From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Softcore (or soft porn) is a form of pornography, either video or nude glamour photography, that is less explicit than hardcore material in depicting or describing sexual behaviour. Softcore does not depict explicit sexual contact, but ranges from nudity to simulated intercourse. While both softcore and hardcore feature sexual situations with the intention of arousing the viewer, the key difference is that softcore does not clearly show aroused genitalia (including masturbation), ejaculation, or penetration (vaginal, anal and/or oral). Some softcore porn, especially recently, is more explicit in that penises or vulvae are shown as well as contact in those areas. In milder forms of softcore porn, much of the nudity is implied, such as the handbra technique, with only limited nipple exposure.
After the formation of the MPAA rating system in the United States and prior to the 1980s, numerous softcore films, ranging from low to high production costs, were released to mainstream movie theatres especially drive-ins. Some, such as Emmanuelle, 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 and Showtime, and production values have dropped. Softcore films are carried by many mainstream video stores which often segregate them in an adults-only room.