When most of us talk about porn today, it's about the taboo – and, often, its relation to violence, feminism, or sex addiction. It hasn't always been this way. Society-level reactions to sexually explicit images have varied widely over the course of history, from considering them humorous to fearing they would make people go insane. "The existence of pornography and the strong emotional reactions people have – either pro or con – tells us something about our culture," says James Beggan, professor of sociology at the University of Louisville. Over time pornography has been revered, reviled, and accepted, and each reaction reveals something about the society that fosters it.
Around 1527 sonnets titled Sonetti Lussuriosi (Lust Sonnets) by Pietro Aretino were published, accompanied by engravings by Marcantonio Raimondi. Unlike sexual images before, these illustrations were frank depictions of men and women in various sex positions without any mythological context. Early on, these drawings were passed around among the courtly elite – and probably used for sexual purposes – and no one complained. However, once they became available to the general public, Raimondi was briefly imprisoned by papal authorities. This marked an important turning point in history, as it was possibly the first time that something was censored (rather than merely censured) for being obscene.