What Is Erotica?

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Authors discuss the bastard child of written works: Erotica.

For a list of all those in the discussion, read here.

Please tell us your definition of 'erotica.'

Hanne Blank: "I don't really have one. I tend to refer to all sexually-explicit material that appears to me to be designed to arouse the reader/viewer as "smut," "porn," or "erotica" pretty much interchangeably because I find the "porn" versus "erotica" debate specious and self-serving. One person's pornography is another person's erotica and vice versa, so I'm perfectly content to set a good example by not splitting hairs. Casuistry is a vice, not a virtue."

Bee: "I donít have any relative grasp of definition. Lately Iíve been reading lots of books from the early half of the previous century, and I think that the ďeroticaĒ Anais Nin published is far less interesting than her unexpurgated journals, which were published posthumously (ďHenry and JuneĒ being the most famous example)."

Laurel: "Something more than sensual and less than "raw." Must be tasteful, hopefully arouse me, but nothing overt, coarse, or lowbrow."

Jason: "That is a hard one because Iíve never set out to write it. Some of what Iíve written, though not in this collection, has been called ďeroticaĒ by others, but that is some kind of accident. Erotica, I think, is written with the purpose of turning on its audience, and Iíve never sat down to do that. I find it interesting that what to me is the most vicious story in the collection, Broken Harder, is sometimes called erotica, and that many of my female friends tell me they find the story an odd turn on."

Angela: "The trite but true standby: The most powerful sex organ is the brain. It always amazes me that I continually find new things turning me on. When I examine the core of these vastly different scenarios, it seems a loss of control is the trigger point for me....desire over-riding convention."

Josh: "Iíd have to say whenever the nipple makes an appearance. Seriously though, I like strong, independent women. The kind you donít know if they want to kiss you or kick your ass. Oh yeah, thatís what Iím talking about."

Jude: "To me, erotica is a story that is created with the express purpose of exciting the reader. If you take out the sex, the story falls flat, or is non-existent. Hey, that was easier than I thought it would be; I only had to re-write it three times."

Kola Boof: "I think erotica is whatever stimulates you sexually. My books, especially "Flesh and the Devil" are very erotic--but not on purpose. Mines are erotic, because they're about spirituality and people desperate for love."

Heather: "To me, erotica is anything that gets your blood boiling; anything that gives you a warm rush and turns you on."

GaŽlle: "I think itís writing that is more about sex/sexuality than it is about the storyline. Sort of like pornography. In the end, I just end up flipping around looking for the naughty parts."

Katy: "I think the definition of erotica varies from person to person, because sexuality and sexual predilections are such a personal thing, but there are some basic universal truths (in my mind, at least.) I think of erotica as more sensual, often more literary. I used to think of it more as Ďforeplayí whereas porn was the deed itself. But erotica has come a long way in the last ten years or so; itís definitely hotter than it used to be. Nowadays itís often more experimental, more edgy than porn and, while erotica can often be more romantic, itís now sometimes just as graphic. So the line has begun to blur, although I still think of erotica as relatively classy and evocative, more cerebral. Porn, on the other hand, which is what I write, tends to be more base. Which is not to slam either genre, because I think both have their place."

bard: "hmmm . . . . how about "literal sex" or sex for the literate who have time to read it?"

Jewel: "For me, erotica is about people; porn is about objects."

Kim: "Oh, man. I'm so-o-o-o the wrong person to ask. I don't read erotica. I understand why people do, but I don't find it, um, stimulating. What I know about erotica is that it stimulates the mind, plays to your sexual imagination. To that end, what's erotic to me is when I look across the room at a party and see my partner. She can be doing just about anything -- having a conversation with someone, laughing, sipping her wine, or simply tilting her head this way or that -- it doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm bowled over by her. I want her right there and then. I feel that t I'm the luckiest person in the room and that no one in the room is more loved or in love than I am. I know that half the people in the room want to be with her and the other half want to be her, but I 'm the only one who gets to take her home. I get to make love to her over and over again. Now that's erotic."

