1. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Purpose of erotica

    Discussion in 'Erotica' started by thirdwind, May 29, 2014.

    I was going to post this in another thread ("What is one type of genre you try and avoid for writing?") but figured this was the best place to post this.

    I should mention that I don't read erotica, which is why I'm asking these questions. I'm unclear as to the purpose of erotica. The way I understand it, erotica is like porn. Not many people study it seriously, and it's only used as a means of sexual gratification (I could be wrong about this). So is it meant to simply "entertain"? Is it meant to provide social commentary in some way? Can it be seriously discussed and studied (either in a casual or academic setting)? I honestly have no clue and would love to hear answers from others.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Porn is erotica. There's no meaningful line. It's a spectrum of media all connected by the common denominator of sex. How can one know this? Because within the genre itself there is great controversy over what is and what isn't porn, what is and what isn't erotica. If the people who write it can't agree or want to draw lines that no majority agrees on then the lines are arbitrary. I've been turned away from "erotica forums" because my sex was too graphic for them, being told, "No, that's porn, that's not what we are fostering." *shrug*

    Does it serve sexual gratification? Of course! Or at least, hopefully. Badly written sex is not a turn-on any more than bored looking porno actors going through the motions. Can it be social commentary? Absolutely. As much as any other genre can.

    I think it can be seriously discussed when the people participating in the discussion can come to it as divested as possible of the weight of preconceived social normativity and taboos. Nearly all of us are sexual creatures. You have to come to the discussion with a personal honesty about that first.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I understand that you can make observations about gender, society, etc., but how many readers think about this? I'm guessing that for most people, reading erotica is about sexual pleasure and that's it. So that makes me wonder whether erotica is an effective genre for social commentary.

    Also, if erotica is mostly about sexual gratification, what motivation does the writer have to work on improving his prose? As long as the writer is understood, does it matter whether he's Dan Brown or James Joyce? Again, this might be a readership problem.
     
  4. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    What is the purpose of erotica?

    The same could be asked of fantasy fiction or even any genre for that matter.

    Maybe for some, it's a way to explore a taboo subject in their mind rather than playing it out in their daily lives or maybe for some, it's confirmation that what they do in the bedroom is not abnormal or just limited to them?
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Based on how and what I read, I think good books should be enlightening or insightful in some way. I've seen this in fantasy, sci-fi, etc., but I don't know if erotica can play the same role. Again, this goes back to the readership and doesn't really say anything about the good writers in the genre. I'm sure there are some writers who say something insightful in their work (i.e., gender/sexual expectations), but I think a lot of the readers miss it because they're so focused on the sex.

    True. It can provide some good social commentary (as I mentioned above).
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If I write a gay erotic book and you read it. You-you, not the greater "you", or any other straight guy and you read and see and understand that the personal needs and desires I have, and how those desires fit into the rest of my life, into the rest of the story, aren't really different from your own, then social commentary has been made. I have given you a literary "Matrix brain plug" and a small window into my personal paradigm.

    ETA: You have never struck me as the kind of guy who would be surprised to find that we're not that different. It's just an example. :)

    It matters. To me at least. I can speak for no one else. If the writing is crap, it's crap no matter how many throbbing wieners are on display. One could say the same thing about pretty much any genre lit. There are plenty of titles that deliver the props of a given genre and no real story and we can tell the difference between that and a truly well written example of the genre in question.

    Also, there are plenty of titles and franchises that serve a similar purpose to their audience, but less honestly than erotica does. Twilight and H.P. are both franchises that serve a different purpose than mere escapism. DUNE is escapism. The Pelican Brief is escapism. GoT is escapism. But Twilight and H.P. go deeper into the psyche and attempt to fulfill a need for the reader. Both franchises give the reader not a place to escape to, but a world to put on like a costume and pretend for a little while to be all the awesome, cool, or beautiful things the characters in these stories are. How as that any different other than the level of honesty in marketing?
     
  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    All fiction is escapism of one kind or another. I wouldn't enjoy a book that focuses just on the sex, straight or not. For me, the sex has to move the story along too, even if it is in a very small way. Sometimes, it's better to get the characters as far as the bedroom and then let the reader use their imagination.

