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A history of erotica

"One person's erotica is another person's pornography."

Complimentary page: timeline of erotica/pornography

By medium: erotic art - erotic books - erotic comics - erotic fiction - erotic movies - erotic music - erotic photography - erotomaniacs

The difference between [erotica and pornography], apart from the moral/aesthetic judgement, largely rests on the intention of the person doing the "making". It is assumed that the pornographer produces pornography with the sole intention of causing people to feel sexually aroused, usually for financial gain. Erotica, however, may also have aesthetic or expressive purposes; there is less sense of the producer manipulating the feelings of the consumer, and less implication of purely financial motives. There is also a difference as regards the medium; the word "pornography" is nearly always applied to written texts, film and, primarily, photographs. One may say "an erotic statue", but probably not "a pornographic statue". --Robin Turner, Debating Pornography: Categories and Metaphors via http://neptune.spaceports.com/~words/debating.html [May 2005]

In other languages: erotico (Spanish and Italian) - erotik (German) - erotique (french)

By region: American erotica | Belgian erotica | British erotica | Dutch erotica | European erotica | French erotica | German erotica | Italian erotica | Japanese erotica | Scandinavian erotica

By era: erotica timeline - early erotica - vintage erotica

Odalisque (detail) c. 1745 - François Boucher

Related: arousal - bawdy - burlesque - BDSM - censorship - clothing - eros - eroticism - erotic horror - fantasy - fetish erotica - genitalia - a history of erotica - libertine - nude - lust - film star - nudity - paraphilia - perversion - peep show - pin-up - Pompeii - pornography - ribaldry - sadomasochism - sensuality - sex - sex film - sex manual - softcore - striptease - vaudeville - vintage erotica - voyeurism

Quer durch Europas Betten. Der erste aktuelle Sittenroman (1951)
Image sourced here.


These pages deal with erotica, eroticism and erotism in all its forms. There is a substantial overlap between erotica and pornography. The difference between the two is artistic merit and the author's intent. For some, erotica is pornography with high art aspirations. Both the term erotica and pornography were first attested in the mid-19th century; erotica was used in the context of book collecting and pornography in the context of debates on prostitution, obscenity trials and prosecutions.

A work solely intented for masturbatory purposes, is generally not regarded as erotic art, although exceptions exist.

Erotica and pornography are excellent tools to study the rise of new media and new technologies. Printing technology gave rise to erotic fiction and erotic engravings, photography begot erotic photography, film begot erotic film, VCR technology liberated the pornographic film from seedy theatres, the internet thrives on erotic imagery and dating services. Examples abound. Colin Wilson , for example, traces the development of the novel in relation to the human imagination and erotic fiction in his The Misfits, a Study of Sexual Outsiders.

One more way of looking at erotica and pornography (most of the time the terms are interchangeable) is the sexual act becoming aware of itself: nature turning into culture, sex becoming self-referential.

Since pornography and erotica are genres that provoke physical reactions, what I call "body genres", they are generally held to be "low" cultural manifestations. However, I like to believe that this list of writers, visual artists, filmmakers, photographers and publishers prove that works of high quality can be found in these badly regarded and maligned "low" genres.

Erotica also carries the connotation of softcore, whereas pornography carries the connotation of hardcore. [May 2006]


Erotica, from the Greek eros, "love", refers to works of art, including literature, photography, and painting, that deal substantively with erotically stimulating or arousing descriptions. It is rather a modern word used to describe the portrayal of human sensuality [love] and sexuality with high-art aspirations, differentiating such work from commercial pornography.

It has been said, euphemistically, that "The difference between erotica and pornography is simple. Erotica is what I like; pornography is what you like, you pervert".

While pornography popularly focuses on unadorned and unemotional lusts; the explicit depiction of sexual acts, erotica tends to define material and higher emotional content, the development of place, character and story line, or of an overall artistic theme. However, such distinctions are necessarily subjective and may say more about the critic's own tastes on erotic material than the artistic and other attributes of the material itself. In the motion picture sense, soft porn is a similar kind of commercial art form that resides in the area between erotica and hardcore pornography, although erotica, as a type of fine art, may also be highly explicit.

It is a notable trait of the strength of the human reproductive drive relative to the psyche as a whole, that unambiguous reference to sexuality, framed in a manner which the perceiver thereof finds acceptable, tends to intiate an involuntary reaction of sexual arousal, possibly building increased sexual desire, which may lead to creating or taking advantage of opportunity to engage in sexual activity. This can be true of erotica just as well as other, both more and less refined references to sex. Depictions of the human body which merely fail to conceal or disguise the secondary sexual characteristics of its particular gender may be all that is necessary to trigger arousal in a person who is attracted to that gender. For this reason, erotica is too broadly described merely in terms of the effect that it engenders in its audience, as all sexually related matter has the potential to create such an effect. For example, in the absence of the availability of pornography, some men have used clothing catalogs as a form of erotica. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotica, Aug 2003

Etymology of erotica

Erotic (1621)
1621 (implied in erotical), from Fr. érotique, from Gk. erotikos, from eros (gen. erotos) "sexual love".

Erotica (1854)
Erotica (1854) is from Gk. neut. pl. of erotikos "amatory," from eros; originally a booksellers' catalogue heading.

"one driven mad by passionate love" (sometimes also used in the sense of "nymphomaniac") is from 1858.

Eroticize (1914)

Eroticism (?) --Douglas Harper via http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=erotica&searchmode=none [May 2005]

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