pornography vs. erotica

I have been asked at workshops, as a heterosexual man, what I think about pornography. My typical response is to clarify where “the line” is for myself. By way of disclaimer, I explain that I don’t expect my personal definitions to work for everyone, or to make everyone feel comfortable. It’s simply how I put this stuff in context.

For me, I distinguish between pornography and erotica:

Pornography is content that is produced in such a way as to infer that in order for the consumer(s) of that content to be aroused one or more of the subjects in the content (and, let’s be clear, more often than not the female subject(s)…) must be de-based, de-humanized, humiliated, or abused. That the expression of power and domination of one character over another is what generates excitement and pleasure. It also presents the human body in a very limited spectrum (i.e.: male bodies are almost all “ripped”; female bodies are focused on enormous bust lines, a hairless appearance, and more often made to appear adolescent despite the performer being of legal age).

Erotica is content that celebrates the beauty and sensuality of the human body - in all its varieties, and in ways that acknowledge the personhood of those depicted; it is produced in such a way that infers arousal and pleasure are derived from connecting with the whole person. It does not de-base or de-humanize, but elevates the subject(s) in ways that empower them as agents of their own pleasure, created by and for themselves or in concert with other people.

As one activist (and for the life of me, I wish I could remember her name and find the link to the video of her talk… I’m working on this) made the apt comparison, as others have too, that pornography is like the fast-food or junk food version of sex. The important process here, I think, is to promote good nutrition - but not to say that all food is bad!

To be clear – I am against violence, not against sex. The goal of the violence prevention movement is to remove the violence, but not to remove the celebration of sexuality. Not all depictions sexuality are bad; sex is not dirty, shameful, or something that belongs only to married heterosexual couples. 

When depictions of sex remain mired in the rigid, traditional, binary definitions of gender identity and continue to express power, domination, and coercion – that’s when we have to take a critical look.