Erotica vs. pornography debate  

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"One person's erotica is another person's pornography" --dictum first attested in Fuse, 1982[1]


"But this rehabilitation of sex leads us to raise what has become one of the most important questions confronting art and the criticism of art in our time: that of the difference, if there is one, between erotic art and pornography." --Beauty, p3, Roger Scruton


"Erotica is as different from pornography as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain." --"Erotica vs. Pornography ", 1983, Gloria Steinem

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The distinction between erotica and pornography (as well as the lesser known genre of sexual entertainment, ribaldry) is difficult to identify, if not completely impossible. Proponents of erotic art argue that such work is intended to arouse aesthetic rather than erotic feelings, and is therefore not pornographic. Opponents see this as a pretentious stand, as they believe that erotic art shares the same purposes as pornography.

Stephen Gilbert once remarked "The difference between erotica and pornography is simple. Erotica is what I like. Pornography is what you like, you pervert!" One common joke is that "the only difference between art and pornography is a government grant." Another amusing maxim by Isabel Allende is: "Erotica is when you use a feather. Pornography is when you use the whole chicken."

The issue of whether a distinction can be made between erotica and pornography raises multiple complicated questions. These questions include whether aesthetic and erotic feelings are mutually exclusive, how the level of commercialism and tastefulness in an artwork can be objectively measured, and at what point they make the work pornographic.

In general, "erotica" refers to portrayals of sexually arousing material that hold or aspire to artistic or literary merit, whereas "pornography" often connotes the prurient depiction of sexual acts, with little or no artistic value.

Anti-pornography campaigners usually define the genre as meeting the following three criteria:

  1. The work is explicit (in literature: the use of dysphemisms; in the visual arts: the depiction of a particular instance rather than an ideal; in photography: the beaver shot.
  2. The work addresses only the base instincts of its audience, ofen denoting the masturbatory use of the product, see body genre
  3. The work is only made for monetary gain, see authorial intentionality

Additionally, the term pornographic is usually reserved for works within the reproducible arts, works of high art are seldomly called pornographic

In Freudian terms

In Freudian terms, pornography is instant gratification, and erotica is sublimation, a defense mechanism.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Erotica vs. pornography debate" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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