Monday, July 27, 2009

Erotica vs. Pornography

I occasionally do book reviews for an online, gay book-review site called It’s a great site, well run, but most of what they review is erotica. I don’t usually review erotica for a couple of reasons: first, much of it not written well (especially the sexual scenes), and second, I simply don’t enjoy the storyline stopping for a few pages while characters have sex. But last week I saw a gay erotica book available for review by a much respected author, and I thought I would give it a go, thinking it would at least be well written.

I’m only forty pages into this two-hundred-page story, so things could change, but what I’ve read so far is making me debate about the differences between erotica and porn.

I’ve always considered the definition of erotica to be a story with a somewhat complex plot and multi-faceted characters who struggle against real human issues. It’s similar to regular fiction only it allows the reader to occasionally peek into the bedroom and see the characters have sex. Porn, on the other hand, generally has thin plots that are there only to carry the one-dimensional characters from one sex scene to the next.

So when I began reading this “erotica” story by this respected author, I was very surprised to see that the first twenty-three pages, two chapters, was one continuous sex scene between three teen-aged cowboys. Chapter three started with one page of describing an older man dreaming in bed before it launched into another sex scene with the old cowboy having sex with an Indian shaman who starts off in the body of a snake and changes midway through the scene to a bear, so the old cowboy was having sex with animals. I’m sorry, this is not erotica, it’s trashy porn. It’s not even good porn. All of the five characters so far, while in the process of sucking, licking and humping each other, had so much chatty dialog that I began to think they were high-school girls. After two pages my eyes glazed over.

Sad to say, I’m forty pages into it and there is no trace of a plot on the horizon. I’m pretty sure I will not finish it, even though I committed to reviewing it. It was billed as erotica, which as near as I can tell, is a boldfaced lie.

Or perhaps my definition of erotica is way off base. I would love to hear from other writers and readers. Do you expect a well developed plot and characters with depth in erotica, as I do? Or are you simply interested in reading about guys getting off and who cares about a storyline? Please leave a comment and set me straight, so to speak.


Jonz V. Stoneroad said...

I believe the same as you. Erotica is more intimate, consensual, and is a part of the story of romance, a long lost love, etc.

Porn simply is sex in the written word with a small lead in to the sex scenes.

There is a significance between the two.

Unknown said...

Big difference between the two. I write mysteries, I also write erotica. Sometimes my mysteries will have a fair bit of sex in them, enough to qualify as erotica, I think, but my character development and plot are more important to me than the sex. Forty pages of sex isn't erotica, it doesn't even sound like very good porn, since I imagine your wrist would get damn tired after that much sucking, humping and sexual gyrations. Porn, in my opinion, works best in short stories, where you can get away with no plot or character.

Ethan Day said...

I'm afraid that when it comes to this topic I don't believe your going to find a definitive answer.

I think the opinions are quite varied. My books are, I believe, mostly considered erotica, though I find it difficult to wrap my brain around that. I hear the word erotica and think Body Heat or Nine 1/2 Weeks...something with that type of heat or passion which permeates the entire work.

Certainly not how I would describe my books, which I think are slanted more to the comic side of falling in love...romance with benefits, LOL? Some however would describe it as flat out porn because the sex is fully fleshed out within the story.

I certainly don't know what book you are referring to, but from the way you describe it, I'd call that erotica. I usually ask this question, "What's left once you remove the sex scenes?" If the answer is, "Not much." I'd call it erotica.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with a book like this. I'm not judging or declaring one better than the other. I'm also NOT saying a good story can't be told through sexual don't send me any angry letters people! : )

That's just me, and I'm certainly no expert. This might be a good question to put to some of the publishers

Good luck sussing it out!

Victor J. Banis said...

Ethan, I'd say your definition - what's left after you take out the sex scenes; if not much, it's erotica" would better describe porn. In my thinking, if you took the sex scenes out of erotica, you'd still have a story, just not so spicy. I think in good erotic writing, the sex is integral to the story, grows out of the characters and the plot, but the latter 2 dominate. In porn, the sex dominates, characters and plot secondary at best.

But this is an old arguement, probably unresolvable.


vincent diamond said...

For me, porn is about parts; erotica is about partners (or potential ones.) Porn focuses merely on the physical details (red hair, broad chest, the proverbial nine-inch cock). Erotica utilizes the physical to show the emotional/mental/psychological change taking place. A character who gives in try love again, a character who breaks out of the closet.

Both types of writing have sex but the purpose of the sex is different. In porn, it's the main reason for the story. In erotica, it's the method to show something about these characters--and their hearts.

My two cents on it. :) As others have said, porn and erotica are kinda in the eye of the beholder classifications. My 80-year-old aunt's definition of erotica is probably different than mine.

AlanChinWriter said...

Thanks for all the great input. I'm getting a much better idea of the difference, and I think Vincent Diamond summed it up clearest. Thanks all for chiming in.

alan chin

Leigh M. Lane said...

There's good erotica and there's bad erotica. Good erotica is artful, using language in ways that tease and treat the reader. Bad erotica is porn in print. Sounds like you got a taste of the latter, unfortunately.

I write erotica, but also literary, horror, romance, and sci-fi. Although this has created a mass of muses in my life, it also has allowed me to examine many sub-genres. It's the literary aspect to a work in any genre that sets it apart from the trash pile. Good erotica is beautiful. If you enjoy M/M, might I recommend Ravenous Romance's Ryan Field?

Ken Smith said...

I'd like to think my gay erotic novels have more than just the sex, of which there is plenty. But at the end of the day the reader knows what he/she is buying and why. Even though a book might have plenty of in your face sex, it does not mean it does not have romance, love, humour, and all the rest but I doubt the author will ever please all. We cam but try.