Circular icon with the letters “xxx”
“XXX” is often used to designate pornographic material.
Pornography (often shortened to porn) is the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the exclusive purpose of sexual arousal. Pornography may be presented in a variety of media, including magazines, animation, writing, film, video, and video games. The term does not include live exhibitions like sex shows and striptease. The primary subjects of present-day pornographic depictions are pornographic models, who pose for still photographs, and pornographic actors who engage in filmed sex acts.
Various groups within society have considered depictions of a sexual nature immoral, addictive, and noxious, labeling them pornographic, and attempting to have them suppressed under obscenity laws, censored or made illegal. Such grounds, and even the definition of pornography, have differed in various historical, cultural, and national contexts. Social attitudes towards the discussion and presentation of sexuality have become more tolerant in Western countries, and legal definitions of obscenity have become more limited, beginning in 1969 with Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, the first adult erotic film depicting explicit sexual intercourse to receive wide theatrical release in the United States. It was followed by the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984), in which the best quality pornographic films became part of mainstream culture.
A growing industry for the production and consumption of pornography developed in the latter half of the 20th century. The introduction of home video and the Internet saw a boom in the worldwide porn industry that generates billions of dollars annually. Commercialized pornography accounts for over US$2.5 billion in the United States alone, including the production of various media and associated products and services. The porn industry is between $10–$12 billion in the U.S. In 2006, the world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars. This industry employs thousands of performers along with support and production staff. It is also followed by dedicated industry publications and trade groups, award shows, as well as the mainstream press, private organizations (watchdog groups), government agencies, and political organizations. Videos involving non-consensual content and cybersex trafficking have been hosted on popular pornography sites in the 21st century.
The word pornography was coined from the ancient Greek words πόρνη (pórnē "prostitute" and πορνεία porneía "prostitution"), and γράφειν (gráphein "to write or to record", derived meaning "illustration", as in "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". No date is known for the first use of the word in Greek; the earliest attested, most related word one could find in Greek, is πορνογράφος, pornográphos, i.e. "someone writing about harlots", in the Deipnosophists of Athenaeus. The Modern Greek word pornographia (πορνογραφία) is a reborrowing of the French pornographie.
"Pornographie" was in use in the French language during the 1800s. The word did not enter the English language as the familiar word until 1857 or as a French import in New Orleans in 1842. The word was originally introduced by classical scholars as "a bookish, and therefore nonoffensive, term for writing about prostitutes", but its meaning was quickly expanded to include all forms of "objectionable or obscene material in art and literature". As early as 1864, Webster's Dictionary defined the word bluntly as "a licentious painting". The more inclusive word erotica, sometimes used as a synonym for "pornography", is derived from the feminine form of the ancient Greek adjective ἐρωτικός (erōtikós), derived from ἔρως (érōs), which refers to lust and sexual love.
Pornography is often abbreviated to porn or porno in informal language.
For the term in horror films, see torture porn.
Further information: History of erotic depictions
Erotic scene on the rim of an Attic red-figure kylix, c. 510 BC.
Depictions of a sexual nature have existed since prehistoric times, as seen in the Venus figurines and rock art. A vast number of artifacts have been discovered from ancient Mesopotamia depicting explicit heterosexual sex.
Glyptic art from the Sumerian Early Dynastic Period frequently shows scenes of frontal sex in the missionary position. In Mesopotamian votive plaques from the early second millennium BC, the man is usually shown entering the woman from behind while she bends over, drinking beer through a straw. Middle Assyrian lead votive figurines often represent the man standing and penetrating the woman as she rests on top of an altar. Scholars have traditionally interpreted all these depictions as scenes of ritual sex, but they are more likely to be associated with the cult of Inanna, the goddess of sex and prostitution. Many sexually explicit images were found in the temple of Inanna at Assur, which also contained models of male and female sexual organs.
Depictions of sexual intercourse were not part of the general repertory of ancient Egyptian formal art, but rudimentary sketches of heterosexual intercourse have been found on pottery fragments and in graffiti. The final two thirds of the Turin Erotic Papyrus (Papyrus 55001), an Egyptian papyrus scroll discovered at Deir el-Medina, consist of a series of twelve vignettes showing men and women in various sexual positions. The scroll was probably painted in the Ramesside period (1292–1075 BC) and its high artistic quality indicates that it was produced for a wealthy audience. No other similar scrolls have yet been discovered.
Oil lamp artifact depicting the doggy style sexual position
Fanny Hill (1748) is considered "the first original English prose pornography, and the first pornography to use the form of the novel." It is an erotic novel by John Cleland first published in England as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. It is one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history. The authors were charged with "corrupting the King's subjects."
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 classes.
After the modern invention of photography, photographic pornography was also born. The parisian demimonde included Napoleon III's minister, Charles de Morny, who was an early patron that displayed photos at large gatherings.
The world's first law criminalizing pornography was the English Obscene Publications Act 1857 enacted at the urging of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. The Act, which applied to the United Kingdom and Ireland, made the sale of obscene material a statutory offence, giving the courts power to seize and destroy offending material. The American equivalent was the Comstock Act of 1873 which made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" materials through the mail. The English Act did not apply to Scotland, where the common law continued to apply. However, neither the English nor the United States Act defined what constituted "obscene", leaving this for the courts to determine.
Before the English Act, the publication of obscene material was treated as a common law misdemeanour and effectively prosecuting authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography. Although nineteenth-century legislation eventually 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, the private possession of and viewing of (some forms of) pornography was not made an offence until the twentieth century.
