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Labeling Erotica vs Pornography

February 3, 2012

I know. I know. This is an ongoing debate for many in the genre (right along with who is allowed to write what and call it this or that). I just thought I would finally weigh in with a couple of my own thoughts.

When it comes to erotic fiction, people like to have separate boxes in their minds, one in which they file the erotica, and another in which they file the pornography. What distinguishes the two from one another? Ask ten people in the genre (authors, readers, publishers), and you’re likely to get ten different answers… which leads me to my point, common sense though it may seem. Everyone defines erotica and pornography a little differently. Since the terms are subjective, a story one person labels as classic erotica might be too titillating for another person and, therefore, be placed under their pornography label. A lot goes into the internal decision of where to place things, from personal morals to religious values to personal comfort with the human form aesthetically. Because of all that, labeling is subjective. Ultimately, it’s another case of we humans liking to put things in boxes when the boxes themselves don’t truly exist.

In my mind, content that veers toward the pornographic is more bawdy and put out there simply to put a price tag on sexual content, whereas erotica has more the feel of celebrating the diversity of desire and the allure of sexuality. Some of my basis for labeling comes through authorial intent (which is a whole other blog post waiting to happen). Once again, though, what I consider to be in line with erotica might not resonate at all with another reader or writer and subsequently end up in their pornography pile.

Like many things, there shouldn’t be a black and white when it comes to erotica and pornography. There’s a spectrum between extremes. Most erotic fiction will fall somewhere in the middle. There will be one-handed reads, of course, the ‘Plot? What plot?’ style of fiction where plot is completely foregone in favor of blatant sex scenes meant to arouse and satisfy the reader. On the other hand, there will also always be the more traditional romance stories that recycle tropes and provide erotic material that leaves everything to the imagination. It can range from a boldly written sex scene to your classic fade-to-black. However, most stories will fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, which is why most publishers of erotic romance employ some sort of heat-rating scale, so readers will know ahead of time how much explicit content there is in the story. It’s a nice tool, so instead of classifying all erotica as porn or all porn as heavy erotica, we can use heat ratings and find the level of erotic content that best suits us as readers.

And that’s the crux of the matter: everyone has their own way of labeling, so everyone has their own comfort levels and tastes in erotic fiction. I’m not about to shove an explicit BDSM story like Catalyst down anyone’s throat if they don’t like BDSM stories. Likewise, I know that there will always be some people who classify what I write, no matter how trope-ridden or what I consider soft-core, to be pornographic. That’s their prerogative, and I’m free to disagree with their labels, but in the end, it all comes down to individual preference. Read what you like, and don’t worry about the more extreme stuff that is outside your comfort zone, wherever you draw that line.

While I’m sure I haven’t said anything particularly new on the subject, I hope I’m not the only one who prefers to take the spectrum approach rather than trying to define things in a black-and-white manner. How do you guys feel about the labels of erotica and pornography? As authors, how would you classify your own work? As readers, do you have firm lines in your mind that separate the two? I’d love to hear other opinions. ^_^

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. TheOthers1 permalink
    February 3, 2012 5:50 pm

    I’ve looked into the difference between light romance and erotica. I have found that an author’s intent and a reader’s view differ greatly. I’ve written things that I thought were fairly tame and have had readers remark that it was incredibly hot. I’ve found as a reader that even the hottest, panty wetting, squirm-in-my-seat erotica is a great read if it’s well written. It’s always good to have someone else’s view on the topic.

    • February 3, 2012 6:13 pm

      Thanks for commenting, TheOthers1. I totally agree. It’s very common for authorial intent and what readers take away from a piece to be two completely different things. Right when I wrote this blog, I knew there would be another one brewing about that very subject. *chuckles* It’s only part of what goes into me trying to label things under the headers of erotica or pornography, but it’s so very true that, regardless of intent, different readers will make what they will of a piece. Thanks for sharing your experience as a writer. 🙂

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