Rule 34 is an Internet maxim which asserts that Internet pornography exists concerning every conceivable topic. The concept is commonly depicted as fan art of normally non-erotic subjects engaging in sexual behavior. It can also include writings, animations, and any other form of media to which the internet provides opportunities for proliferation.
Imaginative erotic art has existed since antiquity. Sappho was celebrated for it. It was displayed openly in Roman homes. From the 1920s to the 1960s, long before "Rule 34" was coined, erotic mini comics called Tijuana bibles depicted popular comic characters such as Popeye and Little Orphan Annie.
Rule 34 originated from a 2003 webcomic, captioned "Rule #34 There is porn of it. No exceptions." The comic was drawn by TangoStari (Peter Morley-Souter) to depict his shock at seeing Calvin and Hobbes parody porn. Though the comic faded into obscurity, the caption instantly became popular on the Internet. Since then, this phrase has been adapted into different syntactic versions and even used as a verb.
In May 2007, a Rule 34 database was launched on Paheal.net with a searchable archive of Rule 34 images, and similar sites began appearing soon after.[unreliable source?] On August 20 that year, the webcomic xkcd published a comic titled "Rule 34", which involved hypothetical sexual scenarios including homoerotic spelling bees.
In 2008, users of the imageboard 4chan posted numerous sexually explicit parodies and cartoons illustrating Rule 34. In the special argot of 4chan request forums, "porn" is called rule 34, Pr0nz. One dictionary of neologisms claims that Rule 34 "began appearing on Internet postings in 2008."
As Rule 34 continued spreading on the Internet, traditional media began reporting on it. A 2009 Daily Telegraph article listed Rule 34 as third of the "Top 10" Internet rules and laws. A 2013 CNN story said Rule 34 was "likely the most famous" Internet rule that has become part of mainstream culture. On November 14, 2018, a Twitch streamer celebrated turning eighteen by posting a video to Twitter in which he looked up Rule 34 pictures. The popular video and its responses were covered by The Daily Dot.
Fan fiction has eroticized numerous political figures from the 2016 United States presidential election and the 2021 Suez Canal obstruction by the container ship Ever Given. Short low-cost books called "Tinglers" have depicted anthropomorphized dinosaurs and airplanes in sexual acts. The likely pseudonymous author, Chuck Tingle, published dystopian erotica on Brexit, featuring sex with a giant one-pound coin from the future, hours after the referendum passed.
According to researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, "Today, Rule 34 thrives as sacred lore on blogs, YouTube videos, Twitter feeds and social networking sites. It's frequently used as a verb, as in 'I Rule 34'ed Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell on the judging table'." They propose the reason the maxim resonated with so many people is because it "certainly seems true" for "anybody who has spent time surfing the Web". Ogas said that following the 2009–2010 study, the consolidation of the porn industry onto large market share video aggregators, has reduced the visibility of the niche market videos. The sites favor mainstream content directly by steering users towards it and indirectly by disadvantaging small producers who cannot afford strong anti-piracy measures, bringing into doubt the ability of the rule being able to keep up with market.
Cory Doctorow concludes, "Rule 34 can be thought of as a kind of indictment of the Web as a cesspit of freaks, geeks, and weirdos, but seen through the lens of cosmopolitanism, bespeaks a certain sophistication—a gourmet approach to life."
Feminist scholar Susanna Paasonen summarizes Rule 34, along with versions of Rules 35 and 36 to mean that no matter how unlikely or unusual the concept, pornography of it is either available online or will be. John Paul Stadler concluded that Rule 34 reflects the codification of paraphilias into social identity structures.
The original rule was rephrased and reiterated as it went viral on the Web. Some common permutations omit the original "No exceptions."