The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Pornography (from Greek πορνογραφια pornographia — literally writing about or drawings of harlots) is the representation of the human body or human sexual behaviour with the goal of sexual arousal, similar to, but (according to some) distinct from, erotica.

Pavonazzeto marble sculpture, see
Pavonazzeto marble sculpture, see Erotic art in Pompeii


Pornography may use any of a variety of media — written and spoken text, photos, sculpture, drawings, moving images (including animation), and sound such as heavy breathing. Pornographic films combine moving images, spoken erotic text and/or other erotic sounds, while magazines often combine photos and written text. Novels and short stories provide written text, sometimes with illustrations. In addition to media, a live performance may also be called pornographic.

In its original meaning, pornography was literally "writing about prostitutes", from the classical Greek roots πορνη and γραφειν. It derived from a Greek term for men who chronicled the well-known "pornai", or skilled prostitutes of ancient Greece. In more modern times, the term was adopted by social scientists to describe the work of men like Nicholas Restif and William Acton , who in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries published treatises studying prostitution and proposing to regulate it. The term retained this meaning in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1905.

The term then came to mean writing about anything sexual, especially in a base manner, when the creation, presentation, or consumption of the material was for sexual stimulation. The term now refers to sexually related material of all kinds, both written and graphical. The term "pornography" often has negative connotations of low artistic merit, as compared to the more esteemed erotica. Euphemisms such as adult film, adult video and adult bookstore are generally preferred within the industry producing these works (namely the Adult industry). Pornography can also be contrasted with ribaldry, which uses sexual titillation in the service of comedy. Having said that, the definition of pornography is highly subjective, with generally accepted works of art such as Michelangelo's David being considered pornographic by some people.

A distinction is sometimes made between softcore pornography and hardcore pornography. The former generally refers to materials that feature nudity and sexually suggestive scenes, while hardcore or X-rated pornography contains close-ups of aroused genitalia and sexual activities including penetration. Within the industry itself, informal classification breaks down even further. The distinctions may seem trivial to many people, but the precarious legal definition and differing standards at different outlets cause producers to shoot and edit different cuts of films and to first screen those differing versions for their legal teams. The internal rating decision is primarily made by considering the exposure of an erect penis, inclusion and duration of close-up shots of genitals and penetration, types of penetration, and the presence or lack of an external ejaculation.

In some jurisdictions the depiction of urination or defecation contributes to the conclusion that a particular image is pornographic (see e.g. Arizona Criminal Code [1], 9f, 11, in combination with [2], A2, and for Utah [3], 8h).


Pornography has possibly an extensive history. Specific evidence suggests that depictions of sexuality and human progress go hand in hand and that pornographers today remain on the cutting edge. Sexual artwork is among the oldest known to exist; explict photographs date to the beginning of photography and among the earliest films are works depicting nudity and explicit sex. But does depiction imply intent to arouse?

Nude human beings and sexual activities are depicted in some paleolithic art (e.g. Venus Figurines); however, it is not certain that the purpose was sexual arousal, as the images may have had instead a spiritual significance. There are numerous pornographic paintings on the walls of ruined Roman buildings in Pompeii. One notable example is a brothel in which the various sexual services are advertised in murals above each door. In Pompeii you can also see phalli and testicles engraved in the sidewalks, pointing the way to the prostitution and entertainment district, to aid visitors in finding their way (see Erotic art in Pompeii). Archeologists in Germany reported in April 2005 that they had found what they believe is a 7,200-year-old pornographic scene depicting a male figurine bending over a female figurine in a manner suggestive of sexual intercourse. The male figure has been named Adonis von Zschernitz. [4]

Pornographic comic books known as Tijuana bibles began appearing in the U.S. in the 1920s.

The first issue of .
The first issue of Playboy.

In the second half of the 20th century, pornography in the United States evolved from the so-called "men's magazines" such as Playboy and Modern Man of the 1950s. These magazines featured nude or semi-nude women, sometimes apparently engaging in the act of masturbation, although their genitals or pubic hair were not actually displayed. By the late 1960s, however, these magazines, which now included Penthouse, began to evolve into more explicit displays, eventually, by the 1990s, featuring sexual penetration, lesbianism and homosexuality, group sex, and fetishes.

