Pornography or porn is the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.
Pornography may use any of a variety of media, ranging from books, magazines, postcards, 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 are not classified as pornography.
A pornographic model poses for pornographic photographs. A pornographic actor or porn star performs in pornographic films. In cases where limited dramatic skills are involved, a performer in pornographic films may be called a pornographic model.
A distinction is often made between erotica (the portrayal of sexuality with high-art aspirations, focusing also on feelings and emotions) and pornography (the depiction of acts in a sensational manner, with the entire focus on the physical act, so as to arouse quick intense reactions).
Pornography has often been subject to censorship and legal restraints on publication on grounds of obscenity. Such grounds and the very definition of what is or is not pornography have differed in different historical, cultural, and national contexts.
With the emergence of social attitudes more tolerant of sexuality and with more explicit definitions of obscenity in law, an industry for the production and consumption of pornography arose in the latter half of the 20th century. The introduction of home video and the Internet saw booms in a porn industry that today generates billions of dollars a year worldwide.
A common distinction is between hardcore and softcore pornography where the distinction is whether or not sex acts actually occur. The consumers of hardcore, in particular, and most softcore have traditionally been considered to be men and thus most production targets their presumed tastes.
In general, softcore refers to pornography that does not depict penetration (usually genitals are not shown on camera), and hardcore refers to pornography that explicitly depicts penetration.
Pornography is 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. The genres of pornography are based on the type of activity featured and the category of participants, such as:
Straight porn (unless otherwise stated this is assumed in this article)
Softcore pornography (including glamour photography, cheesecake and other salacious images of women)
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.
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 e.g. rape pornography) or pornography depicting sex of a human with an animal, 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 been unable to find 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.
The UK Government has criminalised possession of what it terms “extreme pornography” following the highly publicised murder of Jane Longhurst.
Child pornography is illegal in most countries, with a person most commonly being a child until the age of 18 (though the age does vary). In those countries, any film or photo with a child subject in a sexual act is considered pornography and illegal.
More than 70% of male internet users from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month.