matter, the novelist or composer) APPROACHES their subject.”
Pornography, on the other hand, has only one goal: to turn on the spectator. The pornographer’s goal isn’t to make their audience appreciate the human form or to celebrate physical intimacy in any way. As a result, the sole objective of pornography is to elicit instant and extreme arousal.
This frequently prompts the inquiry, “Doesn’t erotica have the same effect as porn?” NO is the answer. Erotica is a genre that celebrates sexual pleasure and the universal longing for carnal intimacy. It will not age or become stale over time, as most pornographic photographs do. After all, how many of us watch the same pornographic video we viewed five years ago over and over again?
Pornography is also primarily a money-making venture, which is not necessarily the case with erotica. Pornography, by objectifying women and reducing them to sex objects whose fundamental value is to satisfy a man’s carnal demands, is also an issue that feminists have been raising for a long time.
Despite the differences between the two, what one person considers erotica may be considered pornography by another. Furthermore, what one individual finds mundane (for example, a mermaid sculpture) may inspire a sexual response in another.
Finally, we as a society are bad at talking sex, yet the debate over what constitutes porn and what constitutes erotica is still very relevant. At the very least, separating these genres starts a conversation and helps to identify some of the issues with writing and reading about sex.