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What Sexual Scientists Know About...

Pornography What is Pornography? The word pornography derives from a Greek word meaning writing about prostitutes. Although there is no widely accepted modern definition, the common element in all definitions is that the material is sexually explicit. Controversy revolves around whether specific depictions are art or smut, good or bad, innocuous or harmful. People often label as pornographic material that violates their own moral standards and use the terms artistic or erotic for sexual materials they find acceptable.

Pornography must be distinguished from obscenity. Obscenity is a legal term identifying material that has been judged by the courts to have violated specific statutes pertaining to sexually explicit material. Central to these statutes is whether the material violates community standards of acceptability and whether it involves minors. Thus, many books, movies, and even advertisements that are acceptable today could have been judged obscene earlier in our history.

The Effects of Exposure to Sexually Explicit Material Since the 1960s, research has been conducted to assess the effects of exposure to sexually explicit material. Primary attention has been paid to commercially produced materials intended to generate sexual arousal and/or activity in adult audiences. Three components have been of principal interest: (a) the degree of explicitness, (b) whether the material also contains aggression, and (c) whether it depicts women in demeaning and degrading ways.

Types of Materials. Most explicit books, magazines, and videos are marketed to heterosexual men. In recent years, more material has been produced by and for heterosexual women. There is also explicit material for gay men and lesbians, and other distinct groups. Nearly all of the material depicts nudity and explicit sexual acts ("hard core"). Less than 10% of the X-rated or hard-core material contains aggression, and very little of that aggression involves physical violence or...