The Definition of Pornography, How It Developed over Time, and the Role Censorship Played in Its History
Pornography and erotic arts, like any other cultural development in human history, have undergone a long evolution before becoming what it is now. Pornography usually does not qualify as a form of art as distinguished from erotica, the goal of which is to add some superficial artistic hues to the depiction of human sexuality. These definitions are highly subjective, however, as “one individual’s erotica may well be another's pornography” (Seltzer par. 19). The general idea is that pornography is a utility item whereas erotica is an aesthetic item.
Erotic pictures, sculptures and other depictions of sexual activities existed from the ancient times. Even though it was illegal at the time, anonymous erotic novels and short stories were published and distributed in France since the beginning of 17th century. When it came to the development of actual mass production of pornography, in the 18th century, the first fully pornographic literary work by John Cleland (no anonymous authors) named Fanny Hill was written (Haslanger 163). Later, writers like Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch added various sexual deviations to the depictions and transformed the genre of erotic fiction into a fetish pornographic fiction. Sacher-Masoch’s submission-celebrating novel Venus in Furs is an excellent example of this transformation. However, censorship and public dispraise held the genre of erotic fiction from undergoing a faster evolution in a shorter span of time.
Filmmakers started exploring the field of pornography as soon as cinema was invented. One of the earliest pornographic silent movies was Le Coucher de la Mariée – a seven-minute French short depicting a woman undressing. Throughout the 20th century, pornographic movies were made in almost all countries that had their own film industry. By 1970s, directors decided to add an experimental factor to their works, which further blurred the lines between pornography and erotic art. Movies like In the Realm of the Senses by Nagisa Oshima and Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom by Pier Paolo Pasolini depict this point quite well. Such films usually spawned a lot of controversy upon their release and were repeatedly banned for their explicit sexual nature. Some even caused a huge public outrage, which prompted more censorship laws (DeCesare 132). No distinction between an erotic art film and a pornographic film was usually made by the protesters.
In conclusion, it should be stated that the difference between erotica and pornography stays highly subjective and depends on the consumer.
DeCesare, Michael. “Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976-1986.” Social Movement Studies, vol 14, no. 5, 2014, pp. 632-633. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/14742837.2014.971738.
Haslanger, Andrea. “What Happens When Pornography Ends in Marriage: The Uniformity of Pleasure in Fanny Hill.” English Literary History, vol 78, no. 1, 2011, pp. 163-188. doi:10.1353/elh.2011.0002
Seltzer, Leon F. “What Distinguishes Erotica From Pornography?” Psychology Today, April 6, 2017, …