Gwen: "I think erotica is everything that touches us on a sensual level. Words, voices, touches, looks, thoughts...erotica is everything that makes us feel sexy as hell. Iíve always thought the difference between erotica and pornóand yes, there is a difference!óis that porn is about the body. Erotica is about the body and everything else."

Ina: "Erotica to me is the fine art of making one's panties wet with only the use of words...whether those words are written or spoken, to me it's still Erotica."

Rose: "Erotica: writing that awakens sexual longing, pleasure, excitement, self-affirmation, & loving connection."

Do you think "men's erotica" is different from "women's erotica?" If so, how?

Heather: "Definitely. I think men's erotica tends to focus more on body parts and where they go, whereas women's erotica focuses more on how it feels."

Laurel: "I'm not sure that men write erotica. I read one New Yorker story years ago by a man that had a subtle, erotic description of oral sex. But from feedback I remember getting from a typesetter on Ladies' Own Erotica, and from other comments from and experiences with menfolk, I have concluded that subtlety is not for most. They like it hot and explicit--and over in a minute so they can watch the game."

Katy: "To me, menís erotica is porn. Thatís what I write for print magazines and itís pretty much slam-bam, thank you maíam, cut-to-the-chase kind of stuff. That doesnít mean thereís no room for plot, as a matter of fact, plot can be very important depending on the genre. For very specific niches, the structure of the story is crucial and the plot has to weave its way continuously throughout or it just doesnít work. But still, what I write is graphic, itís down and dirty and doesnít waste a lot of time getting to the Ďgood part.í Thereís often a lot of attitude, a lot of Ďvoice.í I think that can be fairly challenging for writers, since you have to pare down your pre-sex-scene words to the bare minimum and still convey the tone of the story.

In my opinion, womenís erotica tends to be more artful, more carefully structured. Thereís obviously more build up, more lead in, more foreplay, if you will. Thatís also a challenge for the writer, because it requires more word-play, careful attention to detail. Women are so much more into words than men, anyway, so how those words flow and fit together is more important to them, whether itís a novel or a sex story.

That said, I donít know that itís possible to classify erotica into two narrowly defined boxes, such as male and female. For example, I donít read a lot of so-called Ďwomenís erotica.í I enjoy it, as I enjoy any well written story, but, probably since I donít have a lot of spare reading time, I kind of like the cut to the chase stuff myself :) And Iím sure that there are many men that are put off by the traditional menís porn stories and prefer the more literary stuff."

Gwen: "Traditionally, menís erotica has been seen as ďpornĒ. Playboys, Penthouse, things of that nature. Womenís erotica has been more cerebral, more focused on the emotion. Over the last few years, Iíve noticed that men are demanding more than just pretty airbrushed pictures, and women are demanding more than flowers and romance in their reading. They want to see boundaries pushed, and they want erotica that touches them on a level a bit deeper than the libido. I think that means erotica is moving in a very good direction."

Rose: "I prefer women's erotica because it's more about pleasing Me than pleasing Him. I grew up in the sterile 50s & was so conditioned to always think about pleasing Him. At first it was revolutionary to dispense with that and then quite surprising to find that what does please Me pleases Him! I think erotica is much more fun to write than to read. I'm pretty illiterate as far as reading erotica goes."

Do your friends & family know your dirty little secret? Any problems?

Hanne: "It may be dirty to some, but it's neither little or a secret. I write (and speak) about gender, sex, and sexuality topics for a living. I don't think what I do needs to be a secret, or at least no more secret than if I were a doctor or a bus driver or a computer programmer. I've found that when I treat my profession as the real, honest-to-Pete profession that it is, so do other people. I've never had any serious problems with people being disrespectful of me or what I do."

