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Pornography or porn is the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.

Pornography may use any of a variety of media, ranging from books, magazines, postcards, photos, sculpture, drawing, painting, animation, sound recording, film, video, or video game. However, when sexual acts are performed for a live audience, by definition, it is not pornography, as the term applies to the depiction of the act, rather than the act itself. Thus, portrayals such as sex shows and striptease are not classified as pornography.

A pornographic model poses for pornographic photographs. A pornographic actor, also called porn star, acts in pornographic films. In cases where few actor skills are required a performer in pornographic films is also called a pornographic model.

Pornography has often been subject to censorship and legal restraints on publication on grounds of obscenity. Such grounds and the very definition of what is or is not pornography have differed in different historical, cultural and national contexts.[1]

Over the past few decades, an immense industry for the production and consumption of pornography has grown,[citation needed] with the increasing use of the VCR, the DVD, and the Internet, as well as the emergence of social attitudes more tolerant of sexual portrayals. Amateur pornography has become widely popular and generally distributed via the Internet for free.



The word derives from the Greek πορνογραφία (pornographia), which derives from the Greek words πόρνη (pornē, "prostitute" and pornea, "prostitution"), and γράφω (graphō, "I write or record," derived meaning "illustration," cf. "graph"), and the suffix -ία (-ia, meaning "state of," "property of," or "place of"), thus meaning "a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution."


The Venus of Willendorf, a figurine with exaggerated sexual characteristics
Oil lamp artifact depicting coitus more ferarum.

Depictions of a sexual nature are as old as civilization (and possibly older, in the form of venus figurines and rock art),[2] but the concept of pornography as understood today did not exist until the Victorian era. Nineteenth century legislation outlawed the publication, retail and trafficking of certain writings and images, regarded as pornographic, and would order the destruction of shop and warehouse stock, meant for sale. However, the private possession of and viewing of (some forms of) pornography was not made an offence until recent times.[3]

When large scale excavations of Pompeii were undertaken in the 1860s, much of the erotic art of the Romans came to light, shocking the Victorians who saw themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Roman Empire. They did not know what to do with the frank depictions of sexuality, and endeavored to hide them away from everyone but upper class scholars. The moveable objects were locked away in the Secret Museum in Naples and what could not be removed was covered and cordoned off as to not corrupt the sensibilities of women, children and the working class. Soon after, the world's first law criminalizing pornography was enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1857 in the Obscene Publications Act.

The Victorian attitude that pornography was for a select few can be seen in the wording of the Hicklin test stemming from a court case in 1868 where it asks, "whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences." Despite the fact of their suppression, depictions of erotic imagery were common throughout history.[4]


In general, softcore refers to pornography that does not depict penetration (usually genitals are not shown on camera), and hardcore refers to pornography that depicts penetration explicitly.

Pornography takes different forms depending on physical characteristics of the participants, fetish, sexual orientation, etc. Reality and voyeur pornography, animated videos, and legally prohibited acts also influence the classification of pornography. Some popular genres of pornography include:


Revenues of the adult industry in the United States have been difficult to determine. In 1970, a Federal study estimated that the total retail value of all the hard-core porn in the United States was no more than $10 million.[5]

In 1998, Forrester Research published a report on the online "adult content" industry estimating $750 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. As an unsourced aside, the Forrester study speculated on an industry-wide aggregate figure of $8–10 billion, which was repeated out of context in many news stories,[6] after being published in Eric Schlosser's book on the American underground economy.[7] Studies in 2001 put the total (including video, pay-per-view, Internet and magazines) between $2.6 billion and $3.9 billion.[8]

A significant amount of pornographic video is shot in the San Fernando Valley, which has been a pioneering region for producing adult films since the 1970s, and has since become home for various models, actors/actresses, production companies, and other assorted businesses involved in the production and distribution of pornography.