The first explicitly pornographic film with a plot that received a general theatrical release in the U.S. is generally considered to be Mona (also known as Mona the Virgin Nymph), a 59-minute 1970 feature by Bill Osco and Howard Ziehm , who went on to create the relatively high-budget hardcore/softcore (depending on the release) cult film Flesh Gordon .

Technology and pornography

Pornography has been a driving force behind the adoption of many technologies. Mass-distributed pornography is as old as the printing press. Almost as soon as photography was invented, it was being used to produce pornographic photographs.

The movie camera has also been used for pornography throughout its history, and with the arrival of the home video cassette recorder the pornographic movie industry grew massively, people being able not only to view pornography in the privacy of their own home without having to go out to a theater, but also to make their own pornography.

The fact that the adult industry has such a large consumer base has been used to suggest that it can affect even the development of technology. An oft-cited example is the suggestion that Sony Betamax lost the format war to VHS (in becoming the general home video recording/viewing system) because the adult video industry chose VHS instead of the technically superior Sony system.

Pornographic computer games have also existed almost since the start of the industry - some of the earliest were Mystique's Atari 2600 video games, including Custer's Revenge, Beat 'Em And Eat 'Em and Gigolo . The Japanese company Hacker International , which also published games under the name Super PIG , produced several pornographic titles for the Nintendo Famicom - three of these, renamed to Bubble Bath Babes , Hot Slots and Peek-A-Boo Poker , were distributed in the USA by Panesian. However, such games were for a while no longer produced very often for current consoles, largely due to the increased costs and potential legal problems associated with developing a game without the approval of the console manufacturer. With the release of BMX XXX, pornographic video games have again begun to be produced. Leisure Suit Larry and Playboy: The Mansion titles for game consoles feature pornography. However, pornographic games are now released mostly for personal computers, with Japanese pornographic (often called hentai games or merely H games outside of Japan) games of various genres being the largest category.

Erotic film producers are expected to play a major role in deciding the next DVD standard. Large outfits tend to support the high-capacity Blu-ray Disc, while small outfits generally favor the less-expensive HD-DVD. According to a 2004 Reuters article, "The multi-billion-dollar industry releases about 11,000 titles on DVD each year, giving it tremendous power to sway the battle between two groups of studios and technology companies competing to set standards for the next generation" [5].

Photo manipulation and computer generated pornography

A lot of pornography is digitally manipulated in sophisticated image editors such as Adobe Photoshop. This practice ranges from applying mild changes to photographs to improve the appearance of the models, such as removing skin defects, improving brightness and contrast of the photo, to extensive editing to produce images of non-existent creatures such as catgirls, or celebrities who may not have themselves ever consented to be filmed for pornography.

Digital manipulation requires the use of source photographs, but some pornography is produced without human actors at all. The idea of completely computer generated pornography was conceived very early as one of the most obvious areas of application for computer graphics and 3D rendering. However, until the late 1990s it could not be produced cost-effectively. In early 2000s it became a growing segment, as the modelling and animation software matured and rendering capabilities of computers improved. The strongest advantage of computer generated pornography is the ability to realistically render sexual fantasies that are impossible or illegal to film in reality. As of 2004, computer-generated pornography depicting situations involving children and sex with fictional characters such as Lara Croft is already produced on a limited scale. The October 2004 issue of Playboy featured topless pictures of the title character from the BloodRayne videogame. [6]

The Internet

With the arrival of the Internet, the availability of pornography increased greatly. Many of the most successful internet entrepreneurs are those who operate pornographic internet sites, and the porn industry is usually credited as being the first to make money off the internet. As well as conventional photographic or video pornography, some sites offer "interactive" video game-like entertainment. Due to the international character of the Internet, it provides an easy means for consumers of pornography that is illegal in their country (or at least illegal without a physical proof of age ) to simply acquire such material from sources in another country where it is legal or not prosecuted. See internet pornography.

