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Sex and Literature: Erotica in the 20th Century

by Beth Divine 12 Aug 2018

This was the beginning of a massive wave of technological advances that is continuing in some form even today. Photography and video had made their debuts at the end of the last century and was perfected in the early twentieth century. As with every new medium that came along, pornographers seized on the new tech, and used it to develop new titillating products for their ever-growing band of customers.

Erotica was widely recognised as an art form with merit, in all forms: traditional stone and pottery and canvas, and modern media like film and photography, with the nude human body becoming more accessible to all, thanks to free museums and the invention of television as well as the enormous sudden growth of the film world.

An acceptance of sex as a completely normal process, to be embraced and enjoyed, instead of being a cause of shame and repression, began to grow, and people started to fight back against censorship, challenging the banning of books and movies, and demanding that the hegemony be forcibly changed.

Televisions were soon found in every home, and the VCR followed, allowing people to indulge their fleshy tastes in the privacy of their own homes, instead of risking exposure or arrest in clubs and unsavoury theatres. Discreet video delivery services took all the risk out of watching porn and specialist videos.

Feminism held the theory that women could enjoy sex too, and it became more acceptable for women to have casual sex, to expect an orgasm with most encounters, and to not be expected to be the moral guide of the genders.

The widespread decriminalisation and acceptance of alternative lifestyles saw the slow growth of erotica and porn aimed at same-sex couples, rather than the usual ‘lesbians doing it to each other until a man comes along to show them the error of their ways’ scenarios so loved by traditional porn producers.

From widespread access to most households, erotica and porn has specialised – there are more categories to choose from now than most people can get through in a lifetime. It will be interesting to see what happens should a swing to more conservative values come along, forcing fetishes and the more extreme sexual practises underground: will porn become more vanilla again, or will the extremes continue? Only time will tell.