act or statement that offends the morality of the period

Obscenity is a term that is used to describe words, images or actions that offend the sexual morality most people have or had at the time.[1] The word is often used in a legal context. The word goes back to the Latin obscenus, which meant "foul, repulsive, or detestable".

The 18th century book Fanny Hill has been subject to obscenity trials at various times (image: plate XI: The bathing party; La baignade)

Even though the word has been used with a sexual connotation for a long time, it can still have the meaning of "inspiring disgust". This is true in expressions such as "obscene profits" or "the obscenity of war". It can simply be used to mean profanity, or it can mean anything that is taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting.

The definition of what is thought of as obscene depends on the culture. Different communities and individuals may have different ideas of what is obscene and what is not. The definition of what is considered obscene also changes with time. Things that were obscene at one time no longer are at another.

Many cultures have made laws to define what is considered to be obscene. Censorship is often used to try to suppress or control materials that are obscene under these definitions. These usually include pornographic material.



  1. DeJean, Joan; Dejean, Professor Joan (2002). The reinvention of obscenity: sex, lies, and tabloids in early modern France. University of Chicago Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-226-14141-1.