The almost-zero cost of copying and shipping of digital data boosted the formation of private circles of people swapping pornography. This type of exchange is especially popular for material that is illegal, most notably child pornography and bestiality. With the advent of peer to peer file sharing applications such as Kazaa, pornography swapping has reached new heights. Free pornography became available en masse from other users and is no longer restricted to private groups. Large amounts of free pornography on the Internet is also distributed for marketing purposes to encourage subscriptions to paid content.

Since the late 90's, 'porn FROM the masses FOR the masses' seems to become another new trend. Cheap digital cameras, increasingly powerful and userfriendly software, and easy access to pornographic source material have made it possible for individuals to produce and share house-made or house-altered porn for next to no cost. This is most notable in the evolution of 3D rendered porn and the 'enhancement' of existing material (photographs/videos) by blending celebrities into them.

On the Internet pornography is often referred to as pr0n which is misspelled p0rnporn written with zero, a common style in a so called leet speak. One theory on the origins of this spelling is that it was devised to fool spam filters which blocked emails with the word "porn" from coming through to the recipient. However, since leet speak has performed similar mutations on a number of words, including those unlikely to feature in unsolicited commercial e-mails (0wned, r00t, n00b, d00d), it is likely that any transformation of "porn" to "pr0n" for spamming purposes is at best an independent invention.

According to Google, 68 million searches including some variation of the word “porn” occur every day.

Legal status

The legal status of pornography varies widely. Most countries allow at least some form of pornography and soft core pornography is usually tame enough to be sold in general stores and (in some countries) to be shown on TV. Hardcore pornography, on the other hand, is usually regulated. Child pornography is illegal almost everywhere and most countries have restrictions on pornography involving violence or animals.

Some people, including pornography producer Larry Flynt and the famous writer Salman Rushdie, have argued that pornography is vital to freedom and that a free and civilized society should be judged by its willingness to accept pornography.

Most countries attempt to restrict minors' access to hard core materials, so that it is only available in adult bookstores, via mail-order, in some countries over special satellite TV channels, and sometimes in gas stations. There may be an age limit for entrance, or the materials are displayed partly covered, and/or customers can not browse the materials. More generally, disseminating pornography to a minor is often illegal. Many of these efforts have been rendered moot by the wide availability of Internet pornography.

There are recurring urban legends of snuff movies, in which murders are filmed for pornographic purposes. Extensive work by law enforcement officials to ascertain the truth of these rumors have been unable to find any such works.

