The Anatomy of Desire

By Lisabet Sarai

What’s the difference between porn and erotica? That’s a favorite topic for debate among authors (and readers) of erotica and erotic romance. For what it’s worth, here’s my definition. Porn is primarily concerned with sex, while erotica is concerned with desire.

Porn loves to linger on the actual sex acts. Well-written pornography (yes, there is such a thing!) will give readers a glimpse of what’s going on in the protagonists’ heads, but the main focus is still on their bodies: who is doing what to whom and what kind of outrageous pleasure results. Porn is sweat and cum, straining muscles, pounding cocks, gripping pussies, moans, groans and screams – overwhelmingly physical.

Desire, in contrast, is fundamentally a psychological or emotional state. It combines aesthetic appreciation, anticipation, and longing. It may manifest itself in a feeling of lack (“I can’t stand to spend another hour out of his presence!”) or as a stimulus to action (“If I don’t make a move now, she’s going to leave.”).

Desire feeds on fantasy. We picture the object of our lust, imagining that first touch or first kiss, the smooth, sure slide of a swollen cock into a slick pussy, the glorious sense of fullness afterward. The experience of desire doesn’t require those expectations to be fulfilled, however. In fact, desire may be more intense when it is frustrated or when consummation is delayed.

Desire is hunger. Porn is the process of eating to satisfy that hunger.  

Although desire begins in the mind and heart, it does have physical correlates. Swollen or sensitized erogenous zones are obvious examples, but there are other signs that authors of erotica and erotic romance (I consider the latter a subset of the former – but that’s a topic for a different blog post!) can use to convey their characters’ state of longing. Blushing, stammering, elevated heart rate, shallow breathing – or holding one’s breath in anticipation – these can all be associated with desire. Personally, I feel desire as an ache in my chest, as though a tight fist were clutching my heart, and as a sense of emptiness between my thighs.   

Although my own stories are generally considered to be pretty hot, I spend a lot more time describing the inner workings of desire than I do the actual sex acts. In fact, I’ve written stories where there’s no real sex at all. In “Stroke”, part of my collection Just a Spanking, the protagonist is a nurse with submissive fantasies who discovers that the half-paralyzed stroke patient in her care is an accomplished dominant. His acknowledgment and approval of her kinky desires are what excites her. He doesn’t even need to touch her. And the title tale, “Just a Spanking” offers exactly that – a plain spanking, no sexual contact, simply a Dom punishing his long-time sub to prove that the experience of full surrender can bring satisfaction without any sexual stimulation all.

I am dressed as he requires, short skirt with no panties, silk blouse with no bra, and my favorite lace-up boots. I fidget on the seat as he drives up 101. The plastic is sticky against my bare skin and getting stickier by the minute. He stubbornly keeps his eyes on the road.

I part my thighs. The car fills with the ripe scent of my pussy. His nostrils twitch but otherwise he ignores me. My nipples feel as huge and hungry as they do when he winds them with rubber bands. I try to keep still. Each whisper of silk across my breasts makes my cunt clench and weep.

He opens the car door—a gentleman Dom—and helps me out. The brief contact of palm on palm makes me shudder with want. I follow him up the stairs to his apartment, watching his strong buttocks shift in his trousers as he climbs. I think about how they tense and relax when he fucks me. I’m panting by the time we reach the third floor, but not from exertion.

The door swings open. He steps aside, gesturing for me to enter. Normally he’d have me pressed against the wall, knee in my crotch and hands under my blouse, before the lock clicked shut. Today he simply stands beside me, a half-smile on his full lips, as I survey the familiar room.

Sometimes desire doesn’t even need an object. I know from personal experience how a sexually-charged situation can inspire lust, unfocused but powerful nevertheless. Here’s a snipped from “Shades of Red” (published in Spank Me Again, Stranger). The young heroine is visiting Amsterdam and finds herself unbelievably aroused by the randy atmosphere in the red light district. 

“Okay, see you later. Be careful.”

“You know me. The coolest of the cool.”

But I’m not. In fact I’ve been obsessed ever since last night, when Jane and I wandered through the red light district, staring at the women who waited behind the glass in their rose-tinted rooms. We wove our way through clumps of nervous, intoxicated men who were all staring, too. I could smell their sweat, underneath the beer and the pot smoke. I could feel their lust. It infected me.

They barely noticed us, two teenagers in jeans, although the tight denim in my crotch was so wet, I half-expected they’d catch my scent and turn to me. They had eyes only for the bodies displayed in the rows of windows lining the canals.

Some of the women were ripe, blond, Slavic-looking, their breasts exploding out of their lace brassieres. Others were slight, deliberately child-like in Gidget-inspired bikinis or brief plaid kilts. There was a Brazilian beauty with golden skin and coffee-colored eyes; a voluptuous African princess with strings of ruby-hued beads dangling in her ebony cleavage; a serious-looking brunette wearing dark-framed glasses who sat, shapely legs crossed, like a secretary waiting to take dictation.

