Sultana by Henry Clive is an example of softcore pornography.

Softcore pornography or softcore porn is commercial still photography, film, or art that has a pornographic or erotic component but is less sexually graphic and intrusive than hardcore pornography, defined by a lack of visual sexual penetration. It typically contains nude or semi-nude actors involved in love scenes and is intended to be sexually arousing and aesthetically beautiful. The distinction between softcore pornography and erotic photography or art, such as Vargas girl pin-ups, is largely a matter of debate.


Softcore pornography may include sexual activity between two people or masturbation. It does not contain explicit depictions of sexual penetration, cunnilingus, fellatio, fingering, handjobs, or ejaculation. Depictions of erections of the penis may not be allowed, although attitudes towards this are ever-changing.[1] Commercial pornography can be differentiated from erotica, which has high-art aspirations.[2]

Portions of images that are considered too graphic and may be hidden in a variation of ways, such as the use of covered hair or clothing, particularly positioned hands or other body parts, carefully positioned foreground elements in the scene (often plants, pillows, furniture, or drapery) or carefully chosen camera angles.

Pornographic filmmakers sometimes make both hardcore and softcore types of a films, with the softcore version using less explicit angles of sex scenes[3] or using the other techniques to "tone down" any objectionable feature. The softcore version may, for example, be edited for the in-house hotel pay-per-view market.

Total nudity is commonplace in several magazines, as well as in photography[4] and on the Internet.

Regulation and censorship

Softcore films are commonly less regulated and restricted than hardcore pornography, and cater to a different market. In most countries, softcore films are eligible for movie ratings, usually on a restricted rating, though many such films are also released unrated. As with hardcore films, availability of softcore films varies depending on local laws. Also, the exhibition of such films may be restricted to those above a certain age, typically 18. At least one country, Germany, has different age limits for hardcore and softcore pornography, softcore material usually receives a FSK-16 rating (no one under 16 is allowed to buy) and hardcore material receiving a FSK-18 (no one under 18 allowed to buy). In some countries, broadcasting of softcore films is widespread on cable television networks,[5] with some such as Cinemax producing their own in-house softcore films and television series.

In some countries, images of women's genitals are digitally manipulated so that they are not too "detailed".[6] An Australian pornographic actress says that images of her own genitals sold to pornographic magazines in different countries are digitally manipulated to change the size and shape of the labia according to censorship standards in different countries.[7][8][9]


Originally, softcore pornography was presented mainly in the form of men's magazines, in both still photos and art drawings (such as Vargas girls[10]), when it was barely acceptable to show a glimpse of a woman's nipple in the 1950s. By the 1970s, mainstream magazines such as Playboy, Penthouse, and especially Hustler showcased nudity.[4]

After the formation of the MPAA rating system in the United States and prior to the 1980s, numerous softcore films, with a wide range of production costs, were released to mainstream movie theatres, especially drive-ins. Emmanuelle[11] and Alice in Wonderland[12] received positive reviews from noted critics such as Roger Ebert.

See also


  1. ^ Dubberley, Emily (2005). Carly Milne (ed.). Naked Ambition: Women Who Are Changing Pornography. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-1590-1. OCLC 62177941.
  2. ^ "Pornography". Encarta. Archived from the original on February 18, 2009.
  3. ^ Amis, Martin (March 17, 2001). "A rough trade". Retrieved April 10, 2009.
  4. ^ a b "20th Century Nudes in Art". The Art History Archive. Retrieved July 19, 2009.
  5. ^ Battista, Kathy (2011). "Cindy Hinant's make-up, glamour and TV show". Phaidon. Retrieved November 23, 2014. Similarly, Softcore are pornographic images obscured to the point of obliteration, give the appearance of grey monochromes. The sexually charged imagery only emerges in feint detail within intimate distance.
  6. ^ The Labiaplasty Fad? – Sex. Hungry Beast. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. April 15, 2010. Archived from the original on October 31, 2021.
  7. ^ KATY MARRINER (2013). The Vagina Diaries – a study guide (PDF). Australian Teachers of Media - ATOM. ISBN 978-1-74295-374-8.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Freedman, Mia (November 25, 2010). "Labiaplasty and Censorship - is there a link?". Mamamia.
  9. ^ "Blame It On The Brazilian". BIRDEE. October 13, 2014. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  10. ^ Hefner, Hugh M. (2004). Playboy: 50 Years: The Cartoons. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0811839761.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1975). "Emmanuelle". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 18, 2008.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 24, 1976). "Alice in Wonderland". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 18, 2008.