The porn industry has been considered influential in deciding format wars in media, including being a factor in the VHS vs. Betamax format war (the videotape format war)[9][10] and in the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war (the high-def format war).[9][10][11]

Non-commercial pornography

As well as the porn industry, there is a large amount of non-commercial pornography. This should be distinguished from commercial pornography falsely marketed as featuring "amateurs." The Alt Sex Stories Text Repository focuses on prose stories collected from Usenet. Various Usenet groups are focused on non-commercial pornographic photographs.


Mass-distributed pornography is as old as the printing press. Almost as soon as photography was invented, it was being used to produce pornographic images. Some claim[who?] that pornography has been a driving force in the development of technologies from the printing press, through photography (still and motion), to video, satellite TV, DVD, and the Internet. With the invention of tiny cameras and wireless equipments voyeur pornography is gaining ground. Mobile cameras are used to capture pornographic photos or videos, and forwarded as MMS.

Computer-generated images and manipulations

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.

Until the late 1990s, digitally manipulated pornography could not be produced cost-effectively. In the early 2000s, it became a growing segment, as the modelling and animation software matured and the rendering capabilities of computers improved. 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 video game.[12]

3D pornography

Due to the popularity of 3D blockbusters in theaters such as Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, companies are now looking to shoot pornography movies in 3D. The first case of this occurred in Hong Kong in 2010, when a group of filmmakers filmed 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstacy due for release May 2011.[13]

Production and distribution 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 has in political circles are matters of controversy.

In the United States, the sex film industry is centered in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. In Europe, Budapest is regarded as the industry center.[14][15][16]

Legal status

See List of pornography laws by region for detailed list

The legal status of pornography varies widely from country to country. Most countries allow at least some form of pornography. In some countries, softcore pornography is considered tame enough to be sold in general stores or to be shown on TV. Hardcore pornography, on the other hand, is usually regulated. The production and sale, and to a slightly lesser degree the possession, of child pornography is illegal in almost all countries, and some countries have restrictions on pornography depicting violence (see e.g. rape pornography) and/or pornography depicting sex of a human with an animal.

Pornographic entertainment on display in a sex shop window. There is usually a minimum age to go into pornographic stores.

Most countries attempt to restrict minors' access to hardcore materials, limiting availability to adult bookstores, mail-order, and television channels that parents can restrict, among other means. There is usually an age minimum for entrance to pornographic stores, or the materials are displayed partly covered or not displayed at all. More generally, disseminating pornography to a minor is often illegal. Many of these efforts have been rendered practically irrelevant by widely available Internet pornography.

In the United States, a person receiving unwanted commercial mail he or she deems pornographic (or otherwise offensive) may obtain a Prohibitory Order, either against all mail from a particular sender, or against all sexually explicit mail, by applying to the United States Postal Service.

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

The Internet has also caused problems with the enforcement of age limits regarding performers and subjects. In most countries, males and females 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 Denmark it is legal for women as young as 16 to appear topless in mainstream newspapers and magazines.[citation needed] This material often ends up on the Internet and can be viewed by people in countries where it constitutes child pornography, creating challenges for lawmakers wishing to restrict access to such material.

Some people, including pornography producer Larry Flynt and the writer Salman Rushdie,[17] have argued that pornography is vital to freedom and that a free and civilized society should be judged by its willingness to accept pornography.

The UK Government has criminalised possession of what it terms "extreme pornography" following the highly publicised murder of Jane Longhurst.

Effect on sexual crime

Research concerning the effects of pornography is inconclusive. Some studies support the contention that the viewing of pornographic material may increase rates of sexual crimes, while others have shown no effects, or a decrease in the rates of such crimes. Moreover, all these studies focus on various correlations, but correlation does not imply causation.


Two thirds of women have watched porn before.[18] More than 70% of men from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month.[19]

Anti-pornography movement

A French caricature on "the great epidemic of pornography."

Opposition to pornography comes generally, though not exclusively, from several sources: law, religion and feminism.

