What is Adult Content? Explain It Like I’m Five

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated November 30, 2023

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What is adult content?

Adult content is like the "grown-ups only" section of entertainment, featuring materials that are not suitable for kids. With a mix of spicy language, risqué themes, and sometimes even some flying fists, adult content is reserved for mature audiences who can appreciate these eyebrow-raising topics responsibly.

Adult content fast facts

  • iPhones have built-in settings to shield users from adult content.

  • Facebook continuously develops AI and trains employees to detect and hide adult images on its platform.

  • X (formerly Twitter) allows NSFW content, but it must be flagged with warnings.

  • TikTok strictly prohibits explicit adult material for user safety — though these restrictions can vary based on the country and user demographics.

  • 'Adult content’ has varied meanings across different cultures and legal systems.

The "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" label is a warning sign for potentially unsuitable content for children. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons.

What does adult-rated content mean?

Adult-rated content typically refers to material that's designed for, or exclusively appropriate for, mature audiences. This encompasses a broad array of content types, often characterized by explicitness, whether it's in language, themes, or imagery. Key features include sexual activity, explicit content, or themes that delve into complex, mature topics. It's the kind of material you wouldn't want children stumbling upon, hence the importance of content restrictions and parental controls.

This category is vast, ranging from adult movies and porn sites to certain types of books, video games, or even websites that host adult-oriented content. The common thread is that they're not suitable for a younger audience due to their explicit nature. The internet, with its vast array of content, has necessitated robust systems like adult content filters, porn blockers, and even router settings that help in filtering out inappropriate content.

Platforms hosting such content often have policies in place to prevent unauthorized access. This includes age verification mechanisms like credit card requirements or built-in settings that limit access, ensuring only adults can view such content. 

With the digital landscape constantly evolving, the definition and management of adult-rated content continue to be crucial for a safe user experience, especially in protecting minors from exposure to inappropriate material.

What is an example of adult content?

Adult content, in its essence, covers a range of material explicitly designed for and targeted at mature audiences. A classic example of this is pornography, which typically includes explicit sexual activity and is intended solely for adults. This category is broad and can vary in its presentation and themes, but the common denominator is its adult-oriented nature.

Other examples extend to certain movies and TV shows that feature adult themes, explicit language, or graphic violence. These productions often carry ratings like 'R' or 'NC-17' in the United States, signifying that they are intended for adult viewers. Sometimes the content in these films or shows goes beyond just nudity or sexual scenes — it often delves into complex, mature themes that require an adult level of understanding and discretion.

Additionally, websites that host adult content — which could range from explicit videos to adult-oriented forums or dating sites/apps — also fall under this category. These platforms typically have age restrictions and content warnings in place, aligning with regulations and ethical standards to ensure appropriate audience targeting. It's a spectrum that covers not just the explicitness of the content but also the maturity level required to understand and engage with it responsibly.

What is considered 18+ content?

18+ content, aimed at adult audiences, includes materials that are too mature for younger viewers, often due to explicit or complex themes. A prime example is the adult film industry. Statistics show that adult websites are among the most visited globally, indicating their widespread consumption by adult audiences. These sites typically feature sexual content that's inappropriate for anyone under 18.

In the world of cinema, many films are rated 18+ due to graphic content, intense violence, or explicit sexual scenes. For example, Quentin Tarantino's films are often rated 18+ for their graphic violence and strong language. These movies target mature audiences, capable of processing and understanding such complex and often challenging themes.

Video games also contribute to 18+ content, with titles like "Grand Theft Auto" or "Cyberpunk 2077" featuring mature themes including violence, sexual content, and strong language. The video game industry has a significant portion of its market dedicated to adult-themed games with 18+ labels.

A still from a scene implying adult content, highlighting the importance of content ratings and viewer discretion. Photograph: Jack Pusey via The Irish Sun.

What does ‘adult themes’ mean?

"Adult themes" in media and entertainment often encircle content that is considered suitable primarily for mature audiences. This can vary significantly across different geographical regions and jurisdictions due to cultural, legal, and societal differences.

In the United States, for example, adult themes might include explicit language, sexual content, graphic violence, or complex psychological themes. These elements are typically addressed in the rating systems, like the Motion Picture Association's film ratings, which classify content based on its suitability for various age groups. In contrast, European countries might have a more liberal approach to nudity and sexual content, but could be stricter on violence. For instance, Germany has stricter regulations on the portrayal of violence in the media than it does for sexual content.

Meanwhile, in more conservative regions like some Middle Eastern countries, the definition of adult themes could extend to include any depiction of intimacy, gender mingling, or religious criticism, which are often subject to strict censorship. Each jurisdiction's definition of adult themes reflects its unique cultural norms, legal frameworks, and societal values. The variance in these definitions underscores the complexity of creating universally acceptable content.

What is higher than rated R?

In the context of film ratings, particularly in the United States, the classification that stands above "Rated R" is NC-17. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) uses this rating to denote that a film is meant strictly for adults. While Rated R, which stands for "Restricted," indicates that those under 17 require an accompanying parent or adult guardian, NC-17 (No One 17 and Under Admitted) signals that the movie is not suitable for those aged 17 and under — under any circumstances.

The NC-17 rating is typically assigned due to strong and explicit content, which could include graphic sexuality, intense violence, or other elements deemed inappropriate for minors. It's important to note that this rating is not necessarily indicative of obscene or pornographic content but rather signals material that is considered too mature for a younger audience.

