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property porn

noun [uncountable] informal

a type of television programme, magazine article, etc which shows off desirable homes, especially houses in beautiful locations or with luxurious interiors

'Maybe it's unrealistic to imagine that the oft-quoted "British love affair with property" will end any time soon. But as property porn shows continue to dominate the television schedules, they're increasingly feeding us unattainable dreams that are not only frustratingly out of our reach, but also out of synch with the times.'

The Guardian 11th March 2011

A person's home and its contents are perhaps one of life's most significant status symbols, a perpetual drain on our energy and resources and usually the chief means by which we compare ourselves to others in terms of material success. It's perhaps no surprise then that many of us enjoy a surreptitious look inside the homes of others, either to reassure ourselves that we've made the right choices or to longingly salivate over residences that we could only dream of owning. As one massive great repository for visual information, the Internet has helped take this kind of snooping to a whole new level. We no longer need to peer through windows or pass by estate agents – we can just turn on our computers for a regular fix of property porn.

many of us enjoy a surreptitious look inside the homes of others, either to reassure ourselves that we've made the right choices or to longingly salivate over residences that we could only dream of owning

Property porn is the informal term now used, with mildly pejorative overtones, to refer to a genre of magazine features, online media and escapist television programmes which capitalize on our avid interest in taking a detailed look inside other people's sitting rooms. Property porn usually features residences in idyllic or desirable locations – often gorgeous rural settings or high-class suburbs of popular cities. Sometimes the properties are in need of renovation, but this is usually portrayed as an easily manageable detour en route to a home which will ultimately be the envy of others.

Though the expression property porn is very often associated with the idea of a voyeuristic snoop at a home you couldn't possibly afford, it's also sometimes used in relation to an addiction to checking out more modest homes on property websites, such as keeping track of what's available in your area and for what price, how it compares with what you've got, and the opportunity to surreptitiously raise an eyebrow, gasp or scoff at others' style choices – Why on earth would you want a kitchen like that? … They painted the bathroom that colour?!

Reinforcing the 'my home is my castle' stereotype, it seems that Brits are among the worst offenders when it comes to property porn, two-thirds of those questioned in a recent survey admitting that they had indulged at some point. Women, it seems, are bigger fans of property porn than men, and it proves a particularly popular distraction at the start of the year as a bit of escapism from the winter blues …

Background – property porn

The expression property porn first popped up in the early 2000s as the web went mainstream and information about the property market became more freely and easily available. It's in fact one example among a number of expressions in popular usage in which porn refers to publications, broadcasts or collections of images that demonstrate an unhealthy or voyeuristic interest in a particular subject. Other examples include car porn, food porn and, for jewellery lovers, ring porn. It seems as if the ease with which information, and especially images, can be collected and presented on the web has spawned a new, and productive, sense of porn, but this sense only applies in combination with other words – the word porn on its own almost exclusively refers to actual pornography.

The word pornography dates back to the 1840s but porn as a clipped (abbreviated) form didn't come along until more than a hundred years later, first appearing in the 1960s. It also recently surfaced in another new expression, mummy porn, which refers to a genre of mildly erotic literature designed to appeal to women.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 22nd April 2014.

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