Esoterically Erotic: Courtesans Talk About Sex, Erotica, & Nostalgia With Delta Of Venus

As you may have noticed, the Peck & Call Girl approach to phone sex and digital courtesan companionship is a bit more, well, esoteric than many other providers. Not to knock any of our cohorts, but we specialize in companionship, seduction, tease, eroticism, and GFE (the girlfriend experience) — and we promote ourselves thus, rather than via the more common or overt depictions of sexuality. (Yes, this may lessen the number of potential clients; but then, at just 10 women, we are not exactly able to serve the masses, are we? We, happily, are not the WalMart of phone sex!) With the Valentine’s Day holiday upon us, we thought we would focus more on these sort of esoterically erotic attributes.

It would seem the best, though likely not the easiest, way to discuss this is to talk about the differences between erotica and porn. Most know the elusive definition of pornography — we, supposedly, know it when we see it. ;) However difficult it may actually be to define exactly what porn is, it seems even more difficult to (ahem) put one’s finger on exactly how porn differs from erotica…

The most commonly agreed upon definition of erotica states that “Erotica has high-art aspirations, differentiating it from commercial pornography.” Well, perhaps our views as sex workers make us wrinkle our collective noses at the notion that dollars, or any sort of commerce, cheapens or lessens anything; in fact, art often has a higher price tag! Besides, this forces us to also split hairs over what “high art”, art with a capital A, is… Headaches ensue!

But if porn and erotica are both designed to sexually arouse, what do you suppose makes the difference between the two?

We asked Robert Stewart, proprietor of the the web’s highest quality vintage smut archive, Delta of Venus (Twitter @Delta_ofVenus), for an assist. Like a true gentleman, Robert was willing to lend a hand.

(For clarity purposes, Secondhand Rose is this interview’s inquisitor; other Peck & Call Girls also participate, where noted!)

Robert, please introduce yourself!

I’m a collector of historical artifacts – mainly antique photography, film reels, and periodicals – with a focus on erotica from the 19th century through the 1970s. I share parts of my collection in a bunch of different venues – Twitter, articles, etc – but the main archives are available online at the subscription-based site DeltaofVenus.com.

DOV’s been published since 2002 I think, and has been a really fun experience. I feel very fortunate that one of my life interests wound up being marketable to some extent! I hand-restore most of the material, which ranges from scanning & Photoshopping the photos to repairing and splicing antique film reels then transferring them to digital.

I collect a lot of other stuff aside from vintage smut (old newsreels, WWI and WWII photography, assorted ephemera, on Twitter at @vintage_gazette) but it’s the erotica that gets the most interest. Can’t imagine why! There’s so much cool stuff out there that I feel is underrepresented though.

For myself, I believe the difference between erotica and porn is a matter of adding other emotions… Or at least evoking them. Certainly romance. Not necessarily in modern sense of romantic love and “happily ever after.” (Who doesn’t adore the idea of one night stands & quickies throughout the ages!) But I mean romantic in terms of a heady sense of excitement, even mysterious, which is more emotional, even more cerebral, than something purely relegated to the genitals. *wink* And romance as a verb “to woo”, the pursuit… Which certainly brings to mind tease (which you did discuss at Slip’s site!) as well as the pleasing thought of someone working for sexual attention, of someone actively seducing ;)

Do you feel romance is part of the appeal of erotica?

Robert: Absolutely, but as you say the word “romance” conveys a pretty broad set of meanings, and I’m not sure even those are always a requirement for ‘erotica’. I think you hit it just right with “it’s a matter of adding or evoking other emotions” and the idea that erotica actively pursues the subject in some way – I really like that latter observation.

To use maybe an unsexy term, good erotica is always putting in work, it’s gathering a momentum beyond just blood flow and pulse rate and dilated pupils. This work could be eliciting a memory for the viewer, or striking their imagination (sexual or otherwise) in just the right way, or launching a train of thought or feeling about beauty or desire or whatever. Plenty of erotica evokes contradictory emotions too – maybe arousal mixed with the unsettling or absurd, and part of the pleasure is holding those feelings together in tension.

A lot of historic erotica was implicitly and even overtly political too. Some of it’s intended mainly as comedy. So yeah – erotica gives you something extra beyond the boner or lubrication, but what that extra might be is pretty varied.

