In 1959 I got my first Barbie doll and read my first naughty book. Well, not the whole book…I would sneak into my older brother’s nightstand and thumb through his hardcore detective novels for the “good parts.” I was still very naive about sex and all it took for me to be titillated was to read about the gorgeous “doll” who walked into his office wearing only a mink coat; “then there they were together inside that damned mink coat.”
We all did it as kids when we heard a particular book was “dirty” or “sexy”, and now there is an upsurge in women openly reading erotic books and literature. I became intrigued when 50 Shades of Grey became such a mainstream phenomena. Pre-sale tickets for the movie is breaking a record with Fandango It was dubbed “mommy porn,” but women of all ages were devouring the books as fast as they could read. Although the book has some very hot, explicit and provocative sex scenes, it is first and foremost a love story, soI took exception to it being labeled porn. I began to research a little about “pornography” v “erotica.”
For the most part, the answers I got from friends and family centered around artistic expression v just sex for physical gratification. I think Mary Roach, author of Book: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex made a great distinction when she said in an interview, “I would say erotica is a mixture of romance and pornography, done by someone who’s a very skilled writer. Pornography has a very focused and directed goal…erotica has a bit of art mixed in.”
The definition of Erotica is: “Literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire; or literary or artistic works having an erotic theme or quality.” There is also a “legal definition” of pornography which changes the definition to “erotic and lewd” behavior. This is when the courts try to determine what is and what is not “obscene”. Of course this changes as cultural and societal mores change. Victoria Secret ads today are much more revealing and sensual than “dirty” magazines and postcards of the past. In the 50’s Lucy and Ricky did not sleep in the same bed, but now Olivia Pope is having hot sex with the leader of the free world on his desk in the Oval Office during prime time.
Pornography and erotica is ancient in origin, as evidenced by the artwork of many historic societies, including ancient India, Greece, and Rome. Erotic imagery was quite common and often appeared in religious contexts. The Art of Love, by Ovid, is a treatise on seduction and sensual arousal. The invention of printing led to the production of ambitious works of writing intended to entertain as well as to arouse. Now we have the internet, as well as e-readers, which allow us to privately read or watch what we want without embarrassment.
What I find is that many women still shy away from admitting they like erotica; it has a more forbidden connotation. They don’t read or write erotica, rather they read or write erotic romance or fiction. Romance author, Sorcha Grace, did a great comparison in an article for the Huffington Post in July 2013, in which she concluded there were basically no differences. If an erotic romance is a love story where the characters engage is graphically described sex, and erotica is a story centered on the characters sexual encounters, as Ms. Grace surmises, the lines have become blurred. Women want a good story to go along with the erotic nature of the book, and that is the challenge to the writer, just as it always has been.
We all make choices of what we like or don’t like without needing to attach labels. There is a smorgasbord of erotic material on the market, and literally in the market, for every reader. Whether the scene is as innocent as a naked woman in a mink coat, or as provocative as sex with Christian Grey in his playroom, go ahead and satisfy that need to “look for the good parts.”
Susanna Wolf, author of the column THE PLAY ROOM, is the new erotica reviewer for
The Book Breeze.