Pornography (often abbreviated 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 books, magazines, postcards, photographs, sculpture, drawing, painting, animation, sound recording, phone calls, writing, film, video, and video games. The term applies to the depiction of the act rather than the act itself, and so 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 or porn stars, who perform in pornographic films. If dramatic skills are not involved, a performer in a porn film may also be called a model.
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 and other laws, with varying degrees of success. Such works have also often been subject to censorship and other legal restraints to publication, display, or possession, leading in many cases to their loss. 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, notably beginning in 1969 with Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, the first adult erotic film depicting explicit sex to receive wide theatrical release in the United States, and the subsequent Golden Age of Porn (1969-1984), leading to an industry for the production and consumption of pornography 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 general porn industry is between $10-$12 billion in the U.S. In 2006 world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars. Child porn is a $3 billion industry. This industry employs thousands of performers along with support and production staff. It is also followed by dedicated industry publications and trade groups as well as the mainstream press, private organizations (watchdog groups), government agencies, and political organizations. More recently, sites such as Pornhub, RedTube, and YouPorn, in addition to much pirated porn posted by individuals, have served as repositories for home-made or semi-professional pornography, made available free by its creators (who could be called exhibitionists). They present a significant challenge to the commercial pornographic film industry.
Irrespective of the legal or social view of pornography, it has been used in a number of contexts. It is used, for example, at fertility clinics to stimulate sperm donors. Some couples use pornography at times for variety and to create a sexual interest or as part of foreplay. There is also some evidence that pornography can be used to treat voyeurism.
The word pornography was coined from the ancient Greek words πόρνη (pornē "prostitute" and πορνεία porneia "prostitution"), and γράφειν (graphein "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, pornographos, 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".
Pornography is often abbreviated to porn or porno in informal language.
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 plagues 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 was produced for a wealthy audience. No other similar scrolls have yet been discovered.
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.
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."
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.
Sexually explicit films opened producers and distributors to prosecution. Those that were made 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 sex 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.
Data 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. The genres of pornography are based on the type of activity featured and the category of participants, for example:
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. 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, after being published in Eric Schlosser's book on the American black market. 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.
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).
In addition to the porn industry, there is a large amount of non-commercial pornography. This should be distinguished from commercial pornography falsely marketed as featuring "amateurs".
Pornographers have taken advantage of each technological advance in the production and distribution of pornography. They have used lithographs, the printing press, and photography. Pornography is considered a driving force in the development of technologies from the printing press, through photography (still and motion), to satellite TV, other forms of video, 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, a practice known as sexting.
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.
Due to the popularity of 3D blockbusters in theaters such as Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, companies are now looking to shoot pornographic films in 3D. The first case of this occurred in Hong Kong, when a group of filmmakers filmed 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy released in April 2011.
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.
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.
More than 70% of male internet users from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that Utah was the largest consumer of paid internet pornography per capita in the United States.
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, for example, rape pornography) or animal pornography, or both.
Most countries attempt to restrict minors' access to hardcore materials, limiting availability to sex shops, 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. A failed US law would have made these same restrictions apply to the internet.
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 not found any such works.
Some people, including pornography producer Larry Flynt and the 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.
Child pornography is illegal in most countries, with a person most commonly being a child until the age of 18 (though the age varies). In those countries, any film or photo with a child subject in a sexual act is considered pornography and illegal.
Pornography can infringe into basic human rights of those involved, especially when consent was not obtained. For example, revenge porn is a phenomenon where disgruntled sexual partners release images or video footage of intimate sexual activity, usually on the internet. In many countries there has been a demand to make such activities specifically illegal carrying higher punishments than mere breach of privacy or image rights, or circulation of prurient material. As a result, some jurisdictions have enacted specific laws against "revenge porn".
In the U.S., a July 2014 criminal case decision in Massachusetts, Commonwealth v. Rex, 469 Mass. 36 (2014), made a legal determination of what was not to be considered "pornography" and in this particular case "child pornography". It was determined that photographs of naked children that were from sources such as National Geographic magazine, a sociology textbook, and a nudist catalog were not considered pornography in Massachusetts even while in the possession of a convicted and (at the time) incarcerated sex offender.
In the United States, some courts have applied US copyright protection to pornographic materials. Although the first US copyright law specifically did not cover obscene materials, the provision was removed subsequently. Most pornographic works are theoretically work for hire meaning pornographic models do not receive statutory royalties for their performances. Of particular difficulty is the changing community attitudes of what is considered obscene, meaning that works could slip into and out of copyright protection based upon the prevailing standards of decency. This was not an issue with the copyright law up until 1972 when copyright protection required registration. The law was changed to make copyright protection automatic, and for the life of the author.
Some courts have held that copyright protection effectively applies to works, whether they are obscene or not, but not all courts have ruled the same way. The copyright protection rights of pornography in the United States has again been challenged as late as February 2012.
