Hardcore Erotica? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
And what does that mean? A moron from Oxford?
It comes from a Greek word whose literal
translation is ‘pointedly foolish’.
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two
apparently contradictory terms appear together.
Hardcore is hardcore. Erotica is soft titillation.
I don’t much care for the agonised wrangling over the ethics of porn consumption. Oscillating between Mary Whitehouse and Messalina depending on my place in the hormonal carousel, I’d probably describe my own politics as “sex ambivalent”. In short, I don’t care what you do with your genitals as I’m barely invested in what’s going on with my own. What does interest me, however, is this consistent emphasis on the “unprecedented” nature of women accessing erotic material.
Seemingly not a single contemporary piece on women’s porn access can refrain from framing it as an “inevitable” consequence of our “brave new post-Fifty Shades world”. Far be it from me to undersell the impact of mediocre prose on the world’s libido, but it’s worth pointing out that women were in possession of a sexuality before EL James deigned to bless us with one. Ladies’ Home Journal reported on the use of porn by suburban, respectable women back in 1996 (headlined “America Undercovers: What Even Nice Couples Are Doing in Bed”), and the history of erotic publishing, power and women’s sexuality goes back further still.
The explosive popularity of “bodice rippers” (romance novels of the heaving-bosoms-and-fiery-loins sort) in the 1970s sat strangely alongside the militant feminist movements of the time: as observed by Jessica Luther, they reinforced restrictive and heteronormative gender roles, while simultaneously celebrating their heroine’s sexual desires and stimulating those of their readership. Yet even these works are part of a literary canon stretching back much further.
The genre was able to flourish after obscenity laws preventing the circulation of older, explicit texts crumbled. The most famous example is of course DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (first published in 1928 privately, then openly and in paperback form after Penguin Books won a landmark trial in 1960), but of equal significance is the case of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure – considered the first pornographic novel in English, it was published in 1748 and circulated through underground networks before being published by Mayflower in 1963.