Not all erotica is equal

If 50 Shades of Grey did nothing else (other than make a handful of people a LOT of money) it introduced stacks of women who, a) didn’t read much if at all; b) read only blockbusters, books recommended by friends or straight romance or c) both, to the pleasures of erotic fiction.

Since bookshops and e-book retailers bloomed with a plethora of readily available, erotically charged stories and us girls flocked to the produce like proverbial moths to flames. The way the world at large reacted to the emergence of 50 SofG you’d be forgiven for thinking erotic fiction was in some way new.

The truth is erotic stories have been around in many forms for centuries, and are currently growing in popularity thanks to the anonymity e-readers provide to the more ‘conservative’ sections of the population who might not otherwise want to be caught reading ‘porn’. More of us can now consume all manner of written perversities in the company of our Kindle, iPad or Kobo. However, I’ve discovered not all erotic fiction is equal and finding a book/writer that is to your particular taste can be a challenge.

Fear not – I’m here to help. In the weeks leading up to Christmas I’m going to introduce you to some publishers, some writers, some erotic fiction review sites that will hopefully help you wade through the sea of sexy words on the internet and beyond. But before I do, I want to clear something up. Erotica, erotic fiction and porn are terms thrown around fairly loosely and their meaning can depend heavily on the values and views of the person using them. Just so we understand each other, I want you to know what I’m talking about when I use them.

Porn. As far as I’m concerned written porn portrays the physical aspect of sex only. It’s usually based on a scenario, and often with stereotyped characters lacking any real depth or believability. Porn tends to be both light weight and utilitarian – by which I mean it serves a functional purpose – to arouse and titillate you and get you off. The quality of the writing can vary enormously, but that aspect of it isn’t really important. Generally it’s fairly short, designed to be read in isolation and paced specifically to end with a big bang – both for the character(s) and the reader.

Erotic fiction tells a story that incorporates the emotional and sexual experience of the characters. Sex and desire are integral to the story, without them the story can’t be told. The characters need to explore their sexual desires in order to get what they want in the end, which isn’t always an orgasm, it could be love, power, money, solving a crime etc. There are those who believe stories of a characters sexual journey (erotic fiction) should be distinguished from stories of romantic relationships (erotic romance) – but for mine I’m happy to put them together. Again, the quality of the writing and the story can vary enormously and there are dozens of sub-genres under the erotic fiction banner, covering everything from explicit romance to paranormal to historical to BDSM to fantasy to steampunk and everything in between.

Erotica is a more contentious term and here I find the lines start to blur a bit because people often use it interchangeably with ‘erotic fiction’. In my view erotica tends more toward high-art and literary expression of sexual acts and objects. It’s kind of posh porn. There is a view that erotica covers extreme or transgressive sexual subjects including fetishism, violence, incest and other taboos – which some erotic fiction covers also. The defining difference seems to have something to do with the quality of the writing and the purpose of the piece – it uses language to expose darker aspects of human sexual nature.

Check out Sylvia Day for a good list of definitions on her website.

Which do you prefer to read? Do the differences matter to you?

Next week: Meet the co-authors of ‘Submission Therapy’ and read a cheeky excerpt. 'Til then - x x.


I’ve always described the difference between “porn” and “erotica” in the following way:
Porn is about “how” and “where”. Erotica is about “why” and “oooooohhhhh”…and for me, there are heavily blurred lines between Erotica and Erotic Fiction. I enjoy them both, but do tend to prefer more literate examples in either case.

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