Historians have explored the role of pornography in social history and the history of morality. 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." Although they were suppressed, depictions of erotic imagery were common throughout history.
Pornographic film production commenced almost immediately after the invention of the motion picture in 1895. Two of the earliest pioneers were Eugène Pirou and Albert Kirchner. Kirchner directed the earliest surviving pornographic film for Pirou under the trade name "Léar". The 1896 film Le Coucher de la Mariée showed Louise Willy performing a striptease. Pirou's film inspired a genre of risqué French films showing women disrobing and other filmmakers realised profits could be made from such films.
Marquee at Pilgrim Theatre on Washington Street showing Dr. Sex (1964)
Sexually explicit films opened producers and distributors to prosecution. Such films were produced illicitly by amateurs, starting in the 1920s, primarily in France and the United States. Processing the film was risky as was their distribution. Distribution was strictly private. In 1969, Denmark became the first country to abolish censorship, thereby decriminalizing pornography, which led to an explosion in investment and of commercially produced pornography. However, it continued to be banned in other countries, and had to be smuggled in, where it was sold "under the counter" or (sometimes) shown in "members only" cinema clubs. Nonetheless, and also in 1969, Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, was the first adult erotic film depicting explicit sexual intercourse to receive wide theatrical release in the United States. The film was a seminal film in the Golden Age of Porn and, according to Warhol, a major influence in the making of Last Tango in Paris, an internationally controversial erotic drama film, starring Marlon Brando, and released a few years after Blue Movie was made.
A selection of pornographic magazines confiscated by customs authorities in 1969.
Data from 2015 suggests an increase in pornography viewing over the past few decades, and this has been attributed to the growth of Internet pornography since widespread public access to the World Wide Web in the late 1990s. Through the 2010s, many pornographic production companies and top pornographic websites – such as PornHub, RedTube and YouPorn – were acquired by MindGeek, which has been described as "a monopoly".
The scholarly study of pornography, notably in cultural studies, is limited, perhaps due to the controversy about the topic in feminism. The first peer-reviewed academic journal about the study of pornography, Porn Studies, was published in 2014.
Pornography is often distinguished from erotica, which consists of the portrayal of sexuality with high-art aspirations, focusing also on feelings and emotions, while pornography involves the depiction of acts in a sensational manner, with the entire focus on the physical act, so as to arouse quick intense reactions. Pornography is generally classified as either softcore or hardcore. A pornographic work is characterized as hardcore if it has any hardcore content, no matter how small. Both forms of pornography generally contain nudity. Softcore pornography generally contains nudity or partial nudity in sexually suggestive situations, but without explicit sexual activity, sexual penetration or "extreme" fetishism, while hardcore pornography may contain graphic sexual activity and visible penetration, including unsimulated sex scenes.
Pornography encompasses a wide variety of genres. Pornography featuring heterosexual acts composes the bulk of pornography and is "centred and invisible", marking the industry as heteronormative. However, a substantial portion of pornography is not normative, featuring more nonconventional forms of scenarios and sexual activity such as "'fat' porn, amateur porn, disabled porn, porn produced by women, queer porn, BDSM, and body modification."
Pornography can be classified according to the physical characteristics of the participants, fetish, sexual orientation, etc., as well as the types of sexual activity featured. Reality and voyeur pornography, animated videos, and legally prohibited acts also influence the classification of pornography. Pornography may fall into more than one genre. Some examples of pornography genres:
Revenues of the adult industry in the United States are difficult to determine. In 1970, a Federal study estimated that the total retail value of hardcore pornography in the United States was no more than $10 million. In 1998, Forrester Research published a report on the online “adult content” industry estimating $750 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. Studies in 2001 put the total (including video, pay-per-view, Internet and magazines) between $2.6 billion and $3.9 billion.
As of 2014, the porn industry was believed to bring in more than $13 billion on a yearly basis in the United States. CNBC has estimated that pornography was a $13 billion industry in the US, with $3,075 being spent on porn every second and a new porn video being produced every 39 minutes.
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 pornography 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) and in the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war (the high-def format war).
Pornographers have taken advantage of each technological advance in the production and distribution of visual images. Pornography is considered a driving force in the development of technologies from the printing press, through photography (still and motion), to satellite TV, home video, other forms of video, and the Internet.
With commercial availability of tiny cameras and wireless equipment, “voyeur” pornography established an audience. Mobile cameras are used to capture pornographic photos or videos, and forwarded as MMS, a practice known as sexting.
Computer-generated images and manipulations
See also: Virtual reality sex
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. Further advances in technology have allowed increasingly photorealistic 3D figures to be used in interactive pornography.
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.
The first pornographic film shot in 3D was 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, released April 2011 in Hong Kong.
Production and distribution by region
Main article: Pornography by region
A street stall in Hong Kong selling pornography.
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.
Piracy, the illegal copying and distribution of material, is of great concern to the porn industry, the subject of litigation and formalized anti-piracy efforts.
See also: Pornography addiction and Effects of pornography
Research concerning the effects of pornography is concerned with multiple outcomes. Such research includes potential influences on rape, domestic violence, sexual dysfunction, difficulties with sexual relationships, and child sexual abuse. While some literature reviews suggest that pornographic images and films can be addictive, insufficient evidence exists to draw conclusions. Several studies conclude the liberalization of porn in society may be associated with decreased rape and sexual violence rates, while others suggest no effect, or are inconclusive.