AskDefine | Define pornography

Dictionary Definition

pornography n : creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire [syn: porno, porn, erotica, smut]

User Contributed Dictionary



From sc=polytonic, from sc=polytonic + sc=polytonic.




  1. The explicit depiction of sexual subject matter, especially with the sole intention of sexually exciting the viewer.
  2. usually jocular The graphic, detailed, often gratuitous depiction of something.
    In The Four Pillars of Wisdom, he devotes a well-deserved chapter to the financial press and its weakness for "financial pornography"—lurid coverage of star money managers. (Seattle Times, Auhust 4, 2002)


depiction of sexual subject matter
  • Albanian: pornografia
  • Arabic: (Ibahiyya)
  • Asturian: pornografía
  • Basque: pornografia
  • Catalan: pornografia
  • Chinese: 色情 (sèqíng)
  • Croatian: pornografija
  • Czech: pornografie
  • Danish: pornografi
  • Dutch: pornografie
  • Esperanto: pornografio
  • Finnish: pornografia
  • French: pornographie
  • German: Pornografie
  • Greek: πορνογραφία
  • Hebrew: פורנוגרפיה
  • Hungarian: pornográfia
  • Icelandic: klám
  • Indonesian: pornografi
  • Italian: pornografia
  • Japanese: ポルノグラフィー (porunogurafī)
  • Latin: pornographia
  • Latvian: pornogrāfija
  • Lithuanian: pornografija
  • Norwegian: pornografi
  • Polish: pornografia
  • Portuguese: pornografia
  • Romanian: pornografie
  • Russian: порнография
  • Scottish Gaelic: drùiseantachd , drabasdachd
  • Slovak: pornografia
  • Slovene: pornografija
  • Spanish: pornografía
  • Swedish: pornografi

See also

Extensive Definition

Pornography or porn is the explicit depiction of sexual subject matter, especially with the sole intention of sexually exciting the viewer. It is to a certain extent similar to erotica, which is the use of sexually-arousing imagery for mainly artistic purposes. Over the past few decades, an immense industry for the production and consumption of pornography has grown, due to emergence of the VCR, the DVD, and the Internet, as well as the emergence of social attitudes more tolerant of sexual portrayals. Performers in pornography are referred to as pornographic actors (or actresses), or the more commonly known title, "porn star", and are generally seen as qualitatively different from their non-pornographic counterparts.
Pornography may use any of a variety of media—printed literature, 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 may be considered similar, but not identical, to pornography.
In most countries pornography is treated as a separate entity, both culturally and legally, from depictions of naked persons in art or photography. See "nudity" for more information.


The word derives from the Greek πορνογραφία (pornographia), which derives from the Greek words πόρνη (porne, "prostitute"), γράφω (grapho, "to write or record"), and the suffix -ία (-ia, meaning "state of", "property of", or "place of"), thus meaning "a place to record prostitutes".


details History of erotic depictions The depiction of sexual acts is as old as civilization (and can be found painted on various ancient buildings), but the concept of pornography as understood today did not exist until the Victorian era. Previous to that time, though some sex acts were regulated or stipulated in laws, looking at objects or images depicting them was not. In some cases, specific books, engravings or image collections were censored or outlawed, but the trend to compose laws that restricted viewing of sexually explicit things in general was a Victorian construct. 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, Italy 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.


In general, softcore refers to pornography that does not depict penetration (usually genitals are not shown), and hardcore refers to pornography that depicts penetration explicitly.
Pornography is of different forms depending on physical characteristics of the participants, fetish, sexual orientation etc. Reality and voyeur pornography, animated videos, legally prohibited acts also depicted. Some popular genres of pornography:


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
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 underground economy. Studies in 2001 put the total (including video, pay-per-view, Internet and magazines) between $2.6 billion and $3.9 billion.
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 porn.
The porn industry has been considered influential in deciding format wars in media; including being a factor in VHS v. Betamax (the videotape format war)

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 focussed 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 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 invent 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.

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.
Pornography in Japan: Rates of pornography use in Japan have climbed in the 20th century. Despite this, no correlation has been found between pornography use and rape or other sex crimes. During this period, rates of sexual assault have dropped. Japan has the lowest levels of reported rape and the highest levels of arrests and convictions in any developed nation in the world.

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 most countries have restrictions on pornography involving violence or animals.
Most countries attempt to restrict minors' access to hardcore materials, limiting availability to adult bookstores, mail-order, via 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. 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, 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 is planning to outlaw possession of what it terms "extreme pornography" after a campaign following the highly publicised murder of Jane Longhurst.

