Various groups within society have considered depictions of a sexual nature immoral, addictive, and noxious, labeling them pornographic, and attempting to have them suppressed under obscenity and other laws, with varying degrees of success. Such works have also often been subject to censorship and other legal restraints to publication, display, or possession, leading in many cases to their loss. Such grounds, and even the definition of pornography, have differed in various historical, cultural, and national contexts.
Social attitudes towards the discussion and presentation of sexuality have become more tolerant in Western countries, and legal definitions of obscenity have become more limited, notably beginning in 1969 with Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, the first adult erotic film depicting explicit sex to receive wide theatrical release in the United States, and the subsequent Golden Age of Porn (1969-1984), leading to an industry for the production and consumption of pornography in the latter half of the 20th century. The introduction of home video and the Internet saw a boom in the worldwide porn industry that generates billions of dollars annually. Commercialized pornography accounts for over US$2.5 billion in the United States alone, including the production of various media and associated products and services. The general porn industry is between $10-$12 billion in the U.S. In 2006 world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars. This industry employs thousands of performers along with support and production staff. It is also followed by dedicated industry publications and trade groups as well as the mainstream press, private organizations (watchdog groups), government agencies, and political organizations. More recently, sites such as Pornhub, RedTube, and YouPorn, in addition to much pirated porn posted by individuals, have served as repositories for home-made or semi-professional pornography, made available free by its creators (who could be called exhibitionists). They present a significant challenge to the commercial pornographic film industry.
Irrespective of the legal or social view of pornography, it has been used in a number of contexts. It is used, for example, at fertility clinics to stimulate sperm donors. Some couples use pornography at times for variety and to create a sexual interest or as part of foreplay. There is also some evidence that pornography can be used to treat voyeurism.
The word pornography was coined from the ancient Greek words πόρνη (pórnē "prostitute" and πορνείαporneía "prostitution"), and γράφειν (gráphein "to write or to record", derived meaning "illustration", as in "graph"), and the suffix -ία (-ia, meaning "state of", "property of", or "place of"), thus meaning "a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution". No date is known for the first use of the word in Greek; the earliest attested, most related word one could find in Greek, is πορνογράφος, pornográphos, i.e. "someone writing about harlots", in the Deipnosophists of Athenaeus. The Modern Greek word pornographia (πορνογραφία) is a reborrowing of the French pornographie.
"Pornographie" was in use in the French language during the 1800s. The word did not enter the English language as the familiar word until 1857 or as a French import in New Orleans in 1842. The word was originally introduced by classical scholars as "a bookish, and therefore nonoffensive, term for writing about prostitutes", but its meaning was quickly expanded to include all forms of "objectionable or obscene material in art and literature". As early as 1864, Webster's Dictionary defined the word bluntly as "a licentious painting". The more inclusive word erotica, sometimes used as a synonym for "pornography", is derived from the feminine form of the ancient Greek adjective ἐρωτικός (erōtikós), derived from ἔρως (érōs), which refers to lust and sexual love.
Pornography is often abbreviated to porn or porno in informal language.