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Pornographic films (pornos), erotic films, or sex films are films that present sexually explicit subject matter in order to arouse and satisfy the viewer. Pornographic films present sexual fantasies and usually include erotically stimulating material such as nudity (softcore) and sexual intercourse (hardcore). A distinction is sometimes made between "erotic" and "pornographic" films on the basis that the latter category contains more explicit sexuality, and focuses more on arousal than storytelling, but the distinction is highly subjective.
Pornographic films are produced and distributed on a variety of media, depending on the demand and technology available, including traditional film stock in various formats, video for home viewing, DVDs, Internet download, cable TV, in addition to other media. Today, pornographic films are sold or rented on DVD; shown through Internet streaming, special channels and pay-per-view on cable and satellite; and viewed in rapidly disappearing adult theaters. By law, they are generally not permitted to be shown in mainstream cinemas, or on free-to-air television.
Films with risqué content have been produced since the invention of motion picture in the 1880s. Production of such films was profitable, and a number of producers began to specialize in their production. However, various groups within society considered such depictions immoral, labeled them "pornographic", and attempted to have them suppressed under obscenity laws, with varying degrees of success. Such films continued to be produced, but could only be distributed by underground channels. Because the viewing of such films carried a social stigma, they were viewed at brothels, adult movie theaters, stag parties, at home, in private clubs, and also at night cinemas.
Only in the 1970s, during the Golden Age of Porn, were pornographic films semi-legitimized; and by the 1980s, pornography on home video achieved wider distribution. The rise of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s similarly changed the way pornographic films were distributed, complicating censorship regimes around the world and legal prosecutions of "obscenity".