Jude: "It took a long time for us, my husband and I, to come to terms with what I write. Back then, no one knew, just the two of us and that suited us just fine. When I began getting published, we talked again and decided that it wouldn't hurt if a few people knew. We're still careful, and hopefully sensitive to those we tell, but I don't hide the fact that I write. I might not tell everyone exactly what I write; after all I don't want to hurt anyone."

Rose: "Family reactions: Daughter, age 12, read what I was writing over my shoulder & said, "Ohh, Mom, that's so trite!" Son, age 10, disappeared. At age 14 he asked to read our first book, read it cover to cover, & said, "It makes sex believable." Husband all along has said he likes sex any way he can get it. Friends: some enjoyed the titillation. Others hate it & avoid the topic."

Laurel: "My friends think it's a hoot but my daughters aren't so sure. They are very supportive of me generally, but I think they have hidden my books from my grandchildren."

Katy: "My husbandís very supportive, always has been, even though heís never been all that interested in porn mags. My kids think itís pretty gross, especially my thirteen year old son. Heíd much prefer it if I stuck to more mainstream writing. My fifteen year old daughterís not all that fond of it, but she gets interested in some of topics I write about, like an article on transgender politics that I did for Penthouse Forum recently. Some of her friends even know what I do, although we both agree that weíll all die a long, tedious death if any of them actually ever stumbles across my work :)

All of my close friends know, and theyíre supportive, even if they think itís a bit of a fringe profession. But a lot of people in my life donít know; casual acquaintances, the parents of my kidsí friends, etc. I do keep that part of my writing hidden from my more mainstream contacts. They know that I write for Cat Fancy and Police magazine and the Denver Post, but I donít mention the adult markets. Since I donít live the lifestyle of a sex writer, per se, itís relatively easy to maintain those two personas, although it can feel a bit schizo at times."

Heather: "Both my family and my friends are very supportive about what I writeówhether it's erotica, gay fiction or dark fantasy. They realize sex is certainly nothing to be ashamed of and are behind me one hundred percent. I'm lucky to have such open-minded people in my life."

Gwen: "I never hide what I do for a living. I love being a writer, and though I have written in many other genres, erotica remains my passion. My family was shocked about the erotica at first, but they eventually came around. My friends absolutely love it. The man in my life embraces it. However, all of themófriends, family, loverófind themselves in that strange position of wondering ďIs this story fiction or is it nonfiction?Ē Thatís an odd and sometimes difficult place to be, so sometimes friends and family donít read what I write, even though they always support my career in other ways."

Do you find that erotica writers, female erotica writers (and readers for that matter) are stereotyped? Justly, or unjustly?

Laurel: "Stereotyped how? I don't read enough women's erotica to answer this. I am afraid that many pick up on men's let's call it "vulgarity" just to show that they are not timid. Women still compete that way and it bothers me that the women's movement seems to have gone down the Fallopian tube."

Heather: "I'd have to say that some are stereotyped, but not in a bad way. Many people view us as sex kittens and, speaking for myself, I adore sex, so I don't mind the stereotype."

Rose: "I don't know if erotic writers are stereotyped. Most writing of any kind is pretty conventional. It is so wonderful to break out of that."

Gwen: "Absolutely. There is a stereotype attached to the erotica writer: If she writes it, that means she does it. Iíve never understood that reasoning. No one would ever presume that Stephen King kills people for kicks, would they? So why is it easy to presume that an erotica writer is a sexual deviant? Itís not fair, but itís borne of traditional cultures and taboos, so disproving that stereotype is going to be a constant battle."

Katy: "Well, I think some writers and readers tend to live a more sexually experimental lifestyle, and are definitely judged accordingly. Not that itís right or wrong, it just is. A lot of the big name erotica writers play around with traditional roles, perhaps theyíre gender variant or polygamous. That may be why mainstream society has certain pre-conceived notions of erotica writers, that weíre freaks, sluts, or even just highly-sexed. And of course, those who read the stuff tend to be looked at as perverts; I donít think that reading porn or erotica is really accepted yet, even though so many people do it. Itís kind of still in the closet, not talked about.

