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, Lolita. Lady 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 JoanDefers.com, 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.