Eroticism, Pornography, Love: The Discursive Politics of Reactionary French Scholarship on Sexual Imagery

  • Oliver Kenny (University of Lille)


In this article, I focus on a selection of recent French scholars who insist on a fundamental distinction between pornography (pornographie) and eroticism (érotisme). I delve into these scholars’ descriptions of and justifications for the pornography-eroticism distinction, and explore what is at stake in affirming such a difference. I contend that, far from being a question of genre—or even quality—this is a political distinction, which intertwines with important debates about values and social relations that are present in current French politics and academia. This article examines the justifications used and definitions proposed by scholars in France to (re)assert this distinction, and considers the extent to which the new French claims reproduce some of the political assumptions of US anti-porn feminists, as well as an elitist hierarchy based on ideas of artistic quality. Ultimately this article argues that the key concept that distinguishes pornography from eroticism for these scholars is love, and that they conceptualise love in a highly normative and reactionary fashion in order to elevate eroticism and denigrate pornography. In pursuing their analysis in this way, conservative values are permitted to masquerade as apolitical explorations of genre and aesthetics, without open acknowledgement of the political and moral perspectives they reinforce.

Keywords: Pornography, Eroticism, New philosophers, Body, Discourse, Love

How to Cite:

Kenny, O., (2020) “Eroticism, Pornography, Love: The Discursive Politics of Reactionary French Scholarship on Sexual Imagery”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 5(2), 30-50. doi:

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Published on
14 Jul 2020
Peer Reviewed