What differentiates erotica from porn?
Sarah Nicole Prickett, the founder and editor-in-chief of the "new erotics" magazine Adult, quotes seventies porn star Gloria Leonard: "The difference between pornography and erotica is the lighting."
Adult is a magazine not meant to be displayed, she explains. Rather, it should be "[kept] next to your bed, or under it." Given the content, that may be rightfully so. There's an excerpt on discovering sex with a painter from American novelist Dodie Bellamy's new book C*nt Norton; New York Food Magazine White Zinfandel provides an aphrodisiac breakfast recipe—an oyster omelet—because "you can't spell 'breakfast' without 'breast'"; author and former Voguette Stephanie LaCava chronicles the inner-workings of the Doc Johnson Adult Toy Factory just outside Hollywood; and Katherine Bernard explores Erica Jong's notion of the "zipless fuck" through literature.
It's The New Yorker meets Hustler meets Interview combined to fulfill one ultimate goal: satisfying one's "sexual narcissism." Yet how can a magazine that treads the line of explicit pornography remain tasteful and artistic, rather than objectifying, and possibly offending, women?
"There is the argument that erotica should be permitted in places where porn is not," Prickett tells The Daily Beast. "For decades, people have been trying to ascertain the difference, but it mostly comes down to a level of taste."
Maybe it’s because the tri-annual magazine is produced by women, but Adult manages to achieve the precise level of taste that can be difficult to obtain when printing, for example, graphic images of women masturbating. Its strong literary presence, combined with artistic photography, allows Adult to be so much more than the conventional idea of erotica.
"What I really thought was missing was a magazine that was very intelligent and also very beautiful… I [wanted] something that satisfied my need for a really good sentence, as well as hot and intense erotic action," says Prickett.
Adult magazine is more of a book, in the vein of other artistic "magazines" that take longer to print than the typical monthly pieces—CR Fashion Book or the UK's Love magazine, for example. Prickett, however, chooses to describe Adult as a time capsule that somehow meshes female erotica with today's political and world issues. "The first issue of Adult," she says, "has such a retrospective feeling because it's full of all the things I was concerned about this year—surveillance, [the government] reading e-mails, censorship, Florida, which was a trending topic for half the year." She warns (and laughs), "It's incredibly dense and takes forever to read… you can't flip through it, really."
The editor's letter cites Prickett and her team's (publisher Noah Wunsch, photo editor Jai Lennard, and creative director Berkeley Poole) teen years in the nineties as inspiration for the magazine’s content, design, and execution. Developed from a longing for how things were, Adult magazine was, of all things, born out of nostalgia.
"As teens we never read Foucault, so we didn't know we were burning with lack, and we weren't," Prickett writes in the editor's letter. "We were the opposite. Too much for our lives we wanted age to catch up with us. That is the wish we want this magazine to bring back. To get older again… To get love, and from that love, make other things worth having. And to have sex be right there in our lives all the time, hot and healthy and messy."
Yet Prickett's teenage years were surprisingly unlike the wild and crazy times she dreams about. "As a teenager, I took piano lessons; I went to church five times a week," she says. "My parents were religious, right-wing reactionaries. They were terrified we'd find out about oral sex or evolution," she laughs. "So we didn't have the internet." Prickett continues to explain that Adult is a compilation of desire, secrets, and privacy, all derived from girlhood, which is probably why, in her interview with T: The New York Times Style magazine, Prickett said, “I want to go on the record as being very pro-minors. I love teen girls. I wish I could have been one…"
It is ironic, that someone with a seemingly sheltered background would find the interest, and need, to produce this form of literature. Especially in today's day and age—with the ubiquitous, big-brother is watching-style of the internet—Prickett recognizes that the lack of privacy that once existed within the internet has now vanished. And she wants to bring that back.
"I've written essays defending sexting and the selfie. I'm very on-side with teenage girls and almost anything they do on the internet. But this year, when the full extent of the NSA spying on America was revealed and also when Google glass was introduced… the world is becoming too transparent. I think, as the so-called 'millenials,' we've witnessed this revolution that we don't fully understand yet. It's like we're all on an experimental drug. We're all test cases. You know how you can sign up for clinical trials? I feel like my life is one long clinical trial for the Internet and I don't know what the effects will be."
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the editors of Adult do not define the magazine as solely for women.