Stunt Porn / People Porn

Burlesque contortionists, c. 1910

Burlesque contortionists, c. 1910

What is it about erotica that allows it to cover so much ground? I’m mean really, what’s up with a genre that contains everything from Anais Nin to poorly veiled twilight slash, (sorry Fifty Shades)?

The way I see it, erotica falls into two basic categories. I’m going to label them People Porn and Stunt Porn. These two categories cover a lot of territory but, in the end, they have less to do with the “quality” of the writing than they do with authorial intent.

People Porn is erotica that features some form of emotional or psychological arc. Failing that, there is some sort of thematic point to the story. While the stories are explicitly sexual, they are so for a reason. Think The Story of O, Anais Nin and yes, Fifty Shades of Grey. I know many people have issues with Fifty Shades, and that’s perfectly fine, (I have them too), but no matter how bad it is, the sexual acts depicted are depicted to a purpose – a character’s exploration of BDSM.

If you want to see an example of what I mean by People Porn, read a piece I wrote called “The Second Letter.” You can also listen to “Bound / Unbound,” a story I wrote for The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast.Β  Those stories are People Porn. Graphically sexual? Abso-fucking-lutely, but very much to a point. “The Second Letter” is about the end of a relationship, while “Bound / Unbound” examines how easily control crumbles beneath sexual pressure. Those stories require sex, but they aren’t strictly about the sex. They’re about the people having it.

Stunt Porn on the other hand, is exuberantly and un-apologetically hot for the sheer, filthy joy of it. Stunt Porn doesn’t want to make you think. Stunt Porn wants to get you off. The whole point is to make you wet, to make you hard, and to make you want to fuck. Think everything from Anne Rice’s The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Babysitting the Baumgartners by Selena Kitt. Yes, Rice’s Beauty series is gorgeously written and very literary in style, but in the end, it’s really just a beautiful set-piece in which various characters have sex in supremely interesting ways. Characters aren’t examined and emotional depths aren’t plumbed, but if you’re looking for the prettiest pony play in literature, you’ve found your book.

There is no value judgement here. Stunt Porn is awesome. I’ve written Stunt Porn and will continue to do so, (though, I must admit that, as my writing matures, People Porn attracts me more). In fact, if you want to read an example of my Stunt Porn, check out “Spin Cycle.” That’s Stunt Porn and it still makes me happy, even though I wrote it three years ago. Stunt Porn is as awesome as People Porn – it’s just different. It’s literally about the animal joy of having sex, which, I think, is worth writing about.

Ultimately, figuring out how erotica can contain so much variation is less important than removing the value judgement inherent in erotic classification. I’m not suggesting that we remove the classifications, (I used to be a librarian – IΒ love classifications), but I am just suggesting that rather than slot things as “good” or “bad,” we look at what the author is trying to do.

Stunt Porn and People Porn both serve equally valuable purposes. For me, as both a writer and a reader, it’s important to remember that and to treat both sub-genres with equal consideration. Whether my characters are fucking for the sheer joy of fucking, or fucking as part part of a larger arc, the story needs to serve it’s intended purpose. It either needs to turn you on, or it needs to turn you on and make you think. Either way, reading erotica should feel intimate. As an author, that should always be my primary intent.

21 comments

  1. it never ceases to amaze me the range of your thoughtful posts. erotica is a very broad genre, it is sadly people that narrow it. btw i almost fainted when i saw the burlesque contortionists, fantastic!

    1. Aren’t the contortionists gorgeous?!? I’m just a thinker by nature. My mom always said that I’m an over-thinker, but I prefer to call it recreational thinking πŸ˜‰

  2. I like those two categories, though I think I’ll add a third, or maybe a subcategory of each. Yes. I like that. A subcategory. Because there is absolutely shitty porn out there, and it’s got to be its own animal. I won’t read anything that I even think MIGHT be shitty porn, even though I’ll pick up other genres even if I worry that they might be crap. (Ergo, I have not read a single word of Shades, nor shall I.) It isn’t only bad writing that indicates shitty porn, but a lack of attention to detail. Her eyes are blue in one scene, brown in the next, and oh my GOD the mole moved from his ass to his inner thigh. It’s the worst of lazy writing that, in other genres, wouldn’t pass anything like a sniff test but which, with erotica, possibly because the genre is so often passed over for being taboo, is accepted without a thought.

    1. I definitely don’t disagree – there is some *horrendously* shitty porn out there. I was thinking about that actually as I wrote this and I think that stories can be classified in multiple ways. For example, Fifty Shades may be People Porn, but it’s *also* REALLY Shitty Porn. The People Porn / Stunt Porn labels don’t address quality, but that doesn’t mean quality isn’t important – Quality Porn vs. Shitty Porn could be a whole different post!

  3. I love this post, Malin. A brilliant exploration of a topic we just hinted at over lunch this week, which – as you tend to be – is quite thoughtful on the matter. πŸ™‚

  4. Yes, definitely, yes. I finally picked up a copy of the Sleeping Beauty trilogy to find out what all the fuss was about (I am a youngin’ and my generation doesn’t really know it exists) and I couldn’t put a finger on why I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I’m such a people porn reader and just couldn’t relate to the action-heavy narrative. And as much as I have my issues with Fifty Shades of Grey, I could not put that series down.

    1. Exactly! I had a lot of trouble getting into Sleeping Beauty too, even though I really wanted to love it. I recently re-read it and realized that I was missing characterization, and that no matter how gorgeous / hot the prose and scenarios are, I wanted to be in Beauty’s head. I wanted to understand what that experience was doing to her, but that’s not what it’s about. I’ll always be of two minds about it – I both love the conception and find the execution a bit frustrating. I’m a People Porn person.

  5. I love this, Malin, so thought provoking, I could ponder this subject for hours. I suppose I do feel a bit slanted towards “people porn”, but I can also appreciate a healthy does of “stunt porn.” Both are satisfying in different ways.

    1. They really are. I think that it’s easy to see People Porn as higher quality or more worthwhile, but there is some *really* gorgeous Stunt Porn out there that’s just as good. Both really do have their place. Thanks so much for reading for commenting, Oleander. I’d love to talk about it with you over a glass of wine, (or more), some day!

  6. I love this perspective and I love this post. I really love football slash fic (which I know has critics) because for me the best-written stuff crosses over between the two. Tons of anguish and unfulfilled longing for the ‘People’ bit, and lots of very hot two-guy action. Cake. Eat it. Mmmm….

  7. Haha – I love these categories! I suppose People Porn tends to feel more satisfying to me… But then again, so does a salmon and veggies, but you’ll still catch me eating instant ramen now and then. Sometimes you need to get your fix and get it quick, eh?

  8. This is a wonderful post!! I’ve struggled in the past with the distinction between ‘erotica’ and ‘pornography’ – I read someone say it as “Erotica is what gets me off, and pornography is what gets those dirty people over there off” – but I could never reconcile it. I felt if my stories weren’t literary enough, they weren’t good – but I liked writing my stroke fiction! I liked knowing that my stories got people off.

    I think this is a much better distinction πŸ™‚ I like that there’s no inherent value judgement – it’s just a separation of authorial intent. I’ll definitely be using this to explain my writing in the future! Thanks so much! ^^

    1. You’re so welcome, and thank you for the comment! I struggled with the same issue for a long time – I enjoy reading and writing both as well. It wasn’t really until I sat down to write this post that this particular distinction developed. I’m happy it resonated!

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