Views and opinions of pornography come in a variety of forms and from a diversity of demographics and societal groups. Opposition of the subject generally, though not exclusively, comes from three main sources: law, feminism and religion.
Many feminists, including Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, argue that all pornography is demeaning to women or that it contributes to violence against women, both in its production and in its consumption. The production of pornography, they argue, entails the physical, psychological, or economic coercion of the women who perform in it, and where they argue that the abuse and exploitation of women is rampant; in its consumption, they charge that pornography eroticizes the domination, humiliation and coercion of women, and reinforces sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment. They charge that pornography presents a severely distorted image of sexual relations, and reinforces sex myths; that it always shows women as readily available and desiring to engage in sex at any time, with any man, on men's terms, always responding positively to any advances men make. They argue that because pornography often shows women enjoying and desiring to be violently attacked by men, saying "no" when they actually want sex, fighting back but then ending up enjoying the act – this can affect the public understanding of legal issues such as consent to sexual relations.
In contrast to these objections, other feminist scholars argue that the lesbian feminist movement in the 1980s was good for women in the porn industry. As more women entered the developmental side of the industry, this allowed women to gear porn more towards women because they knew what women wanted, both for actresses and the audience. This is believed to be a good thing because for such a long time, the porn industry has been directed by men for men. This also sparked the arrival of making lesbian porn for lesbians instead of men.
Furthermore, many feminists argue that the advent of VCR and consumer video allowed for the possibility of feminist pornography. Consumer video made it possible for the distribution and consumption of video pornography to locate women as legitimate consumers of pornography. Tristan Taormino says that feminist porn is "all about creating a fair working environment and empowering everyone involved." Feminist porn directors are interested in challenging representations of men and women, as well as providing sexually-empowering imagery that features many kinds of bodies.
In a 1995 essay for The New Yorker, writer Susan Faludi argued that porn was one of the few industries where women enjoy a power advantage in the workplace. "'Actresses have the power,' Alec Metro, one of the men in line, ruefully noted of the X-rated industry. A former firefighter who claimed to have lost a bid for a job to affirmative action, Metro was already divining that porn might not be the ideal career choice for escaping the forces of what he called 'reverse discrimination.' Female performers can often dictate which male actors they will and will not work with. 'They make more money than us.' Porn – at least, porn produced for a heterosexual audience – is one of the few contemporary occupations where the pay gap operates in women's favor; the average actress makes fifty to a hundred per cent more money than her male counterpart. But then she is the object of desire; he is merely her appendage, the object of the object."
Harry Brod offered a Marxist feminist view, "I [Brod] would argue that sex seems overrated [to men is] because men look to sex for fulfillment of nonsexual emotional needs, a quest doomed to failure. Part of the reason for this failure is the priority of quantity over quality of sex which comes with sexuality's commodification."
Religious organizations have been important in bringing about political action against pornography. In the United States, religious beliefs affect the formation of political beliefs that concern pornography.
$2.6 billion to $3.9 billion. Sources: Adams Media Research, Forrester Research, Veronis Suhler Communications Industry Report, IVD
The pornographic genre is immense, and includes an enormous variety of styles catering to an equally vast range of tastes and fetishes. Certainly, mainstream heteroporn makes up the main bulk of the genre, and is most easily accessible. As stated above, this style of porn includes highly formulaic displays of paired or group sex, enacted by bodies exhibiting a conventional gendered aesthetic, moving through various sexual positions and penetrations. Nonetheless, some forms of porn are more normative than others, and indeed not all forms of heteroporn are normative, such as ' rimming ', girl on boy strap-on anal sex, and hard-core BDSM. Pornography also includes an endless array of different kinds of fetish, ' fat ' porn, amateur porn, disabled porn, porn produced by women, queer porn, BDSM and body modification. The list of non- mainstream porn is endless and displays bodies, gender scenarios and sexual activity differently to heteronormative formulations of mainstream heteroporn.
By many accounts VHS would not have won its titanic struggle against Sony's Betamax video tape format if it had not 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.
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.
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.
Sex forced on real women so that it can be sold at a profit to be forced on other real women; women's bodies trussed and maimed and raped and made into things to be hurt and obtained and accessed, and this presented as the nature of women; the coercion that is visible and the coercion that has become invisible—this and more grounds the feminist concern with pornographyPdf.
Catharine MacKinnon argues that: "Pornography affects people's belief in rape myths. So for example if a woman says 'I didn't consent' and people have been viewing pornography, they believe rape myths and believe the woman did consent no matter what she said. That when she said no, she meant yes. When she said she didn't want to, that meant more beer. When she said she would prefer to go home, that means she's a lesbian who needs to be given a good corrective experience. Pornography promotes these rape myths and desensitises people to violence against women so that you need more violence to become sexually aroused if you're a pornography consumer. This is very well documented."