Sunday, 28 April 2013

Porn and erotica - which is it?

 There was a debate last week by an organisation called Intelligence Squared at the Royal Institution last Tuesday 23rd April where the motion was 'pornography is good for us: without it we would be a far more repressed society.' I didn't attend the debate itself, but apparently at the outset 60% of the audience supported this motion, and by the end this had only reduced to 50%. Germaine Greer opposed it, arguing that pornography doesn't rescue us from repression, it actually feeds off it, because without some form of repression there would be no pornography. Either way, it looks as if we – or at least the intelligentsia sitting in a debating chamber - are still pretty equally divided in our opinions. I wonder how such a debate would go if it was enacted by parents, teachers, therapists, criminologists...?

We live in a society where we are lucky to have access to whatever literature or images we choose, but as an adult I choose to avoid going anywhere near the troubling modern day porn in all its dead-eyed blatant, fleshy, garishly-lit, visual crudity. It's starting to make Emmanuelle look like Mary Poppins and is scaring the lifet out of most parents. So had I been debating this issue I would have gone further and suggested that even the word 'repression' is surely outmoded in this day and age in which case so should porn be, that is, why do we apparently still 'need' it? Far from liberating us or taking us away into fantasies, it merely takes sex, something that is beautiful, if basic, and turns it something ugly, brutish or even violent at best, and at worst is starting to damage and frighten the young, evolving minds that watch it.

Some might say this is rich coming from a writer of erotica, but the two prime words I have just used are 'watch' and 'writer'. One of the many tags that irritated me about the 50 Shades phenomenon was its description as 'mummy porn', which, without getting too heavy, seemed to link two opposing words in an extremely unpleasant way. The writer of it happened to be a mother, and the readers were often mothers, but the only mother in the narrative is an abusive, drug-taking prostitute in the hero's back story. Similarly the 'porn' involved in the story relates to the use of domination, punishment and sex toys, but then the book is also described as erotica. So, which is it? Erotica, or porn? In my view, it can't be both.

I am not a natural debater – I tend to get heated, emotional and as you can see from this piece, opinionated – but if I am challenged on the basis that I've written some pretty experimental sexual practices in some of my earlier work, I prefer to simplify matters for myself and for my audience by making a stark distinction. To me, porn is immediate, unimaginative, visual, and predominantly male-orientated. Erotica seeks to arouse through the written word and imagination, and is primarily by women, for women. It's the difference between brutality and sensuality. Insult and compliment. Relationship and encounter. Consent and imposition. Porn seeks to lower, erotica to elevate. Porn is imposed, violent, debasing. Erotica celebrates sex within an adult, and with the genre of 'erotica romance' catching on, increasingly intense, romantic relationships.

An unlikely champion of this viewpoint was D H Lawrence. Recently, preparing for my erotica workshop, I re-read parts of Lady Chatterley's Lover and realised that the 'obscenity' in it relates more to the context, the language used, and the times in which it was written, rather than the explicit yet tender descriptions of the sex itself.

I suppose in conclusion that if I was going to put my money where my mouth was, I'd have to imagine my teenage son's reaction if he read one of my books. Mostly he'd snap the book shut as soon as he realised what was going on, but if he did read it more closely he would see that everything happening was part of an intense, loving journey between consenting adults. The worst that could happen is that he'd be deeply embarrassed, not deeply damaged.