• Sharon Chau

daily espresso I: porn vs erotica

I’ve made a summer resolution to post on my blog every day. The reason behind this is simple: I’m currently paying for a website which I’m barely using, and I really want a place to store all my random thoughts. I also have little pockets of time throughout my day at work where I’m at my laptop having just finished a task, and I want to feel productive while neglecting my actual work. And I also want to write more! Win-win-win-win.


So here comes daily espresso I: porn vs erotica!


I woke up to this message in the morning:


This was my response:


The context for this is that Hari and I are both writing our dissertations on porn, so we share interesting pieces of reading which might be useful with each other. Turns out the quote he sent was about erotic versus pornographic fiction (not visual pornography as we know it), but it was still really interesting food for thought - is there actually any distinction between words on a page and graphic images or videos? For the purposes of this lil thought exercise, I’ll take porn and erotica as they are conventionally understood, with porn being sexually explicit images and videos, and erotica as sexually explicit written text.


I like the argument about higher buy-in cost for erotica than for porn, i.e. higher effort required to consume the media. With porn, you are a passive consumer, simply sitting there and letting the images wash over you. There is little participation involved, and all it requires is a click of a button on Pornhub or a flick of a page on Playboy. By contrast, erotica requires much more effort on the reader’s part. You have to read! words! and keep your attention focused on the page. You are reading, understanding, digesting, and probably conjuring up a scene in your head. Basically, I think that the mental exercise of such a process distinguishes porn and erotica, making it a much less direct way through which consumers are stimulated.


Another interesting distinction is the difference in focus of porn versus erotica. I think that porn is more likely to focus on the individual performers and their attractiveness, while erotica is less about the actors involved. So for example, some of the most popular categories within porn describe specific physical attributes (blonde, large boobs/butt), while that’s less of a priority within erotica; and you invariably focus on the attractive people on the screen when watching porn. In this way, porn can shape your preferences in terms of desirable sexual partners and condition you to like specific physical characteristics which erotica doesn’t do nearly as much.


And lastly, one obvious distinction is that porn involves actual human beings engaging in sexual acts. The porn industry is notorious for its many scandals, with poor working conditions, sexual and physical abuse, and deceptive pay/contracts being the tip of the iceberg, together with revenge porn, rape porn and deepfakes. Even with the rise in amateur porn and OnlyFans, the fact that pornography involves actual people means it is and should be treated very differently compared to erotica.


So here lies what I think are some of the strongest distinctions between erotica and porn - and interestingly, we see this principle in other areas governing text versus images as well. For example, we put strict age limits (eg. 15+, 18+) on violent movies, but allow gory scenes to be published in YA novels which are read by children as young as 10. This is because we recognise that visceral images leave a much larger imprint on children compared to words describing the exact same scenes, and I think this asymmetry demonstrates how pornographic text and images/videos are also very different.


The bottom line is, there is definitely some distinction between porn and erotica, from how it’s produced, to how it’s consumed, to what effects it has. If anyone has more persuasive arguments or disagree with what I’ve said, please shoot me a message! <3


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