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"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

"Sex, as we know, is a heat-seeking missile that forever seeks out the newest medium for its transmission." --(Gerard Van Der Leun, 1993)

"The difference between [ erotica and pornography ], apart from the moral/aesthetic judgement, largely rests on the intention of the person doing the "making". It is assumed that the pornographer produces pornography with the sole intention of causing people to feel sexually aroused, usually for financial gain. Erotica, however, may also have aesthetic or expressive purposes; there is less sense of the producer manipulating the feelings of the consumer, and less implication of purely financial motives. There is also a difference as regards the medium; the word "pornography" is nearly always applied to written texts, film and, primarily, photographs. One may say "an erotic statue", but probably not "a pornographic statue"."--"Debating Pornography: Categories and Metaphors" (1999) by Robin Turner

This page Erotica is part of the human sexuality seriesIllustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray.
This page Erotica is part of the human sexuality series
Illustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray.

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Erotica (from the Greek language Eros - "love") — refers to works of art, including literature, photography, film, that deal substantively with erotically stimulating or arousing descriptions. Erotica is a modern word used to describe the portrayal of the human anatomy and sexuality with high-art aspirations, differentiating such work from commercial pornography.

However, there is a substantial overlap between erotica and pornography. The difference between the two is artistic merit and the author's intent. A work solely intended for masturbatory purposes, is generally not regarded as erotic art. Erotica is pornography with high art aspirations, whereas pornography is produced for monetary gain. Both the term erotica and pornography were first attested in the mid-19th century; erotica was used in the context of book collecting and pornography in the context of debates on prostitution, obscenity trials and legal prosecutions.

One more way of looking at erotica is as an abstraction of the sexual act, of the sexual act becoming aware of itself, of nature turning into culture.


Body genre

Since pornography and erotica are genres that provoke physical reactions, what are called in narratology "body genres", they are generally held to be "low" cultural manifestations. However, nobrow writers, visual artists, filmmakers, photographers and publishers prove that works of high quality can be found in these maligned "low" genres.

Study of new media

new media studies

Erotica and pornography are excellent tools to study the rise of new media and new technologies. Printing technology gave rise to erotic fiction and erotic engravings; photography begot erotic photography; film begot erotic film; home video liberated the pornographic film from seedy theatres and the internet thrives on erotic imagery and dating services. Examples abound. Colin Wilson, for example, traces the history of the novel in relation to the human imagination and erotic fiction in his The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders.

Erotica and pornography

erotica vs. pornography debate, Miller test

Distinction is often made between erotica and pornography (the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction) (as well as the lesser known genre of sexual entertainment, ribaldry), although depending on the viewer they may seem one and the same. Pornography's objective is the graphic depiction of sexually explicit scenes. Pornography is often described as exploitative or degrading. One person's pornography is another's erotica, and vice-versa. In December 2007 one of the world's largest collections of pornography and erotica, the L'Enfer collection housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France, was opened for the public. Marie-Françoise Quignard, one of the collection's curators, tried to distinguish between the different elements in the collection:

"There is a photograph ["Automne"] of an act of oral sex by the artist Man Ray.... For some reason, I find that this goes just too far. Perhaps because it is a photograph and so real, while engravings or lithographs, give you a certain distance and idealisation. Man Ray confronts you point-blank here with something which should, perhaps, better remain intimate."

The Canadian Supreme Court wrestled with the line between pornography and erotica going back to 1962's case Brodie v. the Queen, which involved D. H. Lawrence's erotic classic Lady Chatterley's Lover. In its decision on whether Lawrence's book was obscene, the court noted that it "has none of the characteristics that are often described in judgments dealing with obscenity --dirt for dirt's sake, the leer of the sensualist, depravity in the mind of an author with an obsession for dirt, pornography, an appeal to a prurient interest, etc." In 1992, the Canadian high court changed its 'dirt for dirt's sake' test until it ruled in the case of sex shop operator R. v. Butler that a work is pornographic if it is "degrading and dehumanizing." This remains the central test in Canadian courts.

Feminist writer Gloria Steinem distinguishes erotica from pornography, writing: "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." Steinem's argument hinges on the distinction between reciprocity versus domination, as she writes: "Blatant or subtle, pornography involves no equal power or mutuality. In fact, much of the tension and drama comes from the clear idea that one person is dominating the other."

By medium

Erotic art

erotic art

Erotic art covers any artistic work including paintings, sculptures, photographs, music and writings that is intended to evoke erotic arousal or that depicts scenes of love-making. Most recently, there were two exhibitions dedicated to erotic art: Seduced, Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now in London and Diana und Actaeon - Diana und Actaeon - Der verbotene Blick auf die Nacktheit in Dusseldorf. Check our ongoing series of Icons of erotic art.

