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Softcore pornography is pornographic or erotic film or photograph that is less sexually explicit than hardcore pornography. Softcore pornography is intended to arouse men and women and typically contains nude and semi-nude performers engaging in casual social nudity. The visual representation of genitalia (full nudity) is common in printed media, and increasingly so in film and television. Softcore pornography also typically contains depictions of sexual activity, such as sexual intercourse or masturbation. The sexual activity is typically simulated. Softcore pornography typically does not contain explicit depictions of vaginal or anal penetration, cunnilingus, fellatio and ejaculation. Depictions of erections of the penis may not be allowed (see Mull of Kintyre Test), although attitudes towards this are changing.
Portions of images that are considered too explicit may be obscured (censored) 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.
In most cases sexual acts depicted in softcore pornography are simulated by the actors and actress with no actual penetration occurring. The actors may wear latex genital covers to prevent physical contact. Film directors go to great lengths to obscure such covers on screen, but often fail to completely hide them. The comedian Pablo Francisco joked about this "facade" during one of his routines: "The reason they call it soft porn [is] 'cause it doesn't get you hard."
Softcore pornography is commonly less regulated and restricted than hardcore pornography, and caters for a different market. In most countries softcore films can be rated or classified, usually on a restricted rating. Depending on local laws, a restricted film may be sold, typically in a sex shop, hired, exhibited or broadcast. In countries which allow the hire 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. The broadcasting of such films is most strictly regulated. Pornographic film makers will 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.
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. Since the rise in popularity of home video in the 1980s, however, most softcore films have been restricted to home video releases or overnight timeslots on premium channels such as Cinemax, Showtime, and Multipremier, and production values have dropped.