Softcore pornography or softcore porn is commercial still photography or film that has a pornographic or erotic component but is less sexually graphic and intrusive than hardcore pornography, defined by a "lack of penetration" (such as stripteases, lingerie modeling, erotic masturbation, etc.) and emphasis the sensual appreciation of the female or male form. It typically contains nude or semi-nude actors involved in love scenes, and is intended to be sexually arousing and aesthetically beautiful.
Softcore pornography may include sexual activity between two people or masturbation. It does not contain explicit depictions of sexual penetration, cunnilingus, fellatio, or ejaculation. Depictions of erections of the penis may not be allowed (see Mull of Kintyre Test), although attitudes towards this are ever-changing. Commercial pornography can be differentiated from erotica, which has high-art aspirations.
Portions of images that are considered too explicit may be obscured in a variety of ways, such as the use of draped hair or clothing, carefully positioned hands or other body parts, carefully positioned foreground elements in the scene (often plants or drapery), and carefully chosen camera angles. Sexual acts depicted in softcore pornography are usually simulated (or at least not showing penetration) by the actors as several takes are needed before wrapping.
Pornographic filmmakers sometimes make both hardcore and softcore versions of a film, with the softcore version using less explicit angles of sex scenes, 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.
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. They may be available for rent alongside non-softcore material in a video rental store venue, or available through online retailers. In some more restrictive jurisdictions such films may only be available in a sex shop. In countries which allow the rental of softcore films, there may be restrictions on the open display of the films. 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 receiving a FSK-16 rating (no one under 16 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, 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 aren't too "detailed". 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.
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. Some, such as Emmanuelle and Alice in Wonderland, received positive reviews from noted critics such as Roger Ebert.
From the 2000s, relaxed standards for cable television has allowed for the production of a number of television series with sexually explicit or violent content to air that would have been restricted to the softcore movie market in the past.