Pornography (from Greek pornographia â€” literally writing about or drawings of harlots) is the representation of the human body or human sexual behaviour with the goal of sexual arousal, similar to, but (according to some) distinct from, Erotica.
Pornography may use 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 was, however, a made-up word coined in England about 1850 that had a spurious air of age and scholarship about it. There is no evidence that anyone at that time, or earlier, was writing about prostitutes per se except as they figured as characters in written erotica of that epoch. It quickly came to mean writing about anything sexual, especially in a base manner, when the creation, presentation, or consumption of the material was for sexual stimulation. The term now refers to sexually related material of all kinds, both written and graphical. The term "pornography" often has negative connotations of low artistic merit, 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 (namely the adult industry). Pornography can also be contrasted with ribaldry, which uses sexual titillation in the service of comedy.
Sometimes a distinction is made between softcore pornography and hardcore pornography. The former generally refers to materials which feature nudity and some sexually suggestive scenes, while hardcore or X-rated pornography contains close-ups of genitalia and sexual activities. Within the industry itself, classification breaks down even further. The distinctions might be lost on most people, but the precarious legal definition and differing standards at different outlets (pay cable channels like Cinemax versus the Playboy Channel versus domestic home video versus foreign markets) cause producers to shoot and edit different cuts of films and screen those cuts first for their legal teams. Primarily the internal rating decision is made by looking at exposure of an erect penis, inclusion and duration of close up shots of genitals and penetration, types of penetration, and presence or lack of an external ejaculation.
Pornography has possibly a very long history. Specific evidence suggests that depictions of sexuality and human progress go hand in hand and that pornographers today remain on the cutting edge. Sexual artwork is among the oldest known to exist; explict photographs date to the begining of photography and among the earliest films are works depicting nudity and explicit sex. But does depiction imply intent to arouse?
Nude human beings and sexual activities are depicted in some paleolithic art (i.e. Venus Figurines), 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.
Pornographic comic books known as Tijuana bibles began appearing in the US in the 1920s.
In the second half of the 20th century, pornography evolved from the so-called "men's magazines" such as Playboy and Modern Man of the 1950s. These magazines featured nude or semi-nude women, sometimes apparently engaging in the act of masturbation, although their genitals or pubic hair were not actually displayed. By the late 1960s, however, these magazines, which now included Penthouse, began to evolve into more explicit displays, eventually, by the 1990s, 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 - some of the earliest were Mystique's Atari 2600 video games, including Custer's Revenge, Beat 'Em And Eat 'Em and Gigolo. The Japanese company Hacker International, which also published games under the name Super PIG, produced several pornographic titles for the Nintendo Famicom - three of these, renamed to Bubble Bath Babes, Hot Slots and Peek-A-Boo Poker, were distributed in the USA by Panesian. However, such games are no longer produced for current consoles, largely due to the increased costs and potential legal problems associated with developing a game without the approval of the console manufacturer. Pornographic games are now released mostly for personal computers, with Japanese hentai games of various genres being the largest category.
A lot of pornography is digitally manipulated in sophisticated image editors such as Adobe Photoshop. This practice ranges from applying mild changes to photographs to improve the appearance of the models, such as removing skin defects, improving brightness and contrast of the photo, to extensive editing to produce images of non-existent creatures such as catgirls, or celebrities who may not have themselves ever consented to be filmed for pornography.
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. However, until the late 1990s it could not be produced cost-effectively. In early 2000s it became a growing segment, as the modelling and animation software matured and rendering capabilities of computers improved. The strongest advantage of computer generated pornography is the ability to realistically render sexual fantasies that are impossible or illegal to film in reality. As of 2004, computer-generated pornography depicting situations involving children and sex with fictional characters such as Jar Jar Binks is already produced on a limited scale.
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.
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. With the advent of peer to peer file sharing applications such as Kazaa, pornography swapping has reached new heights. Free pornography became available en masse from other users and is no longer restricted to private groups. Large amounts of free pornography on the Internet is also distributed for marketing purposes to encourage subscriptions to paid content.