  • Australia: Regulation of pornography has increased somewhat under the Howard government, but remains reasonably widely available. See censorship in Australia.
  • Austria: It is not allowed to display youth-imperilling material or those which violate human dignity to persons under 18 years of age. As salesman selling such material you have to assure that persons under 18 years of age are excluded. Nudity is not assumed as such material.
  • Canada: The only kind of pornography on the Net that is illegal is child pornography. Laws for older medias are different/obsolete, and vary from province to province, although they don't allow minors (age varies for province, usually 18 or older) to acquire pornographic matierial, and has resulting in most material being sold in adult stores, despite no actual law controlling the distribution.
  • Denmark: In 1966 the ban on written pornography was lifted, and in 1969 Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize (hard core) picture pornography.
  • France: Movies containing extreme violence or graphical pornography are considered X rated, may not be seen by minors and are shown only in specific theaters. Pornographic services incur special taxes on revenue (33% for X rated movies, 50% for pornographic online services). Whether or not some movies should be X rated is controversial; for instance, in 2000, the explicitly violent and sexual movie Baise-moi was initially not considered X rated (only "restricted") by the French government, but this classification was overturned by the Conseil d'État ruling on a lawsuit brought by associations supporting Christian and family values.
  • Greece: Pornographic magazines, calendars, and decks of cards are sold openly at roadside kiosks and tourist shops.
  • Hong Kong: Illegal if sold or shown to children under 18 of age.
  • Ireland: Pornography was illegal until the mid-1990s.
  • Japan: Until the mid-1990s no genitals could be shown, but there is no taboo regarding sex and violence and also much less general concern about portraying teenagers as sexual beings (this applies to both out-and-out pornography and works dealing with other themes). Until recently, Japanese law prohibited the depiction of pubic hair in depictions of any forms of nudity, whether it be pornographic or not. For example, Japanese editions of men's magazines such as Playboy had to have any photographs with visible signs of pubic hair airbrushed out. This prohibition may explain some visual characteristics of many manga or anime where pubic hair is absent from nude pictures.
  • Netherlands: The Netherlands has the most liberal rules governing pornography. It is sold openly at normal newsstands and material involving animals is legal.
  • Norway: Hard pornography is currently illegal De jure but legal in practice; it is illegal to sell hard pornography but one is allowed to buy it on the Internet or take it abroad. Additionally, it is illegal to show hard pornography on cable TV whilst satellite TV remains a grey area and graphically demonstrates the legal ambivalence Norway shows towareds hard pornography. When it is shown, digital text is used to obscure the screen, but this is easily circumvented by turning off the "Subtitle" function on the channel.
  • Russia: Illegal production and distribution of pornography is explicitly prohibited, but because State Duma has repeatedly failed to pass a law regulating sexual materials, these issues remain in a gray area. De jure all pornography is allowed (including child porn), but de facto there are some limitations on where it can be sold and zoophilia and child porn are de facto prohibited. Openly sold erotic magazines usually do not display nipples and pubic area on covers. Most of the pornography is filmed in Saint-Petersburg where a law defines pornography as materials including rape, bestiality, necrophilia or child pornography, making all other subject matters legal erotica.
  • Singapore: Pornography is illegal; even soft-core publications such as Playboy are banned.
  • Sweden: Material involving animals is de-facto legal but subject to animal-welfare laws. Porn movies can be viewed beginning at age 15, and there are no age restrictions for magazines.
  • United Kingdom: Hard core pornography was illegal until 1999, when trade-barrier difficulties with regards to European Community membership ensured the relatively free movement of such goods for personal importation only. Legally, R18-rated videos are only available in licensed sex shops, but hardcore pornographic magazines are available in newsagents in some localities. Purely textual pornography has not been prosecuted since the Inside Linda Lovelace trial of 1976.
  • United States: Hard core pornography is legal at the Federal level unless it meets the Miller test of obscenity, which it almost never does. Local prosecution of and tolerance for pornography vary from state to state and city to city. Certain types of material/acts have been self-regulated out of mainstream porn so as to avoid legal problems. Pornographic materials may not be made available to persons under 18 years of age, or 21 in some jurisdictions. Some attempts at restricting pornography on the Internet have been struck down by the courts; see: Internet pornography.

The potential ability to create realistic images using computer graphics or digital manipulation led to some debates on its legality. For instance, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down in 2002 the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 that prohibited, among other things, simulated child pornography. The court ruled that it violated the First Amendment to ban material depicting fictional illegal conduct when no such conduct had been involved in production. However, in the UK, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 reached entirely the opposite conclusion, that if an image creates a convincing enough impression that it sexually depicts a child, it becomes an indecent pseudo-photograph of a child and is equally prosecutable under the law as an actual photograph.

The Internet has also caused problems with the enforcement of age limits regarding performers. In most countries, women and men under the age of 18 are not allowed to appear in porn films, but in several European countries the age limit is 16, and in the UK it is legal for women as young as 16 to appear topless in mainstream newspapers and magazines. This material often ends up on the Internet and viewed by people in countries where this constitutes child pornography, creating challenges for lawmakers wishing to restrict access to such material.

Anti-pornography movement

Main article: Anti-pornography movement

Criticisms of pornography come from two directions: conservative and religious forces, and feminism. Religious conservatives decry pornography because they see it as immoral; sex is reserved for married couples, and pornography is thought to lead to an overall increase in what they consider to be immoral behavior in society. Lust caused or directed through pornography may be interpreted as an indication of disatisfaction with a spouse and is demurred by many religious teachings (Christianity, Islam). Feminist critics generally criticize pornography as degrading to its subjects, and an example of a male-centered objectification of women.

Critics from both groups have sometimes expressed belief in the existence of "pornography addiction". While almost any human behavior can be taken to the level of an addiction, many charge that the concept of "pornography addiction" is frequently raised not because it is scientifically sound but because it creates links between pornography and deviant behavior in the public mind.