Effect on sex crimes

A lower per capita crime rate and historically high availability of pornography in many developed European countries (e.g. Netherlands, Sweden) has some researchers to conclude that there is an inverse relationship between the two, such that an increased availability of pornography in a society equates to a decrease in sexual crime. Some researchers speculate that wide availability of pornography may reduce crimes by giving potential offenders a socially accepted way of regulating their own sexuality. Moreover, there is some evidence that states within the U.S. that have lower rates of internet access have a greater incidence of rape.
Japan, which is noted for its large output of rape fantasy pornography, has the lowest reported sex crime rate in the industrialized world. However, some argue that reported sex crime rates are low in Japan because the culture (a culture that greatly emphasizes a woman's "honor") is such that victims of sex crime are less likely to report it (e.g. chikan). However, a 1995 study comparing crime statistics since 1972 when pornography changed from totally prohibited to freely available with no age restrictions found that:
"''sex crimes in every category, from rape to public indecency, sexual offenses from both ends of the criminal spectrum, significantly decreased in incidence. Most significantly, despite the wide increase in availability of pornography to children, not only was there a decrease in sex crimes with juveniles as victims but the number of juvenile offenders also decreased significantly. We hypothesized that the increase in pornography, without age restriction and in comics, if it had any detrimental effect, would most negatively influence younger individuals. Just the opposite occurred. The number of victims decreased particularly among the females younger than 13. In 1972, 8.3% of the victims were younger than 13. In 1995 the percentage of victims younger than 13 years of age dropped to 4.0%; a reduction of greater than 50%. In 1972, 33.3 % of the offenders were between 14-19 years of age; by 1995 that percentage had decreased to 9.6%..''"
However, a review of controlled studies has found that extensive, extremely prolonged viewing of the type of pornographic material commonly sold at adult bookstores was positively correlated with leniency in the sentencing of a person convicted of rape in a mock trial setting, decreased satisfaction of participants with their sex lives and partners, and an increased self-reported willingness to commit rape or other forced sexual acts.

Anti-pornography movement

Opposition to pornography comes generally, though not exclusively, from several sources: law, religion and feminism. Some critics from the latter two camps have expressed belief in the existence of "pornography addiction."

Effect on sexual aggression

In the 70's and 80's, feminists such as Dr. Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin criticized pornography as essentially dehumanizing women and as likely to encourage violence against them. It has been suggested that there was an alliance, tacit or explicit, between anti-porn feminists and fundamentalist Christians to help censor the use of or production of pornography.
According to researchers N.M. Malamuth, T. Addison and M. Koss, "high pornography use is not necessarily indicative of high risk for sexual aggression," but go on to say, "if a person has relatively aggressive sexual inclinations resulting from various personal and/or cultural factors, some pornography exposure may activate and reinforce associated coercive tendencies and behaviors".

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 male-centered objectification of women. Some feminists distinguish between pornography and erotica, which they say does not have the same negative effects of pornography. However, many Third-wave feminists and postmodern feminists disagree with this critique of porn, claiming that appearing in or using pornography can be explained as each individual woman's choice, and is not guided by socialization in a capitalist patriarchy.

Pornography by and for women

Some recent pornography has been produced under the rubric of "by and for women". According to Tristan Taormino, "Feminist porn both responds to dominant images with alternative ones and creates its own iconography."

Legal objections

In the United States, distribution of "obscene" materials is a Federal crime, The determination of what is obscene is up to a jury in a trial, which must apply the Miller test; however, due to the prominence of pornography in most communities most pornographic materials are not considered obscene by the Miller Test. In explaining its decision to reject claims that obscenity should be treated as speech protected by the First Amendment, in Miller v. California, the US Supreme Court found that
The dissenting Justices sound the alarm of repression. But, in our view, to equate the free and robust exchange of ideas and political debate with commercial exploitation of obscene material demeans the grand conception of the First Amendment and its high purposes in the historic struggle for freedom. It is a "misuse of the great guarantees of free speech and free press . . . ." Breard v. Alexandria, 341 U.S., at 645.
and in Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton that
In particular, we hold that there are legitimate state interests at stake in stemming the tide of commercialized obscenity, even assuming it is feasible to enforce effective safeguards against exposure to juveniles and to passersby. 7 [413 U.S. 49, 58] Rights and interests "other than those of the advocates are involved." Breard v. Alexandria, 341 U.S. 622, 642 (1951). These include the interest of the public in the quality of life and the total community environment, the tone of commerce in the great city centers, and, possibly, the public safety itself... As Mr. Chief Justice Warren stated, there is a "right of the Nation and of the States to maintain a decent society . . .," [413 U.S. 49, 60] Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 199 (1964) (dissenting opinion)... The sum of experience, including that of the past two decades, affords an ample basis for legislatures to conclude that a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality, can be debased and distorted by crass commercial exploitation of sex.
Partly because Denmark decriminalized pornography in 1967 with few adverse effects and partly because of the 1968 United States Supreme Court decision which held that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes, in 1968 Congress created the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography to investigate the effects of obscenity and pornography on the people of the United States with each member personally appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In what became the most detailed and comprehensive investigation into pornography to date, the commission in its final report found that pornography could not be shown to do harm to individuals or to society, and recommended the repeal of obscenity and pornography legislation as it related to adults. Released during the presidency of Richard Nixon the report generated a brief bout of controversy but was ultimately ignored by the administration.
Attorney General for Ronald Reagan, Edwin Meese, also courted controversy when he appointed the "Meese Commission" to investigate pornography in the United States; their report, released in July 1986, was highly critical of pornography and itself became a target of widespread criticism. That year, Meese Commission officials contacted convenience store chains and succeeded in demanding that widespread men's magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse be removed from shelves,a ban which spread nationally until being quashed with a First Amendment admonishment against prior restraint by the D.C. Federal Court in Meese v. Playboy (639 F.Supp. 581).
In the United States in 2005, Attorney General Gonzales made obscenity and pornography a top prosecutorial priority of the Department of Justice.