Erotic print and illustration

erotic print
Renaissance erotica, erotic art, printmaking, Old Master Print

From the dawn of printmaking, prints have depicted erotic scenes and these prints are often the only surviving renditions of lost artworks. Beginning in Italy, there were I Modi (1520s) by Marcantonio Raimondi and the Lascivie (1590s) depicting the loves of classical gods by Agostino Carracci, work by Parmigianino, Giulio Bonasone, Jacopo Caraglio Rosso Fiorentino, Perino (del Vaga), Cristofano Robetta, Giulio Campagnola and Giovanni Battista Palumba. In the 17th century, there was the work of Rembrandt.

Erotic photography

erotic photography

History of erotic photography refers to the history of the art and process of taking pictures of unclothed subjects. In the United States, all portraits from prior to January 1, 1923, have passed into the public domain. Most are in black-and-white, since they predate the 1935 invention of Kodachrome.

Erotic literature

erotic literature

Erotic literature comprises fictional and factual stories and accounts which sexually arouse the reader, whether written with that intention or not. Such erotica takes the form of novels, short stories, poetry, true-life memoirs, and sex manuals. Erotic literature has often been subject to censorship and legal restraints on publication.

Erotic verse

erotic verse

Many erotic poems have survived from ancient Greece and Rome, the authors including Sappho of Lesbos (lyrics), Catullus, Ovid, Martial and Juvenal and the anonymous Priapeia. Some later Latin authors also wrote erotic verse, e.g Joannes Secundus. In the Renaissance period many poems were not written for publication and merely circulated in manuscript among a relatively limited readership. Many of the authors were anonymous but John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-80) was notorious for obscene verses, many of which were published posthumously in compendiums of poetry by him and other Restoration rakes. Though many of the poems attributed to him were actually by other authors, Rochester's reputation as a libertine was such that his name was used as a selling point by publishers of collections of erotic verse for centuries after. One poem which definitely was by him was "A Ramble in St. James's Park" in which the protagonist's quest for healthy exercise in the park uncovers instead "Bugg'ries, Rapes and Incest" on ground polluted by debauchery from the time when "Ancient Pict began to Whore". This poem was being censored from collections of Rochester's poetry as late as 1953, though, in line with a general change in attitudes to sexuality, it was recently dramatised as a scene in the film The Libertine about his life.

Erotic comics

erotic comics

Erotic comics is a comics genre that use erotic scenes to engage the audience.

An early genre were comic books known as Tijuana bibles that began appearing in the U.S. in the 1920s and lasted until the publishing of glossy colour men's magazines commenced. These were crude hand drawn scenes often using popular characters from cartoons and culture.

Erotic comics that were sold more or less above the counter started to appear towards the middle of the 1960s in Europe with series such as the fumetti neri in Italy and authors such as Guido Crepax (Valentina), Paul Cuvelier (Epoxy), Jean-Claude Forest (Barbarella) and Guy Peellaert (Les aventures de Jodelle) in France and Belgium.

Erotic fiction

erotic fiction

Erotic fiction is the name given to fiction that deals with sex or sexual themes, generally in a more literary or serious way than the fiction seen in pornographic magazines and sometimes including elements of satire or social criticism. Such works have frequently been banned by the government or religious authorities. It should be noted, however, that apparently non-fictional works dealing with sex or sexual themes may contain fictional elements; calling an erotic book 'a memoir' is a literary device that is common in this genre. For reasons similar to those that make pseudonyms both commonplace and often deviously set up, the boundary between fiction and non-fiction is often very diffuse.

Erotic films

erotic films

The use of sex in film has been controversial since the earliest use of cinematography and the first portrayals of love scenes and nude scenes. Ever since the silent era of film there have been actors and actresses who have shown parts of their bodies or undergarments, or dressed and behaved in ways considered sexually provocative by contemporary standards. Some films have been criticized and/or banned by various religious groups and governments because of this. The difference with pornographic films is that erotic films are simulated.

Erotic music

erotic music
see erotic, music, erotic dancing, heavy breathing in music, the bawdy origins of rock and roll, Erotic Music Law

By region

world erotica

By era

erotica timeline


arousal - bawdy - burlesque - BDSM - censorship - clothing - eros - eroticism - erotic horror - fantasy - fetish erotica - genitalia - libertine - nude - lust - film star - nudity - paraphilia - perversion - peep show - pin-up - Pompeii - pornography - ribaldry - sadomasochism - sensuality - sex - sex film - sex manual - softcore - striptease - vaudeville - vintage erotica - voyeurism


See also

erotic art, erotic fiction, erotica vs. pornography debate, history of erotic depictions

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

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