por·​nog·​ra·​phy | \ pȯr-ˈnä-grə-fē How to pronounce pornography (audio) \

Definition of pornography

1 : the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
2 : material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
3 : the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction the pornography of violence

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from pornography

pornographic \ ˌpȯr-​nə-​ˈgra-​fik How to pronounce pornographic (audio) \ adjective
pornographically \ ˌpȯr-​nə-​ˈgra-​fi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce pornographically (audio) \ adverb

What is pornography?

For many people, any attempt to define the word pornography calls to mind the oft-quoted line from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964: “. . . I know it when I see it.” While compilers of dictionaries might wish to be granted such latitude in explaining the meaning of certain words, they are held to a higher standard. Pornography, which has been used in English since the middle of the 19th century, comes from the Greek pornographos (“writing about prostitutes”), and initially referred to visual or written matter designed to cause sexual arousal, a meaning that is still the most common one employed today. Pornography has taken on an additional, non-sexualized, sense: one that refers to a depiction of sensational material (such as violence) in order to elicit a reaction. The phrase “pornography of violence,” for example, began to be used in the early 1950s.

Examples of pornography in a Sentence

If you ask me, his movies are just high-class pornography.
Recent Examples on the Web As Simon explained the series to Variety last year: It's roughly based on the story of the actual people who were there, some of the people that were the pioneers when pornography came out of the brown paper bag and became an open industry. Matt Miller, Esquire, "Here's Your First Look at James Franco in David Simon's New HBO Porn Drama," 31 May 2017 No sense in pretending this isn’t an issue; few things generate as much traffic online as pornography. Gary Robbins,, "You surf internet porn. Fine. But do you know how to avoid the hackers?," 8 May 2017 A new challenge looms for Apple Inc. in China after internet regulators warned three video-app companies to do a better job of screening out pornography—an eye-popping task, as is evident here in the offices of the popular Huajiao streaming service. Eva Dou, WSJ, "Porn in Video Streams? China Presses Apple to Monitor Content," 20 Apr. 2017 The lengthy list includes alcohol, tobacco, pork products and media or entertainment considered immoral, such as pornography. Tom Verde, New York Times, "Retirement Savings, the Muslim Way," 30 June 2017 He was arrested following execution of the warrant and charged with one count of possession of child pornography. Staff Report, The Aegis, "Harford man charged with possession of child pornography," 27 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pornography.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of pornography

1842, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pornography

Greek pornographos, adjective, writing about prostitutes, from pornē prostitute + graphein to write; akin to Greek pernanai to sell, poros journey — more at fare, carve

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about pornography

Time Traveler for pornography

Time Traveler

The first known use of pornography was in 1842

See more words from the same year

Statistics for pornography

Cite this Entry

“Pornography.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Jun. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for pornography


How to pronounce pornography (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of pornography

often disapproving : movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement


por·​nog·​ra·​phy | \ pȯr-ˈnä-grə-fē How to pronounce pornography (audio) \

Legal Definition of pornography

: material that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

Note: Pornographic material is protected expression unless it is determined to be obscene. However, child pornography is illegal under federal and state laws prohibiting the depiction of minors in sexual acts.

Other Words from pornography

pornographer \ pȯr-​ˈnä-​grə-​fər How to pronounce pornographer (audio) \ noun
pornographic \ ˌpȯr-​nə-​ˈgra-​fik How to pronounce pornographic (audio) \ adjective
pornographically adverb

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on pornography

Spanish Central: Translation of pornography

Nglish: Translation of pornography for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pornography for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about pornography

Comments on pornography

What made you want to look up pornography? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!