    I guess what I'm saying is for me, that's the difference between erotica and pornography. Erotica is the sex between two people who have deep feelings for one another, sex that means something to both parties (batteries may or may not be included). Whereas pornography is everything else, sex with strangers, for self gratification, because the writer is trying to break the record for the most instances of sex in a 350 page novel ...
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yeah, all genres have crap writing, and all genres have writers who don't seem interested in getting better. But maybe the readers of some genres are more forgiving than others. A lot of people have complained that Fifty Shades was poorly written, but a ton of people still read that book.

    But isn't that what erotic literature is all about? Only sex? Sex defines the genre like science defines science fiction. Of course, this is where things get tricky because you could have a murder mystery with tons of explicit sex; what would something like that be shelved under? Once you start focusing on other things, publishers might try to shelf the book under a different genre for marketing reasons. So the rules about what constitutes erotic literature might actually be very stringent in this regard.

    :D
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    But a Science Fiction story isn't science-fictioning (not a word) every sentence of every paragraph of every page. There's human interaction, there's plot, there's what's going on, there's why it's going on, there's every aspect that is found in any other genre along with the science-fictionie parts. True?
     
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  10. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    LOL.

    No, I mean sex for sex's sake.

    I can't (well I can but I refuse) to comment on whether Fifty Shades was poorly written or not as I don't feel I have the right to make that judgement, who does when what constitutes "bad writing" is different things to different people?

    But, what I can say is that was one story that did go overboard on the sex. Yes, I understand why the sex was HOW it was, I understand how that was linked to the story and how the sex was a big part of the story but, there was an overwhelming thought of 'good God, they are at it, again?'

    You mentioned science fiction. Stargate and Star Trek are both science fiction, but also totally different from each other so I really don't think you can say all erotic literature is only about sex.

    Maybe erotica should be sub-divided into 'Erotica - more sex than story' and 'Erotica - more story than sex.'
     
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  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, whoever's job it is to discern the difference, I do not envy them the task. :D

    My own thoughts and perceptions on these question have evolved greatly just in the time we have had this area in which to discuss Erotica. There have been plenty of other places where I have had the opportunity, but those places were already set in their ideas and culture. I have had more room to contemplate here.
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    True. But how important are these other things to readers? Actually, I just now finished reading through some reviews of random books on Amazon, and it looks like a good number of the reviewers do mention characterization, plot, believability, etc. But an overwhelming majority of them do focus on the sex. I don't see science fiction readers focusing on the science as much in their reviews. It just goes to show you how readers of different genres have different expectations.

    Anyway, maybe it's time for me to pick up some erotica.
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Hey, when it's good, it's good. ;)

    So as readers of erotica, what are you guys looking to get out of it? What things should someone who's new to the genre look for?
     
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  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Aha! Now there's the question. ;) If you read through some of the threads in this subforum over in the Science Fiction part, you'll see wildly varying opinions on the importance, focus, purpose, and reason for the existence of Science Fiction. There are many who feel Science Fiction is defined by how humans react and behave when presented a particular technology. The tech is the focus. I disagree completely. For me, the tech is the tool by which to talk about the human condition. It's a prop, not the center.

    In an erotic story, I feel that I can talk more plainly and realistically about love and relationships between people. I think the fade to white that we've been trained to expect when intimacy happens in a story is a tremendous cultural hangup, part of the millennia long encumbrance sex and sexuality has endured in our culture.
     
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  15. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    That's the beauty of discussion - gives you room to think and possibly change your ideas.
     
  16. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Maybe the reason they don't pick up on the sciency bit of science fiction is because in essence, the sciency bit of sci-fi won't have happened yet but the sex part of erotica is happening in bedrooms (and other rooms) all around the world right now.
     
  17. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I never read anything erotic (or sexy) until I read Fifty Shades, and then I picked up a few other 'erotic' books and then I realised that it was sex that was missing from my own story.

    What did I get out of it, erm ... I'm not sure! I think my husband benefited from it more than I did and he didn't read any of them! :oops:

    On a serious note, for me, it adds another depth to the story. How far are the characters willing to go for each other? Will a relationship survive if they are sexually incompatible? Does one character use sex as a weapon or a means to an end? It doesn't just have to be about the sex.
     
