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PORNOGRAPHY VS. EROTIC FICTION
(aka Why I Continue To Do What I Do)

By Jess C Scott, 9 Mar 2011

This is my 'disclaimer' to avoid being arrested on obscenity charges.

Short Version:

(1) My style of contemporary/erotic fiction focuses on psychosexual themes; erotic literature has nothing to do with explicitness (which differentiates it from pornography).

(2) My views on The Art of Erotic Writing.

* * * * *

Longer Version:

Presented in 3 Parts:

a) Pornography Versus Erotic Fiction
b) Material that is Obscene, Vulgar, Etc.
c) Ancient World vs. Contemporary Times

a) Pornography Versus Erotic Fiction

A major retailer began to remove incest-themed erotica from their website, in December 2010. Other retailers have since followed suit.

I understand that Amazon et al. are major retailers that have a brand image and reputation to preserve.

But should I, as a writer, allow myself to be bullied into writing "safer" material?

As I wrote in my censorship blog post, I have always chosen to focus on erotica over pornography (I always aim to include some kind of artistic, or social/political point, when I write erotic fiction).

I always include some kind of storyline (with a focus on plot and characterization), when I write erotic fiction. I don't just write "sex scenes" -- I write about real things that do happen in real life. I write erotic fiction to challenge society's notions on gender, sex, sexuality, and the erotic life. Am I supposed to write "safer" material, just because some people are offended by the themes I choose to explore?

lady chatterley's lover

I have been a long-time fan and reader of the erotic works of Anais Nin, D. H. Lawrence, and Vladimir Nabokov (to name three -- and Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl was supremely good too). Some of the books by these authors contain pedophilic, incestuous, and other types of deviant content. People are quick to say that the above writers wrote "literary masterpieces" (therefore their erotic fiction does not equate to pornography), conveniently forgetting that books like Lady Chatterley's Lover were banned before it was established that the book, indeed, had "literary merit."

Mainstream traditional publishers are generally more interested in publishing material that is commercial > controversial, which is why I am independently published in the first place.

What is "obscene" and "sexually explicit" can vary from culture to culture and over time. But as long as corporations and retailers continue to have vague and unclear guidelines, which are not consistently and uniformly implemented across the board [Anais Nin's Delta of Venus is available for sale on eBay, even though eBay's terms of service states "no real or fictionalized (incest erotica)"], thereís no distinction between erotica and pornography when it comes to censorship.

So, how does one make the distinction between pornography and erotica as an art form?

Pornography can be defined as the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction. There is also the commercial aspect of making money by the portrayal of sex acts. There is little "artistic merit" involved.

Erotic Literature (which is what I do) comprises fictional and factual stories and accounts of human sexual relationships which have the power to or are intended to arouse the reader sexually.

The emphasis of each is quite different. Porn's main purpose is to make money via adult entertainment; erotic literature tells a story.

Stories that are realistic. Stories that make one think. Stories that "dive into the depths of navigating gender, sexuality, and the lines of desire" (blurb from my first erotic anthology, 4:Play).

As Mr. Vladimir Nabokov said so succinctly in an essay on Lolita, ". . .Lolita has no moral in tow. For me, a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall call aesthetic bliss. . ."

He also writes that "in pornographic novels, action has to be limited to the copulation of cliches. Style, structure, imagery should never distract the reader from his tepid lust. The novel must consist of an alternation of sexual scenes."

Lolita is more than a pornographic novel. Erotic literature is more than pornographic writing.

And my brand of erotic fiction is, similarly, always presented as something other than pornography.

* * * * *

b) Material that is Obscene, Vulgar, Etc.

With regards to "offensive" and "obscene" content, to be classified as obscene by U.S. state or federal law, material must meet ALL THREE parts of the legal definition of obscenity by applying whatís called the Miller Test, which was developed by the US Supreme Court in 1973:

(1) The work, taken as a whole, must be erotically stimulating (in a way that is seen as "shameful or morbid") to its likely readership,

(2) The work depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, when applying contemporary community standards; and

(3) The work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. (US Department of Justice).

What prevents hard core porn films from being prosecuted under this vague wording? A two-part guess:

(1) The "likely audience" for a porn flick isnít going to have much of a problem with it,

(2) "Serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value" is a difficult legal standard to apply. To what extent does this value depend on findings of fact? Who are the arbiters? If three professors say itís obscene vs. three others who say it has literary or whatever value, does a jury decide? How do you distinguish whether the juryís been inflamed by how, per hypothesis, a work is likely to be offensive? (comment by Anderson).

Many historically important works have been described as obscene or prosecuted under obscenity laws, including the works of Charles Baudelaire, Lenny Bruce, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, and the Marquis de Sade.

Obscenity laws have been criticized for several (good) reasons.

Anyone can define pornography / obscenity according to the statement:
"I know it when I see it" (probably the most famous quote from the annals of the U.S. Supreme Court).

My erotic work seeks to emulate classic literary erotica, like Lolita and Little Birds. In 1973, the ban on Fanny Hill was lifted completely because although it does seek to stimulate erotic fantasy and lust, and at points can be demonstrably offensive (it contains one scene of flogging and S&M), the piece taken in its entirety does not lack literary or artistic value.

Erotic Fiction is the name given to fiction that deals with sex or sexual themes, generally in a more literary or serious way than the fiction seen in pornographic magazines and sometimes including elements of satire or social criticism. My erotic writing falls into this category.

For instance, some of my short stories (in both my erotic anthologies, 4:Play, and Primal Scream) challenge idealistic notions of marriage. Some people may find this "offensive," but you can't use morality to judge "obscenity" with regards to literary merit in states/countries that are secular -- moral disapprobation is not considered a constitutionally rational reason for restricting behavior.

Religious morality isn't the same as rationality, and it hurts my mind that this is not clearly differentiated in the law! Vague laws are dangerous, because it allows for those in power to enforce laws as it suits their fancy.

Once you control the sexual aspect of a person, the rest is easy. People like me are deemed dangerous, because we challenge the status quo. Which is precisely what good art/literature has the power to do.

* * * * *

c) Ancient World vs. Contemporary Times

This third section is sort of an afterthought/footnote, but a significant one nonetheless.

According to some of the early thinkers and philosophers, the key to the mysteries of the universe lay hidden in the mysteries of sex. Sex pervaded every aspect of life in ancient times. The genitals were not considered to be obscene and in some countries they were barely covered. Sex was considered an important part of humanity's existence.

Looks like the ancient world had it right.

* * *

UPDATE / May 2013:

"EROTICA" IS NOT "PORN"!

erotic art

Erotica and Porn: A polite request for clearer distinctions to be
made--and how YOU can help :)

* * *

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