This rating, introduced in 1990 to replace the X rating, has been somewhat controversial and has often impacted a film's commercial prospects. Many theaters refuse to screen NC-17 films, and some major retail and rental chains do not stock them. This reality has led to filmmakers and studios sometimes editing their films to achieve the more commercially viable R rating. Despite its limitations, the NC-17 rating remains a tool for filmmakers to explore adult themes without the constraints imposed on less restrictive categories.

Is 18-plus content allowed on TikTok?

A user about to open the TikTok app, which has implemented adult content restrictions given its popularity among young users. Photograph: Manjunath Kiran via Getty Images.

TikTok, as a social media platform, has a set of community guidelines that restrict the type of content that can be shared, particularly concerning adult content. As per these guidelines, TikTok does not allow the posting or sharing of content that is explicitly adult in nature. This includes any material that is pornographic or that excessively features nudity, sexual acts, or sexual solicitation. Such policies are designed to keep the platform safe and appropriate for its wide-ranging user base, which includes a significant number of minors.

The platform is particularly vigilant in enforcing these rules due to its popularity among younger audiences. TikTok's algorithms, along with its moderation teams, actively work to identify and remove content that violates these guidelines. This includes using a combination of technology and human review to ensure that content adheres to community standards.

Given that TikTok is an international social media app, it's noteworthy that the interpretation of what constitutes "18-plus content" can sometimes be subjective and a topic of debate. While explicit adult content is clearly banned, creators may sometimes post content that is suggestive or pushes the boundaries of these guidelines without crossing the line into explicit adult material. 

It’s also worth noting that the Chinese version of TikTok, known as Douyin, operates under different content guidelines compared to its Western counterpart, reflecting the distinct cultural and regulatory environment in China. While both platforms prohibit explicit adult content, Douyin adheres to stricter content moderation policies in line with China's rigorous internet regulations.

Why am I seeing adult content on Facebook?

If you're encountering adult content on Facebook, it's likely due to lapses in the platform's content moderation system or because such content hasn't yet been reported or identified by moderators. Facebook's community standards explicitly prohibit the sharing of sexually explicit content and nudity, with some exceptions for educational, artistic, or documentary contexts. However, with the vast amount of content uploaded daily, some inappropriate materials can slip through the cracks.

Another reason could be the nature of the groups or pages you follow. If these groups or pages are not strictly moderated, they might occasionally feature content that violates Facebook's guidelines. Also, the content you see is influenced by Facebook's algorithms, which are based on your past interactions, likes, and shares. If the algorithm inaccurately interprets your preferences, it might inadvertently show adult content.

If you continue to come across such content, using the report feature can help alert moderators to take necessary action. Facebook continues to refine its moderation techniques, including AI and human review, to better identify and remove content that violates its standards.

Does Facebook take down inappropriate content?

Yes, Facebook actively takes down inappropriate content. Their approach to content moderation includes the following key things:

  1. Combating misinformation and covert operations: Facebook actively identifies and counters misinformation and propaganda posts/ads on the platform.
  2. Policy updates: Facebook regularly tweaks its rules based on feedback, making sure they're on point. They've got a team that checks on how these rules are applied, ensuring they hit the mark.
  3. Global regulatory compliance: Facebook aligns with big-time international laws, like those in the EU's Digital Services Act, to make sure they're doing right by users and keeping the platform safe across all countries.

Why is adult content blocked on my iPhone?

The Screen Time settings on an iPhone, a tool for managing and restricting content access on devices to manage adult content. Photograph: Dhvanesh via iGeeksBlog.

Adult content may be blocked on your iPhone due to a few reasons, often related to content restrictions set either by you or someone else who has access to your device:

  1. Screen Time settings: One of the most common reasons for blocked adult content is the Screen Time feature in iOS. This tool allows users or their guardians to set content restrictions on an iPhone. If the content restrictions are set to limit adult content, your device will automatically block websites and content considered inappropriate for minors. This feature is often used by parents to ensure their children's online safety, but it can also be self-imposed for personal content management.
  2. Carrier or network restrictions: Sometimes, the block might be from your internet service provider or mobile carrier. Certain carriers offer parental controls and content filters as part of their services. These can restrict access to adult content across the network, affecting all connected devices, including your iPhone.
  3. Third-party apps or profiles: If there are third-party parental control apps installed on your iPhone, these could be responsible for blocking adult content. Additionally, if your iPhone is used in a professional context, corporate management profiles installed on the device might enforce content restrictions in line with company policies.

Does X (formerly Twitter) allow NSFW?

X allows Not Safe for Work (NSFW) content, but with guidelines and restrictions to ensure its users’ safety and awareness. According to X’s sensitive media policy, any graphic or adult content must carry a sensitive content warning. This includes material like graphic violence or severe injuries. Users are allowed to post such sensitive content as long as they appropriately flag it, allowing others to be warned in advance before viewing.

The platform has seen a significant growth in NSFW content, positioning X as one of the more liberal mainstream social media platforms in terms of rules around nudity and similar content. Its NSFW subculture has notably expanded over recent years, suggesting a permissive environment for such content.

It’s also worth noting that while X allows a range of content, it prohibits excessively gory media, media depicting sexual violence, and illegal content. Users have control over viewing sensitive content, with options to enable or disable its display in their settings. Violations of X’s policy can result in content removal and potential account suspension.

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