A young companion was discussing the difference between 'porn' and 'erotica' with me. I'd written about that, and she and I were talking about my ideas on the difference. She told me that while she appreciates some classic erotica-- yes, "Story of O" ---as literature, in the end she preferred porn. In porn, she said, at least something happened. Well, I think she was talking more about film or video than about books, since in "O." lots of things happen. But she does have a point. There are films that get categorised as "erotica" that are lovely to look at and filled with beautiful people in elegant settings. Let's say "The Lover" or Zalman King's version of "Delta of Venus". And, yes, the characters have sex. But there's no clear checklist of events, and the focus isn't on the mechanics of what the characters are doing. My companion laughed about some of the films in the "erotica" category. Very pretty, yes--- but she wanted, she said, things she could use.
I do understand that. I came of age in an era when porn was in print, not on video or on the web. I'd read accounts in porn novels about what exactly the characters were doing and how exactly they were doing it. When I first saw video erotica and video porn, I already had lists of activities to explore and some idea how the mechanics of those things were done. What video gave me, or to be precise, what "erotica" on video gave me, was a set of aesthetic and class markers. Places, fashions, locations, styles mattered to me in an aspirational way. A Zalman King film came with lovely soundtrack music and with catwalk-slinky high-fashion girls in exotic and expensive settings. The world of the film was more important to me than the sex itself.
My young companion had grown up on Vogue and its overseas progeny. She already knew about fashion and decor long before she ended up in my bed. What she wanted was a guide to particular positions and activities. She knew what things should look like; she'd grown up in a social setting where fashion was taken for granted. She needed to know how things were done and what kinds of sexual activities were possible. We both needed lists, just of different things.
I did show my companion some of the feminist criticism of porn that attacked the genre precisely for providing those checklists and for somehow making girls think that porn-sex was "authentic" sex. The critics' argument was that girls watching porn would feel compelled to do things that were somehow wrong in some politcal or therapy-culture way. My young friend was baffled and irritated. She told me that she the reason she was watching porn was quite openly to discover new things to try, and she tapped a finger on my chest and said that it was bloody well partof my job as her older lover to introduce her to new things. Well, yes, that's true. My role is to offer up possibilities. She knew very well even in her plaid-kilted school-uniform years how to dress and move and pose and choose designers and boutique hotels. She'd grown up being taught those things. What she wanted in her life was events; she wanted to have things happen. As much as I needed the world where things like Zalman King films are set, she needed to work through checklists of things to do.
We all collect things in our lives, we all aspire to things. You want to look back and know that you've been certain places, done certain things, played certain roles. It's no more inauthentic to try a certain set of positions because you've seen them in porn than it is to want to go to Japan or Paris because you've read about them in travel memoirs or seen films set there. Life is about things happening, about experiences that we can have and then turn into stories. That's worth remembering. Life is about things that happen, and anything that offers how-to advice is valuable.