Pornography and sex crimes

It has long been theorized that there may be a link between pornography, particularly violent pornography, and an increase in sex crime. This theory has relatively little empirical support and indeed Japan, which is noted for violent pornography, has the lowest reported sex crime rate in the industrialized world, which has led some researchers to speculate that an opposite relationship may in fact exist, namely, that wide availability of pornography may reduce crimes by giving potential offenders a socially accepted way of regulating their own sexuality. Conversely, some argue that reported sex crime rates are low in Japan because the culture is such that victims of sex crime are less likely to report it (eg. chikan [7]).

Japanese study

Milton Diamond and Ayako Uchiyama write in "Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan" (International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 22(1): 1-22. 1999) [8]:

Our findings regarding sex crimes, murder and assault are in keeping with what is also known about general crime rates in Japan regarding burglary, theft and such. Japan has the lowest number of reported rape cases and the highest percentage of arrests and convictions in reported cases of any developed nation. Indeed Japan is known as one of the safest developed countries for women in the world (Clifford, 1980). (...)
Despite the absence of evidence, the myth persists that an abundance of sexual explicit material invariably leads to an abundance of sexual activity and eventually rape (e.g., Liebert, Neale, & Davison, 1973). Indeed, the data we report and review suggest the opposite. Christensen (1990) argues that to prove that available pornography leads to sex crimes one must at least find a positive temporal correlation between the two. The absence of any positive correlation in our findings, and from results elsewhere, between an increase in available pornography and the incidence of rape or other sex crime, is prima facie evidence that no link exists. But objectivity requires that an additional question be asked: "Does pornography use and availability prevent or reduce sex crime?" Both questions lead to hypotheses that have, over prolonged periods, been tested in Denmark, Sweden, West Germany and now in Japan. Indeed it appears from our data from Japan, as it was evident to Kutchinsky (1994), from research in Europe and Scandinavia, that a large increase in available sexually explicit materials, over many years, has not been correlated with an increase in rape or other sexual crimes. Instead, in Japan a marked decrease in sexual crimes has occurred.

That hypothesis is challenged by a recent increase in sex crimes in Japan which, however, parallels an increase in all crimes. Also, there have been substantial movements to support victims of rape through laws and public educations. Nevertheless, some in Japan have blamed the increase on violent pornography and indeed, some sex offenders report having been inspired by themes in commonly available pornography. The counter argument is, of course, that some sex offenders will likely use any defense they can to lower their culpability.

Pornographic conventions

Pornographic work contains a number of conventions. Although pornography targeted at heterosexual males often includes interaction between females, interaction between males is taboo. In hardcore materials, a male generally ejaculates outside his partner's body, in full view: the so-called "money shot". Penises are almost always shown fully erect. The choice of position is naturally geared to giving the viewer the fullest view of the woman, making the reverse cowgirl position, and the man holding the woman in a "dog-and-lamp-post" position among the most popular. Fellatio scenes usually involve the woman looking into the camera or at man, for similar reasons. Especially in American or Japanese porn, women tend to be unrealistically vocal and loud during hardcore scenes.

In the "cheaper" magazines the copy accompanying the text is often derogatory to the female subjects: references to sluts, slags and whores abound.

Pornography by region

Main article: Pornography by region

The production and distribution of pornography are economic activities of some importance. The exact size of the economy of pornography and the influence that it plays in political circles are matter of controversy.

Sub-genres of pornography

This list is far from comprehensive, as there are many, many different kinds of pornography available.

In general soft-core refers to pornography that does not depict penetration or extreme fetish acts, and hard-core refers to pornography that depicts penetration and/or extreme fetish acts.