Feminist objections

Feminist critics of pornography, such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, generally consider it demeaning to women. They believe that most pornography eroticizes the domination, humiliation, and coercion of women, reinforces sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment, and contributes to the androcentric objectification of women.

Legal objections

Religious objections

Some religious groups discourage members from viewing pornography, and support legislation restricting its publication. These positions derive from broader religious beliefs about human sexuality. They believe that God created human beings and created sexual intercourse for them in the context of marriage. Thus, sex-oriented entertainment, as well as lack of modesty, are considered to cheapen human sexuality and be a misuse of it.[20]

See also

Further reading


  • Susie Bright. "Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World and Susie Bright's Sexual Reality: A Virtual Sex World Reader", San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press, 1990 and 1992. Challenges any easy equation between feminism and anti-pornography positions.
  • Betty Dodson. "Feminism and Free speech: Pornography." Feminists for Free Expression 1993. May 8, 2002[21]
  • Kate Ellis. Caught Looking: Feminism, Pornography, and Censorship. New York: Caught Looking Incorporated, 1986.
  • Susan Griffin. Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge Against Nature. New York: Harper, 1981.
  • Matthew Gever. "Pornography Helps Women, Society",[22] UCLA Bruin, 1998-12-03.
  • Jason Russell. "The Canadian Past-Time" "Stand Like A Rock"
  • Michele Gregory. "Pro-Sex Feminism: Redefining Pornography (or, a study in alliteration: the pro pornography position paper)[23]
  • Andrea Juno and V. Vale. Angry Women, Re/Search # 12. San Francisco, CA: Re/Search Publications, 1991. Performance artists and literary theorists who challenge Dworkin and MacKinnon's claim to speak on behalf of all women.
  • Michael Kimmel. "Men Confront Pornography". New York: Meridian—Random House, 1990. A variety of essays that try to assess ways that pornography may take advantage of men.
  • Wendy McElroy defends the availability of pornography, and condemns feminist anti-pornography campaigns.[24]
    • "A Feminist Overview of Pornography, Ending in a Defense Thereof"[25]
    • "A Feminist Defense of Pornography"[26]
  • Annalee Newitz. "Obscene Feminists: Why Women Are Leading the Battle Against Censorship" San Francisco Bay Guardian Online May 8, 2002. May 9, 2002[27]
  • Nadine Strossen:
    • "Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex and the Fight for Women's Rights" (ISBN 0-8147-8149-7)
    • "Nadine Strossen: Pornography Must Be Tolerated"[28]
  • Scott Tucker. "Gender, Fucking, and Utopia: An Essay in Response to John Stoltenberg's Refusing to Be a Man"[29] in Social Text 27 (1991): 3-34. Critique of Stoltenberg and Dworkin's positions on pornography and power.
  • Carole Vance, Editor. "Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality." Boston: Routledge, 1984. Collection of papers from 1982 conference; visible and divisive split between anti-pornography activists and lesbian S&M theorists.



