Erotica’s Lost Literary Roots – I Know It When I See It.

Back in 1964 regarding possible obscenity in the film The Lovers, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his opinion:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. [Emphasis added.]

—Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers.

I’ve spent better part of a week trying to come up with a way to define where the line between literary erotic and Porn is. Is it the quantity and the quality of the sex? Is it the use of sex within the context of the story? Is it as simple as the fact literary erotic is plot driven and not just descriptions of sex held together in a sort of jello mold of context? I kept going back to what Justice Stewart wrote – I know it when I see it (or read it in this case).

Does it matter that there is a clearly defined difference between the two? I think it does. At least to people like me who are trying to get back to the origins of erotica in their work. The wall I am consistently thrown against is the same: I publish my books under Literature and I’m slammed for having too much sex in my books – I publish my books under Erotica and I’m slammed for the sex not being raunchy enough in my books. There is no single good category for me to classify my books.

My latest release Memoirs of a Gigolo Volume Two has ended up in Books › Gay & Lesbian › Literature & Fiction › Erotica (to be exact). I have a few nits to pick with this. There is a scene of gay sex in the story that is pivotal to understanding the relationship between two of my main characters. But the story as a whole is not a gay erotica. It certainly doesn’t belong in the same category as some of the books it’s lumped in with. The only category that Volume Two really seems to belong in is straight Erotica. But again, I’m getting hit for filing Volume Two in there.

As one reviewer who left a still respectable rating wrote (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t be arsed to look up the review again) “I just don’t get it – there is only one het and a lesbian scene. What’s the point?” The reviewer did make note of the fact my writing was better than most of what was available. I do appreciate that.

From my perspective, there needs to be another category that books like mine can be sorted into. Two subheadings under Erotica. One for Literature one for Porn. Take the confusion out of it. So I’m going to start a petition. Ask Amazon to add two subcategories. One for Literature. One for Porn. Make it clear and easy for everyone to understand what it is I write and what a lot of other people write on both sides of the fence.

What is the solution? I know porn when I see it and I know literary erotica when I see it. I think most people doing the writing know what they’re producing. When I want porn, I go for porn. When I want erotica, I got for erotica. Just to be clear, I’m not bashing porn. It has it’s place in the universe and I respect its right to exist. I am also not implying there is such a thing as good and bad sex (that is wholly in the mind of the person involved). There are subcategories for romance. There should be subcategories for erotica.

Unfortunately I have this tendency to get on my high horse and ride it until my ass cheeks chafe.  But I’d rather try to do something rather than just bitching and moaning for the sake of nothing. So I started a petition. I’m going to get enough people who agree with me and ask them to sign it. Then I’m going to send it to the machine that is Amazon. They’ll probably ignore it, but at least I will have done something. Here is my petition: There is a difference between erotica and porn. Please sign it if you agree with me.
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