I finished the draft of the manuscript on Friday night. Yesterday I spent the day wandering around the French Quarter with my extended family, eating beignets, and drinking Hurricanes in celebration. Today I took the girl child to see Catching Fire. And while each of those are worth a blog post (especially that first one), I don’t want to talk to you about any of them tonight. Tonight, I want to talk to you about porn. (My poor mother. My poor brother. My dad? Eh. He’s already chuckling.)
I’m writing about this now not because I’m obsessed with sex, which the frequency of the topic so far on this blog might seem to indicate, but because of an interesting discussion on Anne Rice’s Facebook page a few days ago in which she discussed her Sleeping Beauty series, which some people call pornography and some people call erotica. (She calls it pornography, by the way.) Call it whatever you like, but since pornography is so often one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it things, I’ll say I’ve seen plenty of sex scenes that qualify in romance novels. In fact, I see far and away many more pornographic sex scenes (or sex scenes at all) in romance novels than in any other genre of literature, even literature that places the portrayal of a romantic relationship as a priority. Don’t get me wrong. Not all romance novels contain sex scenes that are pornographic. In fact, more often than not they don’t, at least not according to the traditional definition of the word. And that’s where porn for men and porn for women part ways.
The purpose of pornography/erotica is to cause, well, erotic/sexual feelings, not aesthetic or romantic ones. Far be it from me to question an author’s intent, but I think it’s safe to say that plenty of romance writers include explicit sex scenes to stimulate erotic/sexual feelings. But does it cease to be pornography if it also stimulates romantic feelings? I think so, but there’s a lot of debate about what it then becomes. My instincts say it becomes romance. Erotic romance, but romance nonetheless.
For now, porn is a man’s industry. It’s made largely by men for men. And if you’ve ever seen any porn made by men for men (and good grief, it’s so prominent in modern American culture that it’d be hard to avoid seeing it on occasion), you’ve probably noticed some of its hallmarks. Men treating women as objects; men intent on taking pleasure instead of sharing or giving it; sex without connection beyond the physical, without relationship beyond the sexual, without emotion beyond lust. And there’s the difference between porn for men and porn for women. Emotion. Connection. Relationship. Even the Beauty series Anne Rice herself refers to as pornography has those elements. I don’t think Beauty qualifies, not because it’s not pornography, but because pornography is no longer a useful term to discuss the kind of writing that erotic romance has become. The word and all of its ugly associations diminish the importance of the genre and the women (and yes, men) who read it.
Yes, I just said erotic romance is important.
I have talked here before about how many of my writerly peers look down on genre writing (and most certainly the romance genre) as being something less important than “real” writing. I, for one, would beg to differ. I will not argue that Anne Rice’s pornography/erotica or any other genre writing should be compared in a literary analysis to Melville’s Moby Dick or James Joyce’s Ulysses. But I would point out that erotic romance is one of the fastest growing genres in the business. Obviously, there is a market for the writing, and that market is a demanding, almost insatiable one. Just look at Fifty Shades, for Pete’s sake. Why the sudden demand? I don’t think the answer is a hard one to come by. Given how little the market has had to choose from until recent years, is it any surprise they are demanding now that they’ve gotten a taste? While I am not advocating that the Beauty series or any erotic romance be made a part of the literary canon, I would argue that the proliferation of erotic romance, especially over the last decade, has provided women with perhaps the single most important means of exploring their own sexuality ever conceived. Unlike porn for men, absent of connection/relationship/emotion, erotic romance provides women with a body of literature written for women by women for the purpose, at least in part, of stimulating that sexuality, but it stimulates that sexuality so well because it includes the very connection/relationship/emotion necessary for many women to feel sexual in the first place. Erotic romance satisfies more completely a need for women that pornography never could, and that is why it is important. It is an important tool for women to learn more about their own sexuality, not only for their own health, but for the health of their relationships. It is an important step in women’s struggle to redefine their sexuality according to their own individual terms, not according to the patriarchy’s terms. It is an important part of how women change the conversation about the relationships and the power struggles between men and women, both as individuals and as a community. It is not, however, pornography. Now if only I can get Anne Rice to agree with me on that.