  1. ^ H. Mongomery Hyde (1964) A History of Pornography: 1-26
  2. ^ Books.Google.com
  3. ^ H. Montgomery Hyde A History of Pornography. (1969) London, Heinemann: 14
  4. ^ Beck, Marianna (May 2003). "The Roots of Western Pornography: Victorian Obsessions and Fin-de-Siècle Predilections". Libido, The Journal of Sex and Sensibility. http://www.libidomag.com/nakedbrunch/archive/europorn07.html. Retrieved 2006-08-22. 
  5. ^ President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Report of The Commission on Obscenity and Pornography 1970, Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office.
  6. ^ Richard, Emmanuelle (2002-05-23). "The Naked Untruth". Alternet. Archived from the original on 2004-09-28. http://web.archive.org/web/20040928182112/http://www.alternet.org/story/13212/. Retrieved 2006-09-08. 
  7. ^ Schlosser, Eric (2003-05-08). Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0618334667.  Schlosser's book repeats the $10 billion figure without additional evidence
  8. ^ Ackman, Dan (2001-05-25). "How Big Is Porn?". Forbes.com. Forbes.com. Archived from the original on 2001-06-09. http://web.archive.org/web/20010609221146/http://www.forbes.com/2001/05/25/0524porn.html. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "$2.6 billion to $3.9 billion. Sources: Adams Media Research, Forrester Research, Veronis Suhler Communications Industry Report, IVD" 
  9. ^ a b Mearian, Lucas (2006-05-02). "Porn industry may be decider in Blu-ray, HD-DVD battle". Macworld. Mac Publishing. Archived from the original on 2006-07-12. http://web.archive.org/web/20060712001523/http://www.macworld.com/news/2006/05/02/pornhd/index.php?lsrc=mwrss. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  Ron Wagner, Director of IT at a California porn studio: "If you look at the VHS vs. Beta standards, you see the much higher-quality standard dying because of [the porn industry's support of VHS] ... The mass volume of tapes in the porn market at the time went out on VHS."
  10. ^ a b Lynch, Martin (2007-01-17). "Blu-ray loves porn after all". The Inquirer. Incisive Media Investments. Archived from the original on 2007-11-07. http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:www.theinquirer.net/en/inquirer/news/2007/01/17/blu-ray-loves-porn-after-all. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "By many accounts VHS would not have won its titanic struggle against Sony's Betamax video tape format if it hadn't been for porn. This might be over-stating its importance but it was an important factor. ... There is no way that Sony can ignore the boost that porn can give the Blu-ray format." 
  11. ^ Gardiner, Bryan (2007-01-22). "Porn Industry May Decide DVD Format War". FOXNews.com - Technology News. Ziff Davis Media. Archived from the original on 2007-02-10. http://web.archive.org/web/20070210100959/http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,245638,00.html. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "As was expected, the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show saw even more posturing and politics between the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD camps, with each side announcing a new set of alliances and predicting that the end of the war was imminent." 
  12. ^ "Playboy undressed video game women - Aug. 25, 2004". CNN. 2004-08-25. http://money.cnn.com/2004/08/25/commentary/game_over/column_gaming/. Retrieved 2006-08-26. 
  13. ^ "Hong Kong filmmakers shoot 'first' 3D porn film". yahoo. 2010-08-08. http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100808/wl_asia_afp/hongkongjapanchinafilmpornography_20100808051130. Retrieved 2010-08-08. 
  14. ^ Escapeartist.com
  15. ^ Independent.co.uk
  16. ^ Networkcultures.org
  17. ^ Baxter, Sarah; Brooks, Richard (2004-08-08). "Porn is vital to freedom, says Rushdie". Times Online (London: Times Newspapers). Archived from the original on 2007-11-08. http://www.webcitation.org/5TD5Q8UAz. Retrieved 2007-11-08. "Pornography exists everywhere, of course, but when it comes into societies in which it’s difficult for young men and women to get together and do what young men and women often like doing, it satisfies a more general need.... While doing so, it sometimes becomes a kind of standard-bearer for freedom, even civilisation." 
  18. ^ http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/article2355510.ece
  19. ^ http://www.safefamilies.org/sfStats.php
  20. ^ "Bodies, Breakfast and the Marriage Bed". http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/1997/3097_Bodies_Breakfast_and_the_Marriage_Bed/. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  21. ^ Feminism and Free speech: Pornography
  22. ^ Pornography Helps Women, Society
  23. ^ Pro-Sex Feminism: Redefining Pornography
  24. ^ You Are What You Read?
  25. ^ A Feminist Overview of Pornography, Ending in a Defense Thereof
  26. ^ A Feminist Defense of Pornography
  27. ^ Obscene Feminists: Why Women Are Leading the Battle Against Censorship
  28. ^ Nadine Strossen: Pornography Must Be Tolerated
  29. ^ Gender, Fucking, and Utopia: An Essay in Response to John Stoltenberg's Refusing to Be a Man

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