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Softcore pornography or softcore is commercial still photography or film which has a pornographic or erotic component, but that is less[vague] sexually explicit and intensive than hardcore pornography. Softcore pornography is intended to be sexually arousing, and typically contains nude and semi-nude performers and sex scenes. Total nudity is now commonplace in magazines and photography, and increasingly so in film and television. It is also to be found on the Internet. Softcore pornography may also contain depictions of sexual activity, such as sexual intercourse or masturbation, though 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 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 hide them completely.
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. 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.
Pornographic film makers 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.
Originally, softcore pornography was presented mainly in the form of "men's magazines", when it was barely acceptable to show a glimpse of nipple in the 1950s. By the 1970s, in such mainstream magazines as Playboy and Hustler, no region of the body was considered off limits.
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.
In recent years, relaxed standards for cable television production has allowed for the production of a number of sexually explicit television series containing content that would have been restricted to the softcore movie market in the past. Examples include Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, The L Word, and Spartacus and its spin-offs.