Monday Morning Fika: Joan Defers on pornography

The word “pornography” didn’t enter the English language until the middle of the 19th century.

It was originally used by the French (pornographie) in describing the ancient Roman art that archaeologists unearthed all over Europe in the early modern period. By 1859, French critics started using it to describe menacing works of native written erotica. (French erotica of the period is often radically political. How sexy is that?)  The term’s roots, which are Greek, literally mean  “a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution.”

By 1873, the Comstock laws (many of which are still intact)  used the United States Postal Service as an agent to ban the distribution of written erotica, obscene pictures, sex education materials and contraceptives, all in the name of protecting public decency.

I would bet that someone, somewhere out there in Internetland is arguing that written erotica isn’t pornography, at any given hour of any given day.

The distinction may be important to a writer who doesn’t want their emotionally wrenching story of sexual awakening lumped in with Big Booty Bus Drivers 17.

The law doesn’t care, though.

It never has.

The courts banned Ulysses for a little over a decade. The U. S. Customs Service banned the import of Tropic of Cancer, and it wasn’t legally sold in the States until 1964. Fanny Hill, The Story of O, Madame Bovary, LolitaLady Chatterley’s Lover, Catch-22, Brave New World. The list goes on.

It may seem perfectly rational to suggest that Lolita isn’t Barely Legal, but the impulse to eradicate human sexuality isn’t rational. The Societies for Decency are out to eradicate demons. Even a little evil is too much. At the height of the Comstock era, several medical texts were outlawed, because they contained too much anatomical information.

Luckily, these days the Customs Service isn’t burning books anymore (they used to.) The Postal Service isn’t preventing the sale of condoms.

The impulse to restrict access to content remains.

Politicians in the UK are currently debating the merits of a nation-wide porn filter. WordPress recently started randomly deleting sex blogs. Blogger banned the use of adult advertising or affiliate links this year, going on it’s own huge deletion spree.  Tumblr enraged users over search terms, filtering results, blocking 3rd party search engines like Google, and removing tags like “gay” and “lesbian” from their phone app. Last year PayPal backed down on a plan to shut down erotica publisher’s accounts on the grounds that they distributed “obscene” materials.  Barnes and Noble and Apple both remove erotica and erotic romance from their best sellers lists.

Which brings me to Amazon.

Amazon has a shaky track record for implementing filters without warning, in ways that are obviously homopbobic.  In 2009, they stripped rankings for books simply for the inclusion of gay or lesbian characters, or, in the case of non-fiction, gay or lesbian subject matter.   The “adult” filter continues to work in mysterious ways, affecting well-known spanko authors like Alice Liddell and popular erotica authors like Selena Kitt. The filter removes all sorts of results, seemingly at random, including explicitly Christian Domestic Discipline titles, Victorian spanking/caning/birching books, and instructional DD books, based on keywords, cover images, titles, and descriptions.

They still appear to apply it more consistently to terms like “gay” and “lesbian.” Guy New York’s “Brorotica” books, which have covers that don’t come anywhere near “obscene,” are currently hidden from the main search. One has to assume it’s because they’re about gay men.

Currently, if you limit your search to the Kindle store when you’re looking for stories, you can find what you’re looking for.

(The irony here being that you can find all sorts of sex toys using the main “all departments” search, including “realistic” dildos. Selling a giant rubber phallus? You’re in the clear. Selling a giant rubber phallus on a book cover? You get the brown paper bag treatment.)

This is how readers can make sure they’re getting good search results:


Alternately, they can do this:


That is, until Amazon changes the filter again, without informing anyone.

Long live free speech!



Blurb for Like Sugar:

Chris Holfax is having a bad year. He’s lost his friends, his house, and his interest in his job–and most everything else. When a quiet student strikes an unlikely and perverse deal with him, he finds that things are suddenly looking up.

Like Sugar is a novella-length story (15k words) that includes spanking and light D/s.

Joan Defers is a lover of manly men and fancy underpants. She blogs at, where she hopes to deliver quality erotic content to Internet smarties. She’s currently working on the next story in the Good Girls series, and she’s probably just two innocent mistakes away from a much-deserved spanking.

Joan Defers can also be found on Tumblr and Twitter!


6 thoughts on “Monday Morning Fika: Joan Defers on pornography

  1. Cara Bristol says:

    Great post for discussion! I think the issue with pornography is two-fold:
    1. In our western society, most people consider “pornography” to be “wrong.” BUT
    2. Everyone has different definitions of what pornography is.

    I would debate the premise of item #1. WHY is pornography wrong at all? Why can’t we just accept that different people have different tolerances for certain materials. If it offends you, don’t look at it.

    With respect to #2, how can we ban (why should we ban) something when people can’t agree on what “it” is. And who gets to decide? I think of my mother’s former neighbor, a “Christian” woman who considers Dancing with the Stars to be “disgusting.” Do we want her in charge of defining pornography?

    I agree that gay/lesbian materials probably run afoul of anti-pornography sweeps more often than straight materials because society still has not accepted gays/lesbians in general.

    The other issue is that with the internet, the ability to disseminate porn or any other material has exploded. Whether to view it or not sometimes is not a choice. It’s there — sometimes where you least expect it.

    Finally,for me, I find that porn is primarily a visual medium while erotica is more a written one, although this is not a hard and fast rule.


    • Joan Defers says:

      > I think of my mother’s former neighbor, a “Christian” woman who considers Dancing with the Stars to be “disgusting.” Do we want her in charge of defining pornography?

      Definitely not. Heh.


  2. Emily Tilton says:

    I guess I see things slightly differently to Cara, because of my classical training–“graph” means “write,” so for me the written word will always be ground-zero of my own private understanding of the pornographic.

    On the other hand, as the word is used in our various cultures of eroticism, and of jurisprudence, religions, etc., it’s clear that the visual is what makes people think “porn.” That in turn brings me to the conclusion that as erotic authors we should do whatever we can to use the categories that are thrust upon us. When it suits us, we’re writing porn; when it doesn’t (most of the time) we’re writing “New Adult.” None of these terms really has any meaning except as they’re defined by 1) publishers, 2) outlets like Amazon, 3) the state. As far as I can tell, each of those three has a vested interest in refusing to define them. I think we’re going to be muddling through, making money, for a long time.


  3. minellesbreath says:

    I am not sure we will ever be able to define porn, because we all see it in different ways. Cara expressed it perfectly when she shared the example of Dancing With The Stars. Everyone has a limit on what Type of erotica they enjoy/ tolerate or refuse in their own lives. Often we share those thoughts with our partners and close friends, that is what should happen. However what the powers that be are trying to do is wrong…Label it correctly. We make choices accordingly. If we want to read spanking books, erotica, Christian DD, DD., gay or lesbian erotica…it should be there for choice. It isn’t forced on someone if they do not choose it. Banning on a politically correct whim is wrong.


Thank you so much for joining the discussion! Please play nicely or you may be asked to stand in the corner. ;)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s