Which is not to say that all “erotica” is pretty, or not graphic. Many parts of human sexuality and emotions, both, can be ugly and/or explicit! In fact, it is often the ugly and explicit which elicit more full stories… Or, at least, a desire to imagine the stories behind the images!

Robert: Totally agree, and that’s something I think we’re losing a bit here in the 21st century. Photoshop, increasingly exact beauty standards, et cetera, put this glossy uniform sheen over everything, but in smoothing out the imperfections and asymmetries we’re losing all those minute “stories” or narratives that the brain otherwise would pick up on. It becomes a shallower experience.

Often — though perhaps not often enough! — we acknowledge that the largest human sex organ is the brain. How does this connect to what’s erotic to you?

Robert: As we’ve touched on, it’s the other part of the equation – the erotica itself is just a key to unlock whatever’s in that brain, and that’s where the richness of the experience comes from.

Klaudia: I find erotic images to be a “starting place” for a story or role play. There are often times where a client sends me a photo, image, link, etc. and I am not initially moved or inspired by it. But once they confess their relationship with the image(s), I can find it! It doesn’t matter how old the image is – it’s that “evoke” thing. But when a personal connection to it (be it a memory, experience, or even how a model or person in the photo reminds them of someone in their personal life, etc.) is recalled, a specific arousing trigger is pulled, and a client shares that with me, BAM! I’m right there too!

What other words, qualities, come to your mind when deciding to label something “erotic” as opposed to “pornographic”?

Robert: I always get asked to make this call, over the years I’ve come to wonder if it’s even helpful to think about it in a binary sense. Doesn’t it seem strange that we only have these two words to describe the massive range of sexually-oriented media through the entire arc of history? There’s also the implied value judgement there, where “porn” is deemed lesser and usually carries some kind of shameful connotation depending on who you’re talking to.

Kimberlee: This has so much to do with the observer. Whatever a maker intends, how the work is defined by the viewer determines whether it’s art or obscenity. I’m a fan of the word “smut.” I think it’s an inclusive term that indicates the content is intended to convey sexual messaging. Whether it’s porn or erotica is judgment. Smut is simply a category. And I like that it’s more tawdry than the other terms!

Robert: But if we’re going to go there, I’d say the distinction between erotica and porn is always in the eye of the beholder. People are going to respond to different material in different ways, and while well-made porn/erotica is maybe more likely to elicit a nuanced response than some throwaway BangBros clip, it’s the personal associations that ultimately do the job.

For example there’s plenty of “erotica” in my collection that at the time – say late 1800s or 1920s – obviously had no higher goal than showing some people fucking. Done on the cheap, not much care for artistry, just for the masturbatory use of its enterprising owners (and you had to be “enterprising” to acquire porn in those days, took some effort!).

But in 2017 we view it through the filter of history and it’s so much more compelling – there might be an air of mystery about it, the exotic, maybe some unintended humor. Or just the knowledge that these people lived quite differently from us yet still had all the same drives, needs, desires. Then those thoughts can trigger a chain reaction and because our brains have started on that track, suddenly we’ll notice quirks of composition or form that have an unintended beauty about them. The years give it a depth that it didn’t have in 1895.

As you deal in vintage and even antique erotica, I thought we should discuss the power of sentiment and nostalgia… It is quite a powerful aphrodisiac in my line ;) Not just the yearning for loves of the past, or one’s youth itself; but for The Past itself. Historical fantasies are quite popular for many reasons, but how do you view our thirst for images from yesteryear?

Robert: Ha, nostalgia is a powerful powerful force! Recent events remind us that an urge to return to an imagined and simplified (and nonexistent?) Golden Age is a sentiment that shapes entire nations, among other things. And so with erotica we do it too, where the Roaring Twenties or the 1960s, etc, are presented as these dynamic or carefree or libertine eras ripe for fantasy. La Belle Epoque – in late 19th century France – literally means The Beautiful Age, and there are pleasurable associations we’ve built up with these time periods over the years. It’s a form of escapism and storytelling.

