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Pornography is the representation of human sexual behaviour with the goal of sexual arousal, in any of a variety of media — written and spoken text, photos, 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. And novels and short stories provide written text, sometimes with illustrations.

In addition to media a live performance may be called pornographic.

In its original meaning, pornography was literally "writing about prostitutes." It evolved into writing about anything sexual, especially in a base manner, and grew to include sexually related material of all kinds, both written and graphical. The term pornography is often used with a negative connotation of low quality, 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. Pornography can also be contrasted with ribaldry, which uses sexual titillation in the service of comedy.

Sometimes a distinction is made between soft core and hard core pornography. The former refers to materials which feature nudity and some sexually suggestive scenes, while hard-core or X-rated pornography contains close-ups of genitalia and sexual activities.

Table of contents

Legal situation

The legal status of pornography varies widely. While child pornography is illegal almost everywhere, most countries allow at least some form of pornography. Soft core pornography is usually tame enough to be sold in general stores and (in some countries) to be shown on TV.

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. Many of these efforts have been rendered moot by the wide availability of internet pornography. Most western countries have some restrictions on pornography involving violence or animals.

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 rumours have been unable to find any such works.

  • The Netherlands have the most liberal rules: pornography is sold openly at normal newsstands and material involving animals is legal.

  • In 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.

  • In the United States, hard core pornography is legal unless it meets the Miller test of obscenity, which it almost never does. The materials may not be made available to persons under 18 years of age. Some attempts at restricting pornography on the internet have been struck down by the courts; see internet pornography.

  • In Australia, regulation of pornography has increased under the Howard government, with films involving real sex being banished from ordinary cinemas. Films involving animals or violence are completely illegal, but pornographic magazines are sold by most newsagents. There have also been some nominal attempts to restrict access to Internet pornography.

  • In Britain, hard pornography has been illegal until recently.

  • Hard pornography remains illegal (but tolerated) in Norway.

  • In 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).

Anti-pornography movement

Criticisms of pornography come from two directions: conservative and religious forces, and feminism.

Religious conservatives, exemplified by the American Rev. Jerry Falwell, 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 immoral behavior in society.

In the United States, a 1968 Supreme Court decision which held that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes caused Congress to fund and President Lyndon Johnson to appoint a commission to study pornography. The commission's report recommended sex education, funding of research into the effects of pornography, restriction of children's access to pornography, and recommended against any restrictions for adults. The report was widely criticized and rejected by Congress.

In 1983, prosecutors in California tried to use pandering and prostitution state statutes against a producer of and actors in a pornographic movie; the California Supreme Court[?] ruled in 1988 that these statutes do not apply to the production of pornography (People v. Freeman (1988) 46 Cal.3d 41 (http://login.findlaw.com/scripts/callaw?dest=ca/cal3d/46/419)).

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed another commission to study pornography issues. It was headed by Attorney General Edwin Meese and is generally known as the Meese commission. The commission's report, released in 1986, found that pornography is harmful and can lead to violent acts. These findings have been criticized for not reflecting the empirical evidence.

The feminist position on pornography is divided. Some feminists view pornography as a crucial part of the sexual revolution which led to women's liberation, and see conservative views of morality as designed to fortify an oppressive status quo. Other feminists, most vocally Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon[?], see pornography as degradation of women which leads to violence against women. They have attempted to create laws which allow sexually abused and otherwise affected women to sue pornographers in civil court. One such attempt in Indianapolis was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 1986. In a 1992 decision, the Canadian Supreme Court upheld the Canadian obscenity law, accepting the feminist argument that the law is intended to create gender equality and prohibits materials that harm women, rather than "immoral" materials. Dworkin herself favors a civil law approach and opposes all criminal pornography prohibitions.

The criticisms of Linda Boreman, who herself worked as a porn actor under the name Linda Lovelace, focus on the exploitative practices of the porn industry, rather than on pornography's societal effects.


Pornography has possibly a very long history. Nude human beings and sexual activities are depicted in some paleolithic art. However it is not certain that the purpose was sexual arousal, 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 phalluses (an erect penis 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).

In the second half of the 20th century, pornography became available in "men's magazines" such as Playboy. These magazines usually featured nude or semi-nude women, sometimes engaging in the act of masturbation. Other magazines evolved into more explicit displays, featuring sexual penetration, lesbianism and homosexuality, group sex, and fetishes.

The movie camera has 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.

Pornographic computer games have also existed almost since the start of the industry.

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. 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 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.

Pornographic Conventions

Pornographic work contains a number of conventions. Mainstream pornography contains sexual interactions between males and females or between females but interaction between males is taboo. In hard core materials, the male always ejaculates outside the woman's body, in full view. Penises are almost always shown fully erect.

Pornography in the United States

Pornography in the United States is produced mainly in the San Fernando Valley by a few large companies. The distribution of pornography has changed radically after the 1980s with videotape and cable television largely displacing X-rated theaters. Distribution of pornography is a large industry which involves major entertainment companies such as AOL-Time Warner (which profits from pornography through its cable channels, and in-room movies provided by hotel chains).

Pornography in the United States tends to feature mostly blonde women with large breasts and buttocks and often with small tattoos or body piercing. Men in pornography tend to be older and heavily muscled. American pornography movies often attempt to promote pornographic stars, and the boxes for video tapes tend to be extremely gaudy. Plot in pornographic movies is often minimal.

Pornography in Europe

European hardcore pornography is dominated by a few pan-European producers and distributors, the most notable of which is the Private organization. Most European countries also have local pornography producers. Both of these compete with imported American pornography.

Pornography in Asia

The three main producers of pornography in Asia are Japan, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Japan has a large pornographic industry which features more natural looking women usually wearing little makeup servicing multiple men who tend to be anonymous. Hong Kong and Thailand produces much print pornography but less video. The men in Thai pornography tend to be younger than in Japanese or American pornography.


Playboy (originally only in US, nowadays has editions in many countries)
Hustler Magazine[?] (originally only in US, nowadays has editions in many countries)
Private (Established in Stockholm, Sweden in 1965 as the world's first full color hardcore sex magazine)
Le Ore[?] (Italy), once an ordinary newspaper, in the 1970s had a notable turn in editorial line and represents now the most important title of a wide network of sex related magazines in central Europe.


Debbie Does Dallas
Deep Throat
The Opening of Misty Beethoven[?]
The Devil in Miss Jones[?]
Behind the Green Door[?]
Girls Gone Wild


Annabel Chong
Annie Sprinkle
Asia Carrera
Ben Dover[?]
Bob Guccione[?]
Brande Roderick[?]
Chloe Verrier[?]
Danni Ashe[?]
Hugh Hefner
Georgina Spelvin[?]
Ilona Staller
Jenna Jameson
John Holmes
John Stagliano[?]
Karin Schubert[?]
Larry Flynt
Linda Lovelace
Marilyn Chambers
Moana Pozzi
Nicci Sterling[?]
Nina Hartley[?]
Peter North
Ron Jeremy
Tera Patrick
Tiffany Towers[?]

Specialized forms of pornography:

See also:

External links

  • Diamond, M. and Uchiyama, A: Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan (http://www.hawaii.edu/PCSS/online_artcls/pornography/prngrphy_rape_jp), International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 22(1): 1-22 (1999). Reports that a significant increase in the availability of pornography in Japan was accompanied by a decrease in sex crimes, in accordance with similar findings in other countries.

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