  • Alternaporn features models with tattoos, piercings, unusually colored hair, gothic or punkrocker look, etc.
  • Amateur
  • Big Beautiful Women (BBW) features performers generally considered overweight.
  • Anal features primarily straight anal sex scenes.
  • Asian features performers with Asian features and/or ancestry
  • Bestiality pornography, features human/animal sex and is illegal in many countries.
  • Bisexual pornography generally features a mix of gay and straight scenes but may also include in addition lesbian and gay/straight group scenes.
  • Big-breast (also called big-boob and big-bust)
  • Bondage features performers tied up or constrained in various ways.
  • Bukkake involving models (usually female) being ejaculated over by many men.
  • Ebony, also known as black, features performers with African-American or Sub-Sahara African features and or ancestry
  • Child pornography features children under the legal age to appear in pornography. (Illegal in almost all places).
  • Classics are porn films from the 1970s and sometimes 1980s now considered classics.
  • Compilation a collection of short scenes, usually themed to a particular fetish such as anal or cum-shots
  • Cum-shot features a collection of ejaculation scenes
  • Cum swapping trading semen from mouth to mouth
  • Double penetration depicts simultaneous anal or vaginal penetration
  • Exhibitionist Pornography feaures models, particularly woman, displaying their breasts or genitals in public, as well as depictions of sex in public. The Girls Gone Wild series of videos is an example of this style of pornography.
  • Fetish Pornography
  • Full Feature Two hour video that usually has a story or plot
  • Gape shots feature scenes of anal sex with a focus on the recipient's anus "gaping".
  • Gay is usually male homosexual pornography, sometimes using straight actors (i.e. Gay-for-pay).
  • Gonzo involves a first-person camera-man as performer perspective
  • Gang-bang usually depicts numerous (more than five) men having sex with one woman (the opposite is usually called a "reverse gang-bang").
  • Hentai a catch-all term for various forms of Japanese pornography, including H-manga, H-anime and H-computer games. Western usage tends to treat it as a synonym for "Japanese pornography", but in Japanese "hentai" literally means "dirty mind."
  • Incest pornography sex between people closely related to one another, in reality or fantasy.
  • Interactive pornography, available in computer CD-ROM and DVD format, allows the viewer to select the particular acts performed at any one time, sometimes with the camera providing a first person view.
  • Interracial features interacial couples with black and white couples being the most common.
  • Latina features female performers from Latin American countries such as Mexico.
  • Lesbian porn, features lesbian, bi-sexual, and straight actresses (gay-for-pay) and is typically aimed at male consumers which is why it is usually grouped with "straight" porn.
  • Mature features female performers who are in their 40s and 50s and in some cases over 60.
  • Preggo refers to pregnant performers and may include lactating woman.
  • Oral sex features mostly fellatio (blow jobs) scenes though sometimes includes cunnilingus.
  • Poser porn is pornography made using 3D computer graphics, usually with the 3D art program Poser, made to representat people in various sexual acts.
  • Pro-Am features professionally directed and produced pornography featuring amateur actors.
  • Reality Porn refers to real or faked 'amateur' encounters (i.e. Bang Bus). Includes pornographic home movies.
  • Scat features defecation and playing with, or consumption of, feces, in reality or fantasy.
  • Solo features performers masturbating.
  • Teen , also known as barely legal porn, caters to consumers who are primarily attracted to 18 and 19 year-olds.
  • Transexual porn features pre-operative transexuals, also referred to as chicks-with-dicks, most often with male co-stars.
  • Upskirt and Downblouse features footage up woman's skirts or down the blouses, often covertly shot, though sometimes staged.
  • Vintage erotica is generally pre-1970s pornography, especially early twentieth-century black and white photographs and stag films.
  • Voyeur depicts real or faked images taken with a camera that appears to be concealed.
  • Water Sports features sexual activities involving urine such as a golden showers (couples urinating on each-other).

See also




Erotic authors

See also the main list at List of erotic authors


Pornography is also a title of a 1960 novel by Witold Gombrowicz and a 2003 movie based on that novel, directed by Jan Jakub Kolski .

It is becoming common in some circles to hear things other than explicit sexual material referred to as "porn" (or its Internet synonym, "pr0n"); primarily these are things which might be considered overly exciting to an aficionado of a particular genre or subject: "cigar porn" (Cigar Aficionado magazine), "boat porn" (several yachting magazines), "datacenter porn" (detailed websites for data colocation providers), etc.

External links and sources

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