A history of erotica

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It’s existed for centuries and has become more mainstream in the 21st century

Jaymin Proulx
The Interrobang (Fanshawe College)

LONDON (CUP) – Sex is often marginalized and quietly spoken of, if at all. It’s naughty and R-rated and borders on what’s acceptable to share and what’s embarrassingly not.

Karene Howie and her partner Geoff Haselhurst, both philosophers, maintain a philosophical website on sexuality at sexuality.spaceandmotion.com. Howie explains that philosophy has largely neglected sex, yet sex is central to human existence and survival of the human species.

“Cultural and religious myths label sexuality ‘forbidden’ or ‘sinful’ and equate blame with sexual intercourse,” Howie said. “The forbidden fruit is very appealing though and, because of that, it enhances desire and makes evolutionary sense that we find sexuality exciting.

“We are programmed to seek sex, procreate to spread our genes, and thus survive and replicate.”

She adds that the details in erotic literature, which includes fiction novels, short sex stories, poetry and verse, sexual memoirs, autobiographies, dramatic plays, and sex guides or manuals, are worth paying attention to.

The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio (1351) is a famous work of erotic literature from the medieval times,” she said. “Themes of love, lust, seduction, fortune and misfortune, happiness, desire, and generosity are explored with the stories. However, the book was banned in many countries, even after 500 years!”

The Kama Sutra was written by the sage Vatsysayana, who, as Anne Hardgrove of Open Magazine explained, was a monk who collected all of the sexual knowledge of years before him, to meditate and contemplate about the Creator. It is the only surviving written account of that ancient period of Indian history.

Tyler Smith, an employee at City Lights Bookshop in London, Ont., was equally open about his opinion about what he sees as the distinction between erotic fiction and pornography.

“In terms of broader aspects, there is the subtlety and sophistication in erotic fiction – it’s a journey to the act,” he said. “But with pornography, it’s merely ‘doing’ the act.”

With the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, Howie added, came a new age of the distribution of erotic literature, as well as more restrictions with censorships and obscenity laws.

Both the Victorian era (1837 to 1901) and the Edwardian era (1901 to 1910) were characterized by rigid class structure, moral purity, and severe sexual repression.

“It is fascinating to uncover the sheer volume of erotic literature that came out of Britain and France during this period,” Howie said. “When our natural sexual desires are suppressed, they do not die, but manifest in perverse ways or flourish ‘underground.’”

During the Victorian Era, plenty of passion ensued. It was characterized by fixations on spanking, incest, defloration of virgins, rape, orgies, pedophilia, sexual torture, discipline and punishment, homosexuality, cross-dressing, and more.

John Cleland was one male erotica writer from the era. He penned Fanny Hill, Memoirs of Pleasure in 1748, one of the most famous works of erotic literature and the most persecuted in the Western world.

Smith contended that erotica, at first, was mainly written by men for men, with females being the sexual object. Later, erotica written by women for women proved that they have just as many lustful desires as their male counterparts.

Pauline Réage, who wrote the Histoire d’O (Story of O), squashed critics who claimed that erotica couldn’t be written by a woman. Her book was released in 1954 and brought about controversy over its sadomasochistic nature. No one knew it was written by her: some thought it had to have been a man’s work. Forty years after the book was published, Réage came forward and admitted that it was her writing.

Anaïs Nin is another female author both Smith and Howie mentioned. She was unique in her graphic and raw exploration of sexuality. She captures the depth of the nature of a female psyche. Her works included Delta of Venus and Little Birds, both of which were arousing and powerful.

In the 21st century, erotic fiction is very mainstream but somewhat elusive in context. Much of erotic fiction can be found in fanfiction and based on science fiction, fantasy or current television programming.

“There is definitely a paranormal aspect to current erotica,” Smith explained. Series such as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are examples of the teen romance genre. Although these books do not contain hardcore erotica, they glisten with subtleties and temptation, Smith explained.

Howie added that the modern reader is in a very unique place: “We now have very easy access to the history of erotic literature. Reading quality erotic books from the past helps to cultivate the sexual and aesthetic aspects of our minds, enhances our sexual lust and adds spice and variety to our sex lives.”

So what does the future hold?

Anne Rice delved into her naughty side to produce the series The Chaining of Sleeping Beauty, three stories loosely based on the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. The trilogy made the list as a bestseller and topped Rice’s financial success with her first book, Interview with the Vampire.
Nerve is a fantastic, modern-day collection of 10 years’ worth of essays, interviews, fiction. and photography from the magazine of the same name. The book’s neon pink cover with a nude photograph of an Angelina Jolie look-alike beseeches the reader to purchase.

“It’s a tricky line,” Smith said. “Just because something [sexual] is written, does that make it erotic fiction?”

Mark Twain coined the phrase, “Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”

So while showcasing an erotic coffee book for the guests to see may seem inappropriate, well, that’s up for you to decide.

1 comment

  1. Jimminy Kricket 28 March, 2012 at 03:09

    The difference between erotica and pornography is the level of PRETENTIOUSNESS! Compare Hefner to Flynt.

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