Religious objections

Some religious groups often discourage their members from viewing or reading pornography, and support legislation restricting its publication. These positions derive from broader religious views about sexuality. In some religious traditions, for example, sexual intercourse is limited to the express function of procreation. Thus, sexual pleasure or sex-oriented entertainment, as well as lack of modesty, are considered immoral. Other religions do not find sexual pleasure immoral, but see sex as a sacred, godly, highly-pleasurable activity that is only to be enjoyed with one's spouse. These traditions do not condemn sexual pleasure in and of itself, but they impose limitations on the circumstances under which sexual pleasure may be properly experienced. Pornography in this view is seen as the secularization of something sacred, and a violation of spouses' intimate relationship.
Though the Torah (Jewish written law) has a great many prohibitions of about sexual behaviors, pornography is not specifically mentioned. However, the Tzniut requires Jewish women to be covered from ankle to wrist (thereby forbidding pornographic modeling or acting for women). The halakhah states that sexually arousing images are to be avoided.
The Qur'an 24:31 states "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and keep covered their private parts, and that they should not show-off their beauty except what is apparent, and let them cast their shawls over their cleavage. And let them not show-off their beauty except to their husbands... "
There is no simple direct subject_negated-verb_object prohibition of erotic media anywhere in the Bible. Extrapolation is required.
Paragraph 2354 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Pornography... offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each another. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants... since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offence.
In addition to expressing concerns about violating sexual morality, some religions take an anti-pornography stance claiming that viewing pornography is addictive, leading to self-destructive behavior. Proponents of this view compare pornography addiction to alcoholism, both in asserting the seriousness of the problem and in developing treatment methods.



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. 8 May 2002
  • 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", 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)
  • 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.
    • "A Feminist Overview of Pornography, Ending in a Defense Thereof"
    • "A Feminist Defense of Pornography"
  • Annalee Newitz. "Obscene Feminists: Why Women Are Leading the Battle Against Censorship" San Francisco Bay Guardian Online 8 May 2002. 9 May 2002
  • 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"
  • Scott Tucker. "Gender, Fucking, and Utopia: An Essay in Response to John Stoltenberg's Refusing to Be a Man" 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.

External links

pornography in Afrikaans: Pornografie
pornography in Arabic: إباحية
pornography in Asturian: Pornografía
pornography in Bulgarian: Порнография
pornography in Catalan: Pornografia
pornography in Czech: Pornografie
pornography in Danish: Pornografi
pornography in German: Pornografie
pornography in Modern Greek (1453-): Πορνογραφία
pornography in Spanish: Pornografía
pornography in Esperanto: Pornografio
pornography in French: Pornographie
pornography in Korean: 포르노그래피
pornography in Indonesian: Pornografi
pornography in Icelandic: Klám
pornography in Italian: Pornografia
pornography in Hebrew: פורנוגרפיה
pornography in Latin: Pornographia
pornography in Luxembourgish: Pornographie
pornography in Lithuanian: Pornografija
pornography in Hungarian: Pornográfia
pornography in Dutch: Pornografie
pornography in Japanese: ポルノグラフィ
pornography in Norwegian: Pornografi
pornography in Norwegian Nynorsk: Pornografi
pornography in Polish: Pornografia
pornography in Portuguese: Pornografia
pornography in Romanian: Pornografie
pornography in Russian: Порнография
pornography in Albanian: Pornografia
pornography in Slovak: Pornografia
pornography in Slovenian: Pornografija
pornography in Serbian: Порнографија
pornography in Serbo-Croatian: Pornografija
pornography in Finnish: Pornografia
pornography in Swedish: Pornografi
pornography in Turkish: Pornografi
pornography in Ukrainian: Порнографія
pornography in Yiddish: פארנאגראפיע
pornography in Samogitian: Pornograpėjė
pornography in Chinese: 色情物品

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

French literature, Rabelaisianism, Renaissance literature, X-rated movie, ancient literature, bawdiness, bawdry, belles lettres, blue movie, classics, contemporary literature, dirt, dirtiness, dirty movie, erotic art, erotic literature, erotica, erotographomania, fescenninity, filth, filthiness, folk literature, foulness, humane letters, iconolagny, kitsch, letters, lewdness, literature, medieval literature, nastiness, national literature, obscene literature, obscenity, offensiveness, polite literature, pop literature, popular literature, porn, pornographic art, pornographic literature, pornographomania, pseudonymous literature, republic of letters, ribaldry, salaciousness, salacity, scatological literature, scurrility, serious literature, sexploitation, skin flick, smut, smuttiness, soft-core pornography, stag film, travel literature, underground literature, vileness, wisdom literature
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