Erotica: Literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire.
Pornography: The presentation of sexually explicit behavior, as in photography, intended to arouse sexual excitement.
Those definitions are from my Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary. That’s right, call me old-fashioned, but I still have a real dictionary, and sometimes I sit down with it just to read definitions and look at word etymology.
If one goes to amazon.com and types in pornography and then types in erotica, one will find results that are remarkably similar.
Nowadays, pornography and erotica are words that are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. The meanings are not at all the same.
On the surface, the definitions of erotica and pornography are not all that different.
Both definitions contain the words intended, arouse, and sexual.
So both of these words have the core intention of arousing something sexual.
Pornography is people on stage; erotica is people behind closed doors.
Erotica’s intention is arousing sexual desire, whereas pornography’s intention is to arouse excitement.
And here we need to break it down a little more. Desire is a wish, longing, or craving, and excitement is a state of being excited, to raise to a higher energy level.
So pornography is an exciter, since its goal is to arouse excitement, and erotica’s goal is to bring about longing.
Anyone who has experienced excitement and longing knows that they’re not the same. Excitement is the tingling on the surface, and longing is the deep vibration underneath. Desire might lead to excitement, but excitement doesn’t necessarily lead to desire, in the same way that friction causes heat, but heat doesn’t necessarily cause friction.
Pornography, unlike erotica, is a presentation of behavior, and behavior is action. People are doing something (or someone) in pornography. Erotica doesn’t have anything in its definition about action. In erotica, people might sometimes be doing something (or someone), but most of the time, they are wanting someone.
Pornography has no artistic value; erotica has quality.
What is literature? Literature is writing with an artistic value. Here we are watching water evaporating and seeing the grains of salt left behind. Literature is an art. And what is art? Like any good word, it has a lot of meanings. Now we are opening a can of worms, since how does one measure artistic value? Just look at the work Artist’s Shit by Piero Manzoni. As the title suggests, these were cans that were filled with the artist’s shit, and they sold for a whole lot of money at Sotheby’s. When evaluating if something is art, it appears that the value is really in the eye of the beholder, or, what one person sees as a can of shit, another person sees as art worth its weight in gold.
Perhaps the most useful meaning for our purposes is that art involves a high quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty: aesthetic value.
So however this value is determined (and this determination is inherently subjective), erotica has value. Erotica has worth. Take out all of the sexual descriptions (if any) in erotica, and one should still find value in the work. Take out all of the sex in pornography, and one is left with nothing. Pornography is about action (about getting action). Try taking out all the action from a pornographic film and see if the film retains any value other than that it has just been used in an exercise (which was valuable) to prove that it has no value.
Pornography is about sex; erotica is about love.
That’s right, erotica is about love. Sexual love, but love nonetheless.
And here it might be useful to look at the etymology of the words. Both have origins in Greek. Pornography comes from pornographos (writing about prostitutes), and erotica draws its meaning from erõtikos (sexual love).
Erotica is not about familial love, or fraternal love. It is about sexual love, love that is borne out of desire.
Pornography has nothing in its meaning about love.
Why do I care about this?
I care about this because I am a writer of erotica.
As a writer, saying that one writes erotica is kind of like a successful woman saying that once she was a stripper. Even though it was back in college and just for a semester to pay her bills, it is always a label she will wear (unless she can hide it effectively).
Just for the record, Mom, I was never a stripper.
But being a stripper is a lot like being an erotica writer. The writer of pornography is the craigslist hooker who shakes her head when she thinks of the very attractive strippers just shaking it around and getting dollar bills stuffed into their garters.
You mean I just had to show it to them?
That’s right, darlin’. You didn’t have to do it. You just had to make them want it.
If you’d like to read my erotica, you can find it at: