Is the movie, Pretty Woman, pornography? Technically, yes. The word, pornography, comes from the Greek words, porno, meaning prostitute and, graphy, meaning writing. Pretty Woman is a story about a prostitute and fulfills the original literal definition of pornography: “writing about prostitutes”.
Yet most people do not consider that movie to be pornography. They keep the DVD on their shelf next to their other movies, not hidden in the bottom of their sock drawer with the rest of their porn.
If simply writing about prostitutes is not necessarily pornography, then, what is pornography in today’s culture?
In movies, the defining characteristic seems to be twofold: the image of a penis entering another person’s body; and the image of ejaculation. Neither of those images are found in mainstream movies. But everything else – nudity, obscene language, and sexual intercourse without showing the actual penetration – is accepted.
When it comes to writing – my personal interest – no such distinction can be found. Pornographic stories cannot describe sex more explicitly than the bestsellers lining bookstore shelves. They do not use any words not found in bestsellers. They do not present any situations, from casual promiscuity to rape, not found in bestsellers.
To confuse the issue further, a large segment of pornography does not include explicit sex. It caters to various fetishes. The most common fetish, about ten per cent of the pornography market, deals with the interrelated issues of bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism. In these stories, people are often tied, chained, or handcuffed in unnatural poses. Poses similar to the so-called “stress positions” employed by military interrogators. They may be spanked, flogged, pinched, have hot candle wax dripped on them, or pierced with needles. Often there is not a single overt sexual act. Explicit sex is not always necessary to stimulate lust.
Is sadomasochism something that is not found in the mainstream media?
Hardly. If you want to read bestsellers about men and women tied up and tortured, you shoud read thrillers, spy novels, or crime stories. You will find a lot more explicit and realistic descriptions than in most pornography.
I could not bring myself to write the kind of sadistic scenes that happen just off screen and are readily described in TV shows such as Law & Order or Criminal Minds. Stories about children being raped and murdered are too perverted for me. It does not matter that the perversions are committed off screen, or that the perpetrators are vilified by the sanctimonious protagonists. The images are still being planted in the audiences imaginations.
Unlike those stories, all my writing is about adults in consensual situations who suffer no permanent damage.
It should be no surprise, then, that I prefer to distinguish my writing from most popular media. I do this by calling my stories pornography.
And if my writing helps some people find physical pleasure, that makes me all the happier. I would rather satisfy than titillate.