On the Internet pornography is often referred to as pr0n which is misspelled p0rn â€” porn written with zero, a common style in a so called leet speak.
The legal status of pornography varies widely. Most countries allow at least some form of pornography and soft core pornography is usually tame enough to be sold in general stores and (in some countries) to be shown on TV. Hardcore pornography, on the other hand, is usually regulated. Child pornography is illegal almost everywhere and most western countries have restrictions on pornography involving violence or animals.
Some people, including pornography producer Larry Flint and a famous writer Salman Rushdie, argued that pornography is vital to freedom and that a free and civilised society should be judged by its willingness to accept pornography.
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.
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.
* In Australia, regulation of pornography has increased somewhat
under the Howard government, but remains reasonably widely
available. See censorship in Australia.
* In 1966 in Denmark, the ban on written pornography was lifted and in 1969, Denmark was the first country in the world to legalise (hard core) picture pornography.
* In France, movies containing extreme violence or graphical pornography are considered X rated, may not be seen by minors and are shown only in specific theaters. Pornographic services incur special taxes on revenue (33% for X rated movies, 50% for pornographic online services). Whether or not some movies should be X rated is controversial; for instance, in 2000, the explicitly violent and sexual movie Baise-moi was initially not considered X rated (only "restricted") by the French government, but this classification was overturned by the Conseil d'Ã‰tat ruling on a lawsuit brought by associations supporting Christian and family values.
* In the Republic of Ireland pornography was illegal until the mid-1990s.
* 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). Until recently, Japanese law prohibited the depiction of pubic hair in depictions of any forms of nudity, whether it be pornographic or not. For example, Japanese editions of men's magazines such as Playboy had to have any photographs visible signs of pubic hair airbrushed out. This prohibition may explain some visual characteristics of many manga or anime where pubic hair is absent from nude pictures.
* The Netherlands have the most liberal rules: pornography is sold openly at normal newsstands and material involving animals is legal.
* Hard pornography remains illegal (but tolerated) in Norway.
* In the Russian Federation illegal production and distribution of pornography is explicitly prohibited, but because State Duma has repeatedly failed to pass a law regulating sexual materials, these issues remain in a grey area. De jure all pornography is allowed (including child porn), but de facto there are some limitations on where it can be sold and bestiality and child porn are de facto prohibited. Openly sold erotic magazines usually do not display nipples and pubic area on covers.
* In Singapore pornography is illegal; even Playboy is banned.
* 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 Kingdom, hard core pornography was illegal until 1999.
* In the United States, hard core pornography is legal unless it meets the Miller test of obscenity, which it almost never does. Prosecution of and tolerance for pornography vary from state to state and city to city. Certain types of material/acts have been self-regulated out of mainstream porn so as to avoid legal problems. Pornographic 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.
The potential ability to create realistic images using computer graphics or digital manipulation led to some debates on its legality. For instance, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down in 2002 the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 that prohibited, among other things, simulated child pornography. The court ruled that it violated the First Amendment to ban material depicting fictional illegal conduct when no such conduct had been involved in production.
Criticisms of pornography come from two directions: conservative and religious forces, and feminism. Religious conservatives, exemplified by US 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 what they consider to be 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 B. 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. Some speculate that this decision implictly condones pornography and was one of the reasons most modern American porn is produced in California.
"Evidence of the harm of exposure to sexually explicit images or words in childhood is inconclusive, even nonexistent. The 1970 U.S. Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, the 'Lockhart' commission, uncovered no link between adult exposure to pornography and bad behavior and called for the dismantling of legal restrictions on Erotica." - Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors
In 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed another commission to study pornography issues, specifically to overturn the findings of the Lockhart commission. 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. This report has been criticised for allegedly producing findings that were politically expedient rather than reflecting the empirical evidence; among those criticising it were some of the scientists who gathered that evidence and reported a conclusion to the Meese commission much different from the conclusion the commission later announced.
The feminist position on pornography is divided. Sex-positive 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 Mac Kinnon, 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.