  18. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    ... and before you ask, (for me) well written sex is sex that reads realistically whether it be tender lovemaking, ravenous falling off the bed and digging your nails in sex or even sex with added toys.

    Realistic are also the times when it doesn't go as planned, there's an interruption or 'he' fails to rise to the occasion. Yes, sometimes it is explosive but it's not multi-orgasm mind-blowingly earth shatteringly "oh my God, I've died and gone to heaven" every time!
     
  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Almost every question of this kind seems to begin with the assumption, whether stated or implied, that sex and eroticism is frivolous, distasteful, a waste of time better spent on more "useful" things. And yet when someone writes a novel about a person who is (say) in the the grip of an overwhelming desire for vengeance, and goes around killing and destroying, no one says that vengeance is simply about anger and violence and not something to treat seriously because it has not other significance.

    Sex is one of the most powerful driving forces in the human psyche. People build, destroy, kill, create, procreate, and do the most magnificently absurd things in pursuit of it. Troy was destroyed because of sex. The Church of England arose largely because of sex, all romantic poetry has its base in sex.

    As far as popular fiction is concerned, it is highly unusual for a novel to focus heavily upon the philosophical aspects of the story, or at least not in an obvious way, no matter whether it is a police procedural, a Raiders of the Lost Arc type adventure, a romance, or science fiction. The primary "hook" is the action, mystery, puzzle solving, interpersonal relations, etc. The nuances are mostly in the background. Because sex is so powerful, it often appears to drown out all other messages, but that does not mean they are not there.

    And yet, when a novel is about sex, somehow many people feel that it requires greater justification for its existence than a western, a noir detective tale, or a vampire horror story. In my opinion, this says more about the questioner than the erotica being examined.

    As for the erotica/porn question, the common example of "porn" is in my opinion, a straw man. No one has ever produced a published novel (not a internet freebie) that is nothing but sex from beginning to end without a trace of all the usual other aspects of a "proper" story that appear in any other kind of novel. All porn is erotica, and all erotica is porn.

    Therefore the relevant question is, why should erotica have to prove it's "worth" to exist any more than any other genre of novels, and why people even feel compelled to ask such a question in the first place.
     
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  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Sex, like anything else, is most powerful and effective in literature/film when used sparingly. It seems like sex in erotica is catering to a basic human need. Now I know that excessive violence can have the same effect, but I'd argue that sex has more of an effect on people than violence. After all, when have you ever heard the phrase "violence sells?" So while sex is important for a variety of reasons, why is it necessary to write erotica and not write, say, general fiction with sex used sparingly? After all, if the goal is to use sex to say something insightful, is the best way to get the message across really to write about a lot of sex? Doesn't it lose its appeal, and thus its power, the more you use it?

    Just to be clear, I have no issue with sex. I'm just wondering whether there are effective and ineffective ways to use it.
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The purpose is to... entertain, I guess.

    I think The Story of O is classified as erotica, but I derived a wealth of other things from it than mere sexual gratification. I realized things about freedom, servitude, love, and sacrifice that I hadn't really thought about before. I'm not into BDSM, so maybe that explains my focus, but in my case that novel extended beyond the sexual content, but the sex was also necessary so that the reader understands O's psychological development. It couldn't have been told through any other actions, afaic.

    But in addition to that novel, I haven't read a lot of erotica titles that would've really stayed with me. It's like with excessive violence, it gets boring after a while. Then again, if the characters are interesting, the story is written well, and has a riveting plot, I'm going to enjoy it like any other novel. Granted, excessive violence doesn't make me want to grab the gun and go a-shooting while excessive depections of sex, well... they can be quite inspiring. :eek:
     
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  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    T.W., you know I love you man, but my response is: Prove it. Prove to me this is more than just a repetition of the standard taboo against sex as a publicly acknowledged phenomenon.

    Sure. As @Bryan Romer makes mention, why is this wrong? Other than what the history of Western Civ., and especially Judeo/Christian Western Civ., has saddled us with, what is wrong with this?

