Authors often make a sport of arguing over the definition of pornography. Some people – authors or not – insist they “know it when they see it,” but are unable to offer a definition of what constitutes pornography versus “legitimate” erotica. This lack leads one to surmise that such people are using as a yardstick nothing more than what they find personally objectionable or immoral.
Instead, for purposes of intelligent conversation, it may be more useful to consider the function of both erotica and pornography as two distinct and equally legitimate forms of expression. The difference lies precisely in what each is attempting to express, what each is attempting to accomplish.
This is not to say that one type of writing is “better” than the other, simply that each performs a different function for the reader, and the writer as well. The value to the writer of such a comparison is in arming her with the possibility of using her work in ways that she has perhaps not thought of previously.
The erotic writer often begins her journey simply because she finds enjoyment in writing about sex. She gets a sexual thrill of describing acts performed by beautiful, exciting characters, which is an end in itself. For some, describing the physical act is enough to sustain that thrill. However, over time, certain writers find that they cannot leave well enough alone and must ask, “Why?” They want to know why the heroine craves the attentions of the cruel slavemaster, even though they cut her to the very core, why the powerful warrior wants nothing more than to kneel at the feet of the conquering tribe. They want to know why the desires of their characters – and, perhaps, their own desires – are often at war and why so much of human passion is counter intuitive.
They want to explore, not just the sex act itself, but the implications of the act. It isn’t a question of morality, but rather one of complexity.
It has been suggested at times that erotica is more likely than is pornography to explore the darkness within the human mind – for example, by allowing the heroine who has been kidnapped by the hero to feel all of the terror that would accompany such an experience, rather than gloss over it with having her toss indignant insults and beat his chest with “tiny fists.” Perhaps this is true, as such an admission of terrifying emotions would necessarily lead to an exploration of the implications of conflicting human desires: An understandable desire to escape a feared kidnapper juxtaposed with a confusing lust borne of that very fear.
When considered in this way, it can be argued that pornography’s function is to titillate the reader, and that the function of erotica is to take this one step further. It seeks to excite the physical senses, certainly, but it also seeks to explore how a particular way of expressing oneself sexually fits into society as a whole. Erotica uses sexuality as the primary tool in an exploration of the human psyche.