Pornography is the explicit depiction of human sexual behaviour or sexually related imagery in film, novels, short stories, magazines, etc., with the generally accepted goal of sexual arousal. In its original meaning, the word was literally "writing about prostitutes." It evolved into writing about anything sexual, especially in a base manner, and grew to include sexually related material of all kinds, both written and graphical. The term pornography is often used with a negative connotation of low quality as compared to the more esteemed term erotica.
Pornography has possibly a very long history. Nude human beings and sexual activities are depicted in some paleolithic art, possibly making pornography one of the oldest visual artforms. 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.
Sometimes a distinction is made between soft-core and hard-core pornography. The former refers to materials which feature nudity and some sexually suggestive scenes but are usually tame enough to be sold in general stores and (in some countries) to be shown on TV. Hard-core pornography features close-ups of genitalia and sexual activities and is normally only available in adult bookstores, and (in some countries) via special satellite TV channels.
The legal status of pornography varies widely. While child pornography is illegal almost everywhere, most countries allow at least some form of pornography. In Japan until very recently, no genitals could be shown, but there is no taboo regarding sex and violence. Most western countries have some restrictions on pornography involving violence or animals, and they also restrict the sale of pornography to businesses which are open only to adults. The Netherlands have the most liberal rules: pornography is sold openly at normal newsstands and material involving animals is legal. 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 Britain, hard pornography has been illegal until recently, and it remains illegal (but tolerated) in Norway.
In the second half of the twentieth century, pornography became available in "men's magazines" such as Playboy. These magazines usually featured nude or semi-nude women, sometimes engaging in the act of masturbation. Other magazines evolved into more explicit displays, 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 tape recorder the pornographic movie industry grew massively, people being able to view pornography in the privacy of their own home without having to frequent threatres showing this material.
Pornographic computer games have also existed almost since the start of the industry.
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 simply 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.
- Playboy (originally only in US, nowadays has editions in many countries)
- Hustler Magazine (originally only in US, nowadays has editions in many countries)
- Private (Established in Stockholm, Sweden in 1965 as the world's first full color hardcore sex magazine)
- Hugh Hefner
- Larry Flynt
- John Holmes
- Ron Jeremy
- Nina Hartley
- Marilyn Chambers
- Linda Lovelace
- Georgina Spelvin