Pornography has a long and storied history that can be traced back to ancient civilizations. While its exact origins are difficult to pinpoint, there is evidence of pornographic images and texts dating back to ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. These early forms of pornography often depicted sexual acts and were intended to be titillating and entertaining.

Ancient Porn

Bronze Manus fca & phallus, Roman 1st-2nd century AD

As human civilization progressed, so too did the production and consumption of pornography. In ancient Rome, for example, pornographic art and literature were a popular form of entertainment. Romans also engaged in a practice known as “fica,” (slang for “fig”) in which they would produce small sculptures depicting a woman’s genitals and use them as good luck charms. In ancient Greek, the word for fig was a metaphor for vulva, as it still is in modern Italian slang.




Porn in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the production of pornography was largely suppressed by the Catholic Church, which viewed it as sinful and immoral. However, despite the Church’s efforts, pornography continued to be produced and consumed in various forms, including romances, folk tales, and bawdy songs.

It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century that pornography truly began to flourish. With the ability to mass-produce written material, publishers were able to distribute pornographic books, pamphlets, and images on a large scale. This led to the emergence of a thriving underground market for pornography, particularly in Europe. In 1524, a scandalous event took place when Marcantonio Raimondi, who was Raphael’s master engraver, made illicit copies of Romano’s frescoes. The frescoes showed 16 couples in various sexual positions and Raimondi published the images under the title “I Modi,” which translates to “The Ways.”

Agostino Caracci, Hercules and Deianira, from “I modi,” 16th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Agostino Caracci, Hercules and Deianira, from “I modi,” 16th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Agostino Caracci, Alcibiades and Glycera, from “I modi,” 16th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Agostino Caracci, Alcibiades and Glycera, from “I modi,” 16th century. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In France, the publication of the novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” in 1782 brought the topic of sexual relationships into mainstream discourse, and paved the way for other works of erotic literature. In England, the publication of “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland in 1749 was met with widespread controversy, but it was also a commercial success, leading to a proliferation of similar works. Join Our Book Club. 







Photographic Porn

The invention of photography in the 19th century revolutionized the porn industry. Suddenly, it was possible to produce explicit images of real people, rather than relying on drawings or illustrations. This led to the emergence of “erotic” photography, which featured sexually suggestive or explicit images of women.

In the early days of photography, erotic images of women were often produced by underground photographers and circulated in private circles. As photography became more accessible and widespread, the production of erotic images of women became a lucrative business for some companies and individuals.

One of the earliest and most famous businesses that capitalized on erotic photography of women was Parisian photographer and publisher Charles Beaumont, who produced and sold sexually explicit images of women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other photographers, such as Helmut Newton, also gained recognition for their controversial images of women that pushed the boundaries of sexual and gender norms.


Porn in the 20th Century

Playboy Mag. February 1999, Pamela Anderson

In the mid-20th century, magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse capitalized on the growing market for sexually explicit images of women, featuring photographs of naked and semi-naked women in their pages. The rise of the internet in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has made it easier for individuals and businesses to produce and distribute erotic images of women, but has also led to a growing concern about the exploitation of women in the industry.

The rise of the motion picture in the early 20th century also had a major impact on the porn industry. With the ability to record and distribute moving images, it became possible to create pornographic films. The first known pornographic film, “The Casting Couch,” was released in 1915. While it was considered scandalous at the time, it paved the way for the many adult films that would follow.

And follow they have, with hundreds of thousands of widely available films in any and every category imaginable, the world wide web is full of explicit film, but not films are made equal, and certainly not all films are made ethically, or beautifully.


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