    If we bring the word "necessary" into play, we quickly come to an argumentative impasse where no genre and its accompanying props passes the test of "necessity" in writing. Does Fantasy need to exist in order to tell the human stories within Fantasy stories? Not really. You could tell the same stories with different props in a General Fiction story. And isn't this the same argument used by those who hold Literary Fiction as the only "true literature" and all genre lit as glorified pulp fiction?

    Maybe we need to go back to an earlier part of this conversation. The stories I write have actual stories. It's not sex from page one to page done.

    Now here, the answer is absolutely yes. There are effective and ineffective ways. In my story (working title: The Great House) the sex has a lot to do with the change in one of the two main protags. And actually for both when I think about it. There are insecurities that are overcome, and blind spots that are illuminated in both characters as they learn to know one another, both in and out of bed.
     
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  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's not just the repetition sex; it could be the repetition of anything. To me, overusing something makes it have less of an impact. The reader becomes desensitized. It's like news reports about murder in Detroit. They're so common that people no longer care, and what used to be front page news is now on the third page. So there needs to be a balance, and the balance must be such that any sex scene (or violent scene, etc.) has the greatest impact for the reader. Of course, this is just my opinion.

    It's not wrong, but going back to a question I posed earlier, if it's only catering to a basic human need, why should we seriously study it as literature? In my opinion, literature is meant to be insightful and enlightening in some way. Now erotica can do in some cases, but in the majority of cases, it doesn't seem to do that (from what I gather). People read it for the sexual thrill and that's that. In fact, here's what Wiki says about erotic literature (bolding mine):
    "Erotic literature comprises fictional and factual stories and accounts of human sexual relationships which have the power to or are intended to arouse the reader sexually."

    Well, I'm using necessary fairly loosely here. For example, in fantasy, we get to see how people react to things we'll probably never have or experience (immortality, the ability to do magic with a wand, etc.). So in that sense, I would argue that those elements are necessary because the novel wouldn't be as insightful. In erotica, suppose you take away some of the sex and you have 5 sex scenes instead of 10. How would that impact the reader and the reading process? Would the novel somehow lose something?
     
  24. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    You use the word "repetition" as if every sex scene is identical and exchangeable. This need not be the case, just as each act of violence in an "action" novel is not necessarily a repetition, and each demonstration of "magic" in a Harry Potter novel is a repetition. One sex scene may be non-consensual, a rape, while another the nervous virgin coupling of two teenagers, yet another the comfortable and familiar play of a married couple, while the next is between a customer and a prostitute. This does not even take into account the various kinks and fetishes that might come into play, or homosexual sex. Handled by a competent author, none of these scenes is repetition of another nor would they even convey the exact same shade of eroticism. This leads on to your final paragraph. Taking the above examples, I would say yes, most definitely, taking one or more sex scenes out of the story would indeed lose something.

    You highlight the words "intended to arouse the reader sexually" as if it should mean something special. Why should sexual arousal be less capable of inspiring insight and enlightenment than horror, disgust, fear, avarice, hubris, generosity, anger, or self-sacrifice. Your implication is that any author who would lower him or herself to the writing of erotica is by definition abandoning all literary intent or lacks the capability in the first place to impart any worthwhile observation of the human condition.
     
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  25. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Some of those scenes you listed are meant to be insightful in some way, not be sexually arousing, which, according to the Wiki definition I posted above, is the primary goal of erotica. I would imagine that rape scenes are fairly rare in erotica and that there aren't very many people who get aroused by that sort of thing. I could be wrong, though.

    The author's intent doesn't matter; it's all about how the reader interprets it. And this reader (me) doesn't get enlightened when reading a sex scene. Now this could be a failing on my part. I don't get enlightened when I watch porn. I'm not focused on character relationships, etc. All I think about is the sex. (Perhaps it's different for you.) That's the same way it is with erotica. For me, the stuff that happens between sex scenes is the most important, insightful, and enlightening.

    All of this goes back to the readership. How do erotica readers see erotica? Are they only in it for the sexual thrill or for something else? How we answer such questions really depends on what we personally believe is the goal of literature. There's really no wrong answer. All I'm doing is sharing my opinion.
     

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