por·​nog·​ra·​phy pȯr-ˈnä-grə-fē How to pronounce pornography (audio)
: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement
: material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement
: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction
the pornography of violence
pornographic adjective
pornographically adverb

Did you know?

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.

Example Sentences

If you ask me, his movies are just high-class pornography.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1842, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of pornography was in 1842

Dictionary Entries Near pornography

Cite this Entry

“Pornography.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


por·​nog·​ra·​phy pȯr-ˈnäg-rə-fē How to pronounce pornography (audio)
: pictures or writings describing sexual behavior and intended to cause sexual excitement
pornographic adjective

Legal Definition


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

pornographer noun
pornographic adjective
pornographically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on pornography

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?