Monday, August 6, 2012

Romance vs Erotica vs Porn

by J. Lea Lopez

Even though I'm not a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, have no problem with porn, and am not a mommy (to anything except my adorable dog), my blood still boils when those books are called "mommy porn." I find it extremely degrading to women as readers and sexual beings, as well as to erotica writers. While many erotica writers use terms like "smut" and "porn" to describe what they write, in an attempt to reclaim the words from their contemporary negative connotations, those words do still have that feel of negative judgment. Especially porn. I think many of us would agree that in calling a book mommy porn, the intention isn't praise.

In any case, it has brought up discussions surrounding the apparently difficult-to-define lines between romance, erotica and porn. It's fairly clear in my mind, but I can see how it might be more muddled for others. Especially as some romance gets steamier and erotic romance becomes more prominent. When I'm asked about the difference between erotica and porn, however, it's pretty obvious that the person asking is under the impression that erotica IS porn, and that they don't think very highly of that. So let's look at the difference.

Porn


Plain and simple, porn in writing is the same as porn in film: meant for sexual arousal. It's stroke material, if you'll forgive the crudeness of that term.

Some people will assume, then, that any book with super sexy scenes must be porn, because what are those scenes meant to do but to get the reader hot and bothered? Of course a sex scene in romance or erotica should be hot, but there's more to those scenes than sex. Or at least there should be, in my opinion.

In romance and erotica, the sex has purpose in the context of the story; in porn, the story is merely a vehicle to deliver the sex.

I hate to say it, but a good portion of self-published "erotica" I've come across would probably fit better in the porn category because they recycle the same tired old tropes, have little character depth or development, and the plot feels like an afterthought thrown in to hold together the sex scenes. There's nothing wrong with porn, but please call it what it is.

Romance


There are two key components that define romance: a focus on the development of romantic love between the hero and heroine, and the HEA—or happily ever after—ending. Story doesn't have these things? Chances are it's not a romance.

There are other implied expectations in romance, as well as some very specific requirements from some publishers and imprints (like Harlequin). They can include things such as:
  • Specific age ranges for hero and heroine
  • Alpha male heroes
  • Heterosexuality
  • Monogamy
  • Heroines who are vulnerable, but "complex, strong and smart."
  • "Sexual language is euphemistic and romantic, not explicit" (Harlequin Desire)
The list could go on and on. Bottom line, though, is that there's the development of romantic love between a man and a woman, and it will end with either an implied or stated committed relationship.

Erotica


Erotica can trip people up sometimes. They aren't sure what it is. Is it just romance with more sex? Is it porn with a bit of romance? What IS it? It's difficult to sum up in a one-sentence definition, but I'll try. Here's what I think erotica is:

Fiction that includes explicit sex as a major part of the plot, but that is not necessarily romance.

That seems like it leaves a lot of wiggle room, doesn't it? Some people say that in erotica, sex or a a sexual journey are the story, but that feels too restrictive to me. I think there's room for a lot more than just that. There may certainly be some romantic elements in erotica, but HEA or even HFN are not requirements. What else makes erotica different?
  • Plot and writing are just as important as they would be in romance or any other genre!
  • Free to explore ideas like non-monogamy and sexualities outside of hetero
  • Bring on the love triangles! (or rectangles, or hexagons, or whatever...)
  • No need to wrap everything up neatly. Sometimes melancholy endings are good.
  • Freedom to explore, in-depth, some of the emotional and psychological issues surrounding sex and sexuality
Sex scenes should be at least mildly sexually arousing, whether in porn, erotica, or romance. (Unless there's some other purpose for the scene.) That's what sex is. So simply relegating all writing with sexually arousing scenes to "porn" would be doing a disservice to all literature.

What are some other differences you can think of when it comes to romance, erotica, and porn?

J. Lea Lopez is a writer with a penchant for jello and a loathing for writing bios. Find her on Twitter or her blog, Jello World. She has had some short stories published, most recently in the Spring Fevers anthology.

15 comments:

Denise Covey said...

Thanks for your definitions. I get confused re erotica vs porn.

Arlee Bird said...

I get the differences and you've broken them down appropriately I think. I don't read any of these genres for the most part--I've sampled all of them--but over all they are not something I can read repeatedly. I admire the ability of the writer who can do it successfully though.


Lee
Tossing It Out

Lynn Proctor said...

this is such an interesting topic--i have been reading the "outlander series because my "dil" wanted me to read them--she is in love with them--i don't exactly love them but like them---there is a lot of graphic sex in them--too much for my taste, but i don't think i would ever think to call them porn :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Great definitions and explanations, Jen! :)

Susan Roebuck said...

This post was very well crafted and puts all three into perspective. Thank you

Molly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Molly said...

The quick way I've summed it up is:
Romance: love, then sex
Erotica: sex, then love
Porn: just sex

Oversimplified, I'm sure, but sort of accurate.

"Mommy porn"--ugh, yeah, not a term I'd ever use. I do have some male friends who are into MILF porn, but they mean that in a very different sense (and a much more complimentary one actually). ;)

Christine Rains said...

Great breakdown. I agree that romance focuses more on the emotional aspect while porn is completely sexual. Erotica falls in between. I'm offended by the "mommy porn" label too. There's nothing wrong with female pleasure, and there are some fantastic erotica writers out there. I think a lot of people label things that they've never read.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Thanks for reading, everyone :-)

Molly, my only quibble would be that there doesn't necessarily have to be romantic love in erotica. However, there's still some sort of emotion related to the sex somehow.

Christine, I totally agree. Nothing wrong with female sexuality, and certainly nothing wrong with mothers also having sexual fantasies and desires.

Christina Farley said...

Very good points and I liked how you broke down these categories!

Jean Oram said...

I've never tried to break it down, but this makes a lot of sense. :) Thanks, Jen.

Revo Boulanger said...

(High fives Dr. Lopez)
Way to go! Great definition of the genres and a solid presentation that illustrates the pride in creation for the writers chosen subject matter.
(tips hat)

Joey Francisco said...

Thanks J. Lea for breaking down the differences in such an artful manner, and I applaud you for blasting those who call certain books "mommy porn".

Stand still, because I'm giving you another high five after Revo does.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Thanks Christina and Jean!

*high fives Revo and Joey* :-)

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