Big Qustion: What is pornography?

Pornography refers to media intended to stimulate sexual arousal. It can depict both heterosexual and homosexual sex. Pornography is not limited to images or written descriptions of penetration or oral sex.

The dictionary emphasizes that pornography is intended to be erotic. This is what distinguishes it from simple pictures of genitalia. In her introduction to Oxford Readings in Feminism: Feminism and Pornography, Drucilla Cornell presents the question, Is sex education pornography? Within this definition, it isn’t. Sex education is meant to educate, not to stimulate someone sexually.

What complicates the definition of pornography is whether a genitalia needs to be shown plainly for something to be pornographic. There are many examples of erotic advertisements that are sensual through poses and through revealing a lot of skin on models. The contours of sex organs may be shown, but often they are still covered. To call these images pornographic, rather than simply label them as “sexually explicit” or something similar, might seem like an overstatement.

Perhaps what distinguishes sexually explicit material from pornography is the audience’s expectations. With regards to ads, audiences do not typically seek sexual arousal from them, as erotic as they are. Also, on the advertiser’s side, although the image they’re presenting is erotic, maybe it’s meant to be memorable through being provocative, not to be sexually stimulating. When both the producer and the audience of these images expect sexual arousal, it’s pornography. In this definition, they’re on the same page.

Cornell, D. (2000). Introduction. In D. Cornell (Ed.) Oxford Readings in Feminism: Feminism and Pornography. Oxford University Press.

Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2013). Pornography. Retrieved from


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