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Any printed or pictorial material containing representations of sexually obscene behavior, intended to sexually arouse its audience.

There is an obvious and necessary imprecision in this definition of the term pornography, in the sense that what is considered to be sexually obscene behavior, and, for that matter, what might sexually arouse an audience, vary quite widely from time to time, from place to place, and from individual to individual. Nearly all modern societies have laws that prohibit the possession or distribution of at least some forms of pornography, although the statutory suppression and criminalization of sexually obscene material is a relatively recent phenomenon, and is significantly predated by the legal censorship of material that was judged to be sacrilegious or antireligious (religiously obscene) or seditious or treasonous (politically obscene). Generally, laws against pornography have been based on the controversial assumption that exposure to pornography morally corrupts individuals and is a cause of sexual crimes. In the United States, legislation concerning pornography dates from the middle of the 19th century. Since that time, the admittedly elusive legal definition of what constitutes pornography and can be regulated by law has evolved into material that portrays sexual conduct in a patently offensive way and appeals to prurient interest in sex, as judged by an average person applying contemporary community standards, and which, on the whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. When necessary, the judgment of whether or not material is pornographic is usually made by a jury. Many authorities have concluded that, because of the constantly shifting moral connotations of the concept of sexual obscenity, it is not possible to completely and objectively define the term pornography, and that, in the final analysis, pornography is in the eye of the beholder.

Further Reading

Hunter, Ian. On Pornography. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Perception: early Greek theories to Zombie