Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: Definitive Definitions

by | May 10, 2013 | Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker | 2 comments

Definitive Definitions 

A pal of mine asked an
interesting question once: what’s my definition of erotica, or of pornography?
Other folks have been asked these questions, of course, and the answers have
been as varied as those asked, but even as I zapped off my own response I
started to really think about how people define what they write, and more
importantly, why.

It’s easy to agree with
folks who say there’s a difference between erotica and pornography. One of the
most frequent definitions is that erotica is sexually explicit literature that
talks about something else aside from sex, while porno is sex, sex and more sex
and nothing else. The problem with trying to define erotica is that it’s purely
subjective—even using the erotica-is-more-than-just-sex and porn-is-
just-sex-analysis. Where’s the line and when do you cross it? One person’s
literate erotica is another’s pure filth. Others like to use a proportional
scale a certain percent of sex content—bing!—something becomes porn. Once
again: Who sets the scale?

What I find interesting
isn’t necessarily what the distinction between erotica and pornography should
be but why there should be one to begin with. Some writers I’ve encountered
seem to be looking for a clear-cut definition just so they won’t be grouped
together with the likes of Hustler and Spank Me, Daddy. While I agree that
there’s a big difference between what’s being published in some of the more
interesting anthologies, magazines and Web sites as opposed to Hustler and Spank
Me, Daddy
, I also think that a lot of this searching for a definition is more
about ego and less about literary analysis. Rather than risk being put on the
shelves next to Hustler and Spank Me Daddy, some writers try to draw up lists
and rules that naturally favor what they write compared to what other people
write: “I write erotica, but that other stuff is just pornography.
Therefore what I write is better.”

This thought process has
always baffled me. First of all, it’s completely subjective. Who died and made
you arbiter of what’s erotica and what’s pornography? It sounds like those
drawing the line have something to prove to themselves, or hide from. They
decide it’s okay to hate pornography because what I write is erotica. More
importantly, this little fit of insecurity opens the door for other people to
start using your own definitions against you. Even a casual glance at the
politics of groups out to “save” us all from the evils of pornography
shows that they will use any device, any subjective rule (otherwise known as
“community standards”), any nasty tactic to arrest, impound, burn, or
otherwise erase what they consider to be dirty words. You might consider yourself
an erotica writer, and be able to show certain people that you are—or, more
importantly, convince yourself that you are—but to someone else you’re nothing
but a pornographer, just like the stories and writers from whom you’re trying
to distance yourself.

So I don’t I’ll tell you
that personally, I use all the terms pretty much interchangeably: Porn,
erotica, smut, literotica, and so forth. You name it, I use it. Depends on
who’s asking. If I’m writing to an editor or publisher, I use erotica. If I’m
talking to another author, I playfully call myself a “smut” writer.
If a Jesus Freak gets me out of bed with a knock on the door, I’m a damned
pornographer. In my heart, though, I just call myself a writer because even
though I write stories of butt-fucking bikers, lascivious cheerleaders, horny
space aliens, and leathermen, I’m more turned on by trying to write an
interesting story than what the story may particularly be about. Half the time
I’m not even aware that what I’m writing is a sex story because I’m having way
too much fun with alliteration, character, description, and plot! The fact that
what I’m writing may appear in an anthology or book with the word
“erotic” in the title has nothing to do with how I approach my
writing: a story is a story no matter the amount or manner of the eroticism I
may include. A good example of my commitment to writing, pure and simple, is
that I sign my work M.Christian, no matter what I’m working on: science
fiction, mystery, literary fiction, non-fiction, or even something with
“erotic” in the title.

If there’s a point to
all this, it’s that you’re in charge of your own definitions, but try and pay
attention to why you define, or why you feel you should. Erotica, pornography,
smut, dirty words—be proud of what you write but never ever forget that genres,
labels, brands, and all the rest are meaningless. If you’re a writer, you
write. And you get to call the fruits of your labor whatever you want because
you created it.

M. Christian

Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement.
Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name. In erotica, M.Christian is known and respected not just for his passion on the page but also his staggering imagination and chameleonic ability to successfully and convincingly write for any and all orientations.

But M.Christian has other tricks up his literary sleeve: in addition to writing, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited 25 anthologies to date including the Best S/M Erotica series; Pirate Booty; My Love For All That Is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica; The Burning Pen; The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi); Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant), and many more.

M.Christian's short fiction has been collected into many bestselling books in a wide variety of genres, including the Lambda Award finalist Dirty Words and other queer collections like Filthy Boys, and BodyWork. He also has collections of non-fiction (Welcome to Weirdsville, Pornotopia, and How To Write And Sell Erotica); science fiction, fantasy and horror (Love Without Gun Control); and erotic
science fiction including Rude Mechanicals, Technorotica, Better Than The Real Thing, and the acclaimed Bachelor Machine.

As a novelist, M.Christian has shown his monumental versatility with books such as the queer vamp novels Running Dry and The Very Bloody Marys; the erotic romance Brushes; the science fiction erotic novel Painted Doll; and the rather controversial gay horror/thrillers Finger's Breadth and Me2.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he'd want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.


  1. Remittance Girl

    Well, you know I disagree. I don't think it's about ego. It's a matter of narrative structure. Porn that has conflict is bad porn. Erotica that doesn't have any conflict is bad erotica.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    Journals exist to debate distinctions like this!

    The thing is, even if you don't care, other people do, including readers. I've had erotic romance readers, and authors, get red-faced and huffy trashing erotica because it's "just about sex" (and swearing that what they read and write is better).

    The labels determine people's expectations. And I have to say, I've had people who were looking for porn dish my stories because they didn't have ENOUGH sex.

    Are there any hard and fast definitions? I'd disagree with RG and say no. I could write good porn that had conflict. Do the labels make any difference? In terms of the reader's experience, unfortunately, yes.

    Your own stories defy definitions, though. So I can understand your perspective.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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