Pornography refers to material or representations designed to arouse or give sexual pleasure to the individual who reads, see, hears, or handles it. What is considered to be pornography is in constant flux, as society’s view of what is social acceptable, and what is considered vulgar or immoral changes. To explore this concept, consider the following pornography definition.

Definition of Pornography


  1. The depiction of nudity or erotic behavior, in writing, pictures, video, or otherwise, with the intent to cause sexual excitement.


1840-1850        Greek pornográph

What is Pornography

Pornography is portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexually arousing or satisfying a person, and it comes in the form of magazines, movies, videos, and more. While many people have argued that pornography is an artistic expression, protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, others feel there is a distinct line between art and “porn.”

The Ohio Court of Appeals, in City of Youngstown v. DeLoreto (USA, 1969), the court distinguished art from pornography in the following manner:

“True art conveys a thought, a speculation, or a perception about the human condition. Pornography is the pictures of sex organs and their usage devoid of all other meaning-the personality having no place.”

In the United States, pornography laws have been controversial for decades as the government struggles with how to treat materials that are considered offensive to society.

Pornography Laws

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to own, look at, and even publish pornography. The law has been tested, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that even businesses have the right to make and distribute pornography. First Amendment protection does not extend, however, to obscenity, or to child pornography. In these areas, both federal and state pornography laws make it illegal to make, distribute, own, or even view obscene materials, as well as any item of child pornography.

The 1986 Attorney General Commission Report on Pornography acknowledged that “not all pornography is legally obscene.” While the topic of what constitutes child pornography is less ambiguous to most Americans, the question of what images or representations cross the line into the category of obscenity has plagued the American legal system for many years.

Obscenity Laws

In general, obscenity is defined as any sexually related material that stretches beyond mere nudity. Nudity alone, unless it involves minor children, is not enough to categorize any material as obscene according to law. The courts use a basic test to determine the difference between pornography and obscenity. This test considers any image or representation to be obscene if:

  1. The average person, by modern community standards, would find that the representation appeals to sexual interest, or arouses an unwholesome sexual desire.
  2. The representation, when viewed as a whole, lacks serious artistic, literary, scientific, or political value.
  3. The work shows or depicts sexual conduct in a clearly offensive manner as, defined by the laws of the state in which the material is located or distributed.

In basic terms, sexual depictions can be considered obscene if they show hard-core sexual conduct that is clearly offensive. However, there is no national standard defining what is considered offensive, and what is not. This leaves the issue up to society’s standards, which are ever changing. What people in one community consider obscene, may not be viewed as such by the people in another area.

Child Pornography and Exploitation

Child pornography and exploitation are against the law in all 50 states, and no community standards or “tests” are involved. These laws have the sole purpose of preventing children from becoming victims of abuse and exploitation. Child pornography laws are much more strict than standard pornography laws, and carry very serious penalties.

Child Pornography Laws

Child pornography laws pertain to owning, making, distributing, or viewing any film, video, photograph, or computer-generated image of an individual, under the age of 18, who is nude, or engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Any person charged with a crime involving child pornography is subject to severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, and being required to register as a sex offender. Once convicted under child pornography laws, a first time offender may receive 15 to 30 years in prison. If the offender has prior convictions, or there are aggravated circumstances, he may face a sentence of life imprisonment.

Real Life Child Pornography Case

Federal law enforcement officers arrested 28-year old Randy Ray Wesson, of Forth Worth, Texas, after he admitted to abusing more than 100 children between the ages of 7 and 14. The investigation began with a tip on child pornography, and indeed officers found 42,000 child pornography images in Wesson’s possession. Hurst had a 17-year old partner who pretended to be 12 years old so he could attend the elementary school in order to recruit young victims for Wesson.

Wesson was arrested and charged with intent to promote child pornography, distribution of harmful material, and tampering with a governmental record. His partner was charged with possession of child pornography, for the photos on his cell phone, which were obtained at the elementary school.

In February of 2015, Wesson pled guilty to one count of possession of child pornography, and one count of receipt of child pornography, as part of a plea agreement. The deal promised Wesson would not serve more than 30 years in federal prison.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Plea Agreement – An agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant in which the defendant pleads guilty to a reduced charge, often for a reduced sentence.
  • Sex Offender – A person convicted of a crime involving sex, including rape, molestation, and production or distribution of child pornography.