The difference between erotic and pornographic

What is the difference between erotic and pornographic?

It is probably not a question I would ever have asked myself until I got a call from a photographer who ran a website ‘with tasteful shots of naked girls.’ He was launching a magazine to be called The New Nude and needed an editor. Would I be interested in writing ‘tasteful’ captions, articles and short stories? I thought about it for about 30 seconds and said yes. As a jobbing writer all jobs are interesting and ultimately pay the bills.

The caller was Petter Hegre, a Norwegian with sunny blue eyes and blonde hair down to his shoulders. He had studied with the fashion photographer Richard Avedon in New York and returned to Europe with bold plans to reveal the difference between erotic and pornographic through his new magazine. I rather liked the idea that it was Petter’s mum, a dentist in Stavanger, who had suggested he find an English writer ‘so it won’t be too vulgar.’

I had never written nor read any erotica and went straight out to John Sandoe, the independent bookshop off the Kings Road in Blacklands Terrace. There, among books piled from floor to ceiling a man of indeterminant age whispered like an agent in a spy film two intriguing words: Anaïs Nin. I returned home with a copy of A Spy in the House of Love and forgot to eat lunch devouring the pages.

Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell (1903-1977) grew up with this grandiose name in Neuilly, France, with Cuban parents well-known on the European social scene. Anaïs lived in Spain and Cuba before the family moved to the United States. At 16, she was an artist’s model. She took lessons in flamenco and studied psychoanalysis. She had affairs with John Steinbeck, Lawrence Durrell, Gore Vidal and both Henry Miller and Miller’s wife, June, their story brought to the cinema screen in Philip Kaufman’s 1990 Henry & June. Nin’s relationship with her father is explored in House of Incest, 1936, a psychological study of transgression and the incest taboo, themes loosely based on her relationship with her father.

Discovering the Difference Between Erotic and Pornographic

A Spy in the House of Love is the story of Sabina, an intelligent, curious woman who grows to adore sex with all its mystifying portals and potentials. She has a weakness for picking up strangers in the night clubs of New York in the 1950s and disdains all commitments to dedicate her life to the pursuit of pleasure. 

Nin’s elegiac style mesmerises the reader. The erotic episodes transpire naturally and are analysed in ways that had never before been described in mass produced novels. We learn from Anaïs Nin that the difference between erotic and pornographic is that erotica explores feelings, emotions, human instinct, psychology. Porn consists of repetitive descriptions of naked entanglements peppered with obscenities and an almost exclusive focus on the sex act in ways that are often degrading and sadistic.

The erotic is a peep through a closed curtain at our own hidden desires, a journey to self-knowledge and sexual pleasure. Erotica dresses in costume, veils and masks. Nudity is selective, subtle, understated. The erotic seeks mutual pleasure. Pornography’s thrill is that it is, or is designed to appear, non-consensual. Porn revels in splashes of flesh, ripping bodices, bodies inflamed by the cane and whip. Porn is simulated sex removed from the human condition and addictive because it is ultimately unsatisfying. An erotic photograph is mysterious, ambiguous like a single frame from a film that prompts us to ask what may have just happened and what is about to happen. A pornographic image is arranged to titivate and shock, an end in itself. Erotic and pornographic are as different as yinand yang. Porn TELLS. The erotic SHOWS.

Nin’s female characters drive her stories as if from the wheel of a Bugatti and she dives into the pool of her own inner life through the lives of her creations. Life, she said, ‘is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.’ 

The Female Point of View

The painting, “Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene,” is likely one of the first depictions of same-sex female desire made for a gallery-going audience in the West, and the painter Simeon Solomon, was a gay Jewish artist living in Victorian England whose work has been nearly forgotten.

I began to compose short stories for Petter Hegre’s website and quickly realised why his mother in Stavanger had been concerned about vulgarity. My sentences stumbled across the page in a shopping list of tropes and clichés, a dictionary of the obscene and vacuous. Reading through what I had written, I felt an emptiness, a disconnect, a scrabble bag of the erotic and pornographic spelling out that seven letter word writers fear most: TEDIOUS.

When I went back to Anaïs Nin and read more of her work, I began to see what was wrong with my attempts at erotica. Stories of sexual encounter composed from the male point of view dwell in the world of conquest, power, entrapment – cruel toffs and alpha truckers trapping the babe, the bunny, the slut and overpowering the whimpering creature with gladiatorial manliness – all very dull without nuance or elegance.

I started to compose the stories from the female point of view and my fingers ratter tap tapped across the keyboard with the rhythms of Anaïs Nin dancing flamenco. Petter Hegre read the stories, I’m not sure whether or not he sent them to his mum, and we were ready to start publishing. Now I had the stories in the right style, I needed a female pseudonym to add authenticity and settled on the rather unimaginative Chloe Thurlow, taking my first initial and the E from my middle name Edward.

As a ghost-writer, I was well prepared to inhabit the mind of Chloe and, once born, my avatar was far more productive than I had ever been. We produced six novels published by Random House, among others, and received cart loads of reviews, articles, comments, even translations into Polish and Spanish. In a review for Katie in Love, writer KM Dylan wrote the ultimate if exaggerated accolade: ‘Chloe Thurlow is the Anaïs Nin of our times.’ One loyal reader must have gone through the books with a highlighter and set up a website to provide computer background wallpaper with Chloe Thurlow quotes. I remain incredibly envious.

 Katie in Love can be found at Amazon UK and

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