Personally, I live a relatively mundane, suburban life. Iím happily married and monogamous and really have no desire to try out half of the things I write about. And I donít think Iím necessarily the exception; I know of many others who write about sex just as they would write about woodworking or cooking.

So I do often keep my profession, or at least the genre I write in, to myself. I know that many people would judge me negatively for it, and I really have no desire to go there. I could; I really donít have a problem with conflict or sticking up for my beliefs, but you know, itís just not worth it for me right now. Iím a professional writer, I write for both mainstream markets and adult markets, and thatís enough for me."

Do you think your education &/or occupation has affected your views on erotica? If so, how?

Laurel: "Maybe. Age more likely. Who knows if I would have said any of this at 21? I have written for years and I know I wanted to try to write erotica well...it is damned hard to do, and I don't think I succeeded in getting on paper what was in my mind's eye and in my body's sensibilities."

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Rose: "Yes I'm a rabid activist. I am deeply alarmed about the terrible right(wrong) turn this country is taking + our descent into ignorance and mean-spiritedness. Can you believe we are still fighting to teach evolution? People cannot bear to think that their leaders are mistaken. Kingsley Amis once said that "courage is not scaring others." (Tell that to the chicken hawks!) It's essential that we band together & show there is a more humane, enlightened way."

Laurel: "Yes."

Have you any thoughts on the dwindling shelf space at most every bookstore for erotic works? Is this a 'lack of interest' or 'low sales' thing, or a politically driven situation?

Rose: "I worry about dwindling shelf space in general. And the mega-publishing mergers that narrow our choices about what gets published." Katy: "I donít necessarily think itís political, mainly because I believe that, if bookstores were making good money on it, theyíd be doing it. But I could be wrong, several of my print magazine editors have mentioned that theyíre toning down their content to match the political climate. And perhaps bookstores are feeling the need to be cautious, as well.

On the other hand, I think society as a whole is moving away from buying their Ďdirty booksí at a bookstore or newsstand. The internet is so much more private. Perhaps thatís why bookstores are devoting less space to it; customers may just prefer to buy their smut online. Thereís no doubt that erotica is incredibly hot right now, and selling like crazy, just not at bookstores.

I know that even though I like reading printed erotica, as opposed to reading it on my computer screen, Iíd still prefer to buy it online. Itís like buying sex toys at a store,Öewww! Matter of fact, when I go out to my neighborhood newsstand to purchase adult print magazines, I still make my husband go with me :)"

Laurel: "Didn't know this. I think erotica was a kick for awhile (the Ladies' books might even have fueled it) and a lot of women were trying their hand at it--pardon the pun. But I don't know. Good writing is good writing, and ideally, for me, erotica should be insinuated into other forms of writing--short stories, novels, and essays--and not just dwell on itself."

Gwen: "Iím not sure it is low sales, and it is definitely not a lack of interest. Erotica is finding a foothold in the market now and being taken more seriously as a genre. It isnít under wraps like it used to be. Erotica isnít sent out through mail order in a plain brown wrapper...now it is on the bookshelves, on the internet, in your face, just as clearly as any other genre might be. So why less shelf space? I think it is a political issue, especially in the US. The conservative slant this country has taken over the last few years has directly affected everything in our lives, and that includes what we read, or rather, what is available for us to read. Itís a sad state of affairs when that is allowed to happen, but I have faith that the pendulum will swing again."

Heather: "I think it's a combination of two things. One: that people are more and more turning to free resources like the internet to get their sexual thrills. And two: that the smaller sections in books stores (erotica, horror, etc.) are all being mashed in with the bigger "General Fiction" section, as a way to expose more people to those genresópeople that might not visit those smaller sections. It makes it difficult for the loyal readers of those genres to seek out those books, but the sellers are hoping you'll find something else during your search and pick that up too."

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