That being said, with vintage smut there are some more concrete reasons why people look to the past. Body types were more natural, many women had some pubic hair, natural breasts, the list goes on. The sex was usually portrayed not quite so mechanically. I’m extremely biased on this of course, but in my opinion modern porn has failed us in these regards and completely misses on some key components of “what is sexy?”. Obviously I’m in the minority on that because it still gets made and sells, but it does seem to be a universal refrain from Delta Of Venus subscribers – they’re not really being served by whatever this 2017 idea of porn/erotica is, so they go a few decades back for stuff more to their liking.

When you look at your collection in total, what comes to your mind about the depictions of human sexuality and desire in the past?

Robert: As I always say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

True. Including your brief mention regarding issue of the difficulty folks have had through the years in finding adult material! Not to get all political, but the production of it, censorship, the validity of sex work, well these issues and battles are very much alive today, unfortunately. I think this is, in part, why I collect such things myself. To honor the history of the battles that continue today.

As a collector myself, I often spend time wondering why I collect what I do… I’ve decided that as much as I am simply (though expensively!) surrounding myself with items, I do more than simply collect and preserve them. I am also trying, with each collection, to answer a question for myself… Though for the life of me, I am not always able to articulate the question itself! I am assuming here that your collection of images means more to you than just a means to arouse yourself ;) Or even to profit off of. What do you think your collection of ye olde erotica means to you?

Robert: You put it perfectly there. I think almost any collector of almost anything is searching for that question. It’s one thing to want to surround ourselves with things that give us pleasure – sounds pretty simple, right? – but then it becomes as much about the act of discovery and how the collection itself takes on a life of its own. In an indirect way it’s an act of creation.

Absolutely! (For more on this: Collectors Are Like Artists; Collections Like Works Of Art & Curator of Your Own Museum.)

Robert: Far as specifically my collection… I love the aesthetics of course, a lot of these eras (Victorian, Roaring Twenties, mid-century, etc) have such distinct and hugely influential looks and atmospheres. And as I said the escapism is a big draw. It all just fires the imagination.

And there’s the whole “moment trapped in amber” thing, which hearkens back to our talk about stories and romance. So many antique erotic images are stylized and posed (especially in early photography where the exposure times were long), but amidst all that you get these little hints of individuality in a smile or the glint of an eye or even just an attitude of posture – reminds us that these were indeed living breathing people who lived, loved, fucked, ate breakfast every morning, walked to the market, raised kids, whatever. Not to get too cosmic about it, but it can feel like a privilege to glimpse into their lives so many decades later.

Kimberlee: This tradition has lived on. Look at the prominence of “amateur” porn today. It’s fun to watch ordinary people fucking. These simple productions without the glitzy artistry of professional productions offer another angle for creativity. One of my very favorite amateur clips ever was just called “German Couple.” Sounds pretty basic. But they had this super risqué scene at a public shop where she tried on lingerie and did a BJ and hardcore fuck scene in the dressing room. It was real and it was thrilling to share the experience with them.

Robert: And finally, for me there’s the satisfaction of preservation. Because of the subject matter, so much antique erotica has been forgotten somewhere and ultimately destroyed. Aside from any aesthetic or entertainment value, these are legit primary historical documents that touch on a universal aspect of life that has often been ignored by mainstream history.

A number of times I’ve heard from a seller “I inherited this stuff, if you don’t buy it everything’s just going in the dumpster” – then after purchase I discover previously unknown/unique films or rare limited edition prints. It might be the only genre of historical artifacts where the default reaction is to send them to certain doom, because sex.

it's not the end, it's a starting place!Oh, I could go on and on about that — all of this, really! And, in fact, many of us will!

Come back to this post as it will be updated with links to additional thoughts from more Peck & Call Girls. And follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #PecknCallDoVErotica too!

And don’t forget to check out Delta of Venus; as I’ve said, the site is great & he’s a true gent!

UPDATES:

Klaudia has more to say regarding her definitions (and uses!) of erotica and porn.

Sara has her own Eureka moment regarding erotica and pornography.

Virtual courtesans as discreet — or flamboyant — as you desire.

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  1. […] wit, they recently posted a discussion about the esoteric attributes of erotica ~ with Robert, owner of Delta Of Venus. More than the old “erotica vs porn” debate, […]

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