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The terms yuri and shoujo-ai glaze over much of Japanese media and can easily be confused with one another as they hold different meanings to Westerns and to the Japanese as well being used in a variety of different contexts.  Everyone seems to hold a particular idea as to what both terms mean. Some view yuri to be explicit sex/hentai between women while others view it to be strictly non-sexual romantic relationships between women.  There isn’t much to data-mine online about this issue and there really are just two key sources out there and one article on Yuri Manga:

Excerpt from Yuricon:

“Here in the west, the term yuri is often, but not exclusively, used to represent explicit sexual relations between women. Shoujoai (Girls’ Love) is a pretty new term, for all that it’s a pretty old concept. The term shoujoai was created as an analog for shounenai (Boys’ Love)…by an American fan. It isn’t really used in Japan – although they know what we mean when we use it. Shoujoai is often used to refer to romantic love between girls – sometimes with sex, sometimes not. The emphasis tends to be on the romantic over the sexual, but this is a convention that was made up by Americans and has no meaning at all in Japan.

… In short, yuri is any story with women in love (or lust) with other women.”

Finally the other two are:

  • Yuri via Wikipedia: Loaded with information about yuri and shoujo-ai including further media, sources, and links.

Conclusion: I much prefer the essay from Yuricon to easily sum up the differences between the two terms over Wikipedia’s more technical terms.  For me, yuri is simply “GL” or “Girls’ Love” and preferably the more romantic and realistic portrayal of women loving women – not necessarily in an explicit sense. The word yuri just sounds much more pleasant to the ears. Yuri does mean lily in Japanese after all.  (Shoujo-ai also sounds like “Showed yo eye!” LOL! -_-” Okay terrible joke! But I couldn’t resist! :P)

If you have anything to draw on this issue, please feel free to comment! I’m open to new perspectives even if I may not always agree with them! ;)