Erotica Versus Pornography
North American society is currently inundated with sexual content. Some of the sexual images that are displayed are controversial. This trend may prompt us to wonder what is considered a healthy portrayal of human sexuality versus what is offensive—and more specifically, what is the difference between erotica and pornography?
The dictionary defines the erotic as “anything that arouses sexual desire and heightens sexual excitement,” while pornography is defined as “a commercial product designed to elicit or enhance sexual arousal by portrayal of sexually explicit images.” Therefore, there seems to be a blurry line between erotica and pornography.
In order to narrow down my inquiry, I asked some people to identify the main difference between an erotic movie and a pornographic one. One individual told me that erotica is both sexually arousing and intellectually stimulating, whereas pornography is only meant to sexually arouse. Another person explained that there is an overlap between erotica and pornography. For instance, a movie might have elements of the erotic and the pornographic, and the viewer can subjectively determine what is erotic versus pornographic.
Based on the information that I have gathered, I will attempt to differentiate between the erotic movie and the pornographic one.
The erotic movie is designed to sexually arouse but also to stir other emotions (i.e., joy, sorrow, anger) in the viewer. There is a compelling story, a message, and well-developed characters—especially the female characters. The well-crafted sex scenes are integral to the story and do not necessarily arouse the audience; it is a movie that portrays sex contextually and has artistic merit. One example of an erotic film is Like Water for Chocolate.
The mainstream typical pornographic movie intends to sexually arouse a male audience. The film does not contain a gripping narrative or message. The women are often young and have very similar looks (i.e., big breasts, small frame, blonde hair). The female characters are hypersexual objects who seem happy to be at the disposal of men. This type of movie tends to mix explicit sexual images, submission, and violence, and targets this violence towards women; it is a male fantasy in which there are no negative consequences (i.e., STIs, pregnancy, rejection, or sexual dysfunction) to questionable sexual acts.
The porn industry is big business. There are more than $4.2 million worth of porn sites on the web, which makes up 12% of total sites in cyberspace. Pornographic videos, Internet sites, and magazines generate about $13.33 billion of revenue in the United States annually, while Canada brings in about one-tenth of that figure ($1 billion per year).
Many people are tolerant of pornography because it is legal when it involves consenting adults. They argue that although the public is immersed in pornographic material, no legitimate scientific study has proven that it harms the viewer. In the case of porn film actors, they are tested every 24 days for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which renders this occupation relatively safe.
I think that pornography promotes a distorted view of sexuality. We are often concerned about the potential negative effects porn has on the viewing public (especially children) but forget the sex workers. It is difficult to imagine that anyone is willing to give up so much of his/her integrity for money. I believe that most of these individuals were seduced by the easy financial gains promised by the porn industry, that they started young (late teens) and were probably unaware of the real price they would pay.
Ex-porn star Shelley Lubben describes a very disturbing reality of the mainstream porn movie industry. She reveals that the vast majority of these actors take drugs to numb themselves in order to perform in these films. The women often come from abusive homes and suffer from low self-esteem. The former porn star stresses that although the female sex worker appears to love men, she often despises men.
Although they are regularly tested, most porn actors and actresses get infected with STIs repeatedly. Women are particularly vulnerable to these infections, and many of these actresses have permanently damaged their reproductive organs. Most of these sex workers do not have marketable skills and find it very difficult to leave the industry. As Shelley Lubben remarked, viewing porn often equals to “watching very sick people have sex on camera.”
The line between erotica and pornography can be difficult to draw. A person’s erotica can be another’s pornography. However, the real issue may be what promotes healthy sexuality versus what depicts people as mere disposable sex objects. Pornography will continue to be made as long as the public buys this product. Ultimately, with our dollars we can ensure that both the viewer and the individuals on screen have an erotic experience instead of a pornographic one.