Some of the women posed. Others danced suggestively, or made lewd gestures at their prospective customers. There were masked women in leather, snapping riding crops against their boots. There were women whose pierced nipples and labia showed clearly through their translucent garments.

Men clustered around the dimly-lit windows like moths hovering by a candle. Mostly they’d just look, inflamed by the mere thought of all this available flesh. Sometimes I’d see a hushed conversation through a half open glass door. Such conversations might end with the man turning away, disappointed, rejected, or perhaps simply unwilling to pay the asking price. Other times the door would open wider, just enough to admit the supplicant. Then it would close and the red velvet curtains would be drawn, hiding the rest of the dance.

Those curtained windows drew me. I couldn’t stop imagining what might be going on behind them. I knew it was a straight commercial transaction in most cases, a workman-like blow job, or a quick, bored fuck. Still, I imagined occasional revelations, epiphanies, ecstasies – meetings of strangers pre-destined to be lovers, brief but unbearably intense conflagrations of lust, lewd and mystical connections that would live in his memory, or hers, long after the curtains were flung open again.

I’m nineteen. I’ve had enjoyable but ultimately frustrating sex with two boys my age. I know that, practical as I am, I’m a bit of a romantic. Otherwise, I would not have continued to roam the red-lit alleys long after Jane gave up and went back to the hotel in disgust. As the Oude Kerk chimed two AM, I wandered up Molensteeg and down Monnikenstraat like some horny ghost. The crowds had thinned. The curtains were mostly drawn. Some of open windows were empty. Next to them were the signs: KAMERS TE HUUR. Windows for rent.

Ruby scarcely knows what she wants, though as the story proceeds, she begins to understand.

Anyone who’s at all familiar with my body of work will know that I’m particularly fascinated by the desires that motivate dominants and submissives. In my most recent romance, Mastering Maya (part of the Switch anthology which also includes a contribution from my esteemed hostess Desiree!) I explore the highly conflicted desires of a sub who turned to dominance after being betrayed by her first master.

She stood naked before the fire, well aware that a practised top like Stephen could read the message in her erect nipples and sticky thighs. The flames from the hearth toasted her back and buttocks. The rest of the room felt chill in contrast, tightening her tawny areolas to nubby circles and turning the wet streaks on her inner thighs to cold fingers of lust. She tried to summon a defiant glare but she couldn’t meet Stephen’s eyes.

“Wait for me here.” His seductive voice was an auditory caress. “Don’t move.”

Footsteps echoed on the polished wood of the stairs. Maya struggled to moderate her heartbeat and slow her breathing. Pull yourself together, she scolded herself. Remember who you are.

He returned before she’d expected him. Although she kept her eyes on the Oriental carpet like a good submissive, she sensed his closeness as he circled behind her.

“I’m going to blindfold you, Maya—to take away some of your shame and to heighten your sensitivity to non-visual stimuli. Do you agree?”

Maya breathed her way through a spike of panic. “Whatever you wish, Master,” she finally managed, aware that she’d severely punish any sub who answered her with the sarcasm she’d heard in her own reply.

Stephen just laughed. “Good girl.” A cool swathe of silk brushed her eyelids. She felt a small tug as he knotted the scarf in the back. 

The instant blackness descended, her other senses snapped into focus. The crackle of the fire and the metallic tick of the old clock. The mingled smells of wood smoke, Stephen’s cologne, and her own musk. The wiry strength in Stephen’s fingers as he grasped her arm.

“Step out of your shoes.” The velvety nap of the rug felt heavenly beneath her bare feet. “Over here.”  

Warmth retreated as he led her away from the hearth. “Too bad you don’t have your own dungeon. Just have to improvise, I guess.”

She stumbled. He stabilised her. She fought against the rush of desire his strength provoked.

“Trust me, Maya. I won’t let you fall.”

But she was falling as she let him guide her, falling back into the sweet depths of helpless lust she’d left behind when she’d rejected her old Master. As Stephen arranged her on her knees on the brocade chaise, the old feelings flooded back, threatening to drown her.

I have written porn on occasion, just for the fun of it, or on a dare. After all, I’ve got nothing against physical sex! Overall, though, I’m much more interested in desire, which I find almost infinitely complex and varied.

Hearty thanks to you, Desiree, for hosting me today. (Actually, it was your name that inspired my topic!) And to thank all of you readers, I’m giving away a copy of Switch to one person who leaves a comment. Don’t forget to include your email!

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about me and my writing, visit my website, Lisabet’s Fantasy Factory  ( my blog Beyond Romance (  To be notified about all my releases and contests, join my Yahoo group Lisabet’s List (

Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

~ Lisabet