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THE MEDIUMS OF pornography have changed with the advent of new technologies, but the substance of the genre has remained similar over centuries. The use of erotic material, however, has not always been the same throughout time.

Pornography as a term takes its root in Modern Greek. The word “pornographie” first appeared in the French language during the early 19th century and in English by the mid-19th century.

Classical forms of the art depict a variety of erotic images, although they are very different from what is currently considered “porn.” These sexual images were not used to excite the genitals as many use them today, but instead were political—a means to shock and criticize religious and political authorities.

Marcantonio Raimondi, an Italian man, was one of the first people imprisoned for displaying images of a sexual nature after he created a series of erotic engravings in 1524. Pietro Aretino, an Italian author credited as the founder of modern pornography, helped negotiate Raimondi’s freedom.

The French Revolution played a major role in the development of pornography. The use of X-rated material as a political tool increased substantially leading up to the revolution. Many satirical works used porn to mock political leaders.

Pornography had only been readily available to elite classes and distributors were not prosecuted by authorities until the material became accessible to everyone. In Europe, as print became more affordable, erotica was marketed toward the masses and legal action was taken to stop its distribution. Despite the authorities’ efforts, X-rated industries developed in major urban centres like New York and London, U.K.

The growth of photography in the 1820s changed porn because, like print, photos made it easy to distribute en masse. In addition to photography, halftone printing and film made their debut as a medium of pornography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Widely considered to be the first pornographic motion picture, A L’Ecu d’Or ou la bonne auberge was released in France in 1908. An X-rated Argentinean film, El Satario, also dates back somewhere between 1907 and 1912. Regardless of which film came first, the relationship between the silver screen and erotica was established and the rest is history.

Technological innovation has always been vital to the way people express themselves and communicate. Pornography, as a political tool and source of entertainment, has been manifested in mediums such as carvings, print, film, and the Internet. It reinvents itself with each new technological development. Everyone from the Ancient Greeks to present-day geeks have enjoyed this arousing form of art.

—Christopher Radojewski