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Rough Draft of “Pornography” article:

Pornography, a word derived from the Greek words for "prostitute" and "picture," can be roughly defined as “1 : the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement 2 : material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement” [1]. Because pornographic material touches on such an emotional subject and such an intimate experience it has been the subject of much controversy over the years.

The word "pornography" is about two hundred years old. It originated after the discovery of erotic drawings and sculptures uncovered in the archaeological excavation of the ruins of Pompeii. They included a sculpture of the god Pan having intercourse with a goat, and drawings of penises that were found painted on the walls of houses. The Victorians collected everything they found offensive and put it in a museum in Naples, which was called The Secret Museum. Only men were allowed in, and they were not allowed to laugh or make jokes. From 1849 to 1860 the Secret Museum was bricked up altogether.[2] Even today you need a permit and a guide to see the collection. The word was at first used to refer specifically to the Secret Museum, but began to take on a more general meaning by the middle of the 19th century.


Distinction between erotica and pornography

Pornography involves the representation of sexual activity or of the human body with the goal of sexual arousal. Erotica uses sexually charged imagery for artistic purposes, although the distinction is sometimes hard to define legally. The depiction of naked human bodies is common among religious paintings by old masters. Sexually explicit carvings have been found in temples in India, where human sexuality was historically seen as holy.

Pornography in History

Ancient History of Pornography

Pornography has been present in most (if not all) civilizations throughout history. What is believed to be the oldest pornographic statue was found in 2005 in Germany depicting a heterosexual sex act and dated at approximately 7,200 years old [3]. More famous examples of historical pornography date back to the classical period of ancient Greece and Rome . Numerous statues, paintings, and mosaics have been found depicting any number of sex acts that can be attributed to these classical civilizations[4]; the baths of Pompeii, in particular, are infamous today for their sexually explicit art [5]. The same is true for the ancient civilizations of China [6], Japan [7], India [8], and the Pre-Columbian Americas [9].

Historical references to pornographic writings

Drawings and writings that were erotic were commonplace in earlier times, although they were not called pornography then, because the word did not exist. In Samuel Pepys’ diary he writes about buying a French book called Escholle de Filles. The book is a conversation between Francine and Susanne about sex, the older one telling the younger one all about it. Pepys saw the book in a shop, thought it was lewd and disgusting and did not buy it. However, he went back three weeks later and bought "the idle roguish book, L'escholle de filles; which I have bought in plain binding… because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it." He drank lots of wine, locked himself away, read it then burnt it. He said it was an idle and lewd book but a good read for a sober man such as himself to read so as to learn about the villainy of the world.

Modern History of Pornography

Pornography in Law

Depending on the country or, in some cases, the region of a country one is in, the laws will vary as to how pornography is treated. Countries with strong free speech rights, like the United States tend to allow most pornography, while other counties with weaker free speech protections tend to forbid much more.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bibles and pornography were the two items most likely to be confiscated by the Soviet Customs on entering the USSR. The common question from border guards/customs officers was always: "Are you carrying Bibles or pornography?"

Pornography in American Law

Under modern American law most pornography is legally protected as speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States . Only what courts have called the “hard-core” of pornography or “obscenity” is not protected, but this concept has been incredibly difficult to define. On this issue Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (writing in concurrence) commented “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…” [10].

The current test for whether or not a piece of pornography is obscenity is set forth in Miller v. California (413 U.S. 15 (1973)). The pornography is legally obscene if “ 1. ‘[a]the average person, [b] applying contemporary community standards, [c] taken as a whole, [d] appeals to the prurient interest [of the viewer],’ and 2. ‘the work depicts or describes [a] in a patently offensive way [under [b] contemporary community standards…], [c] sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law,’ and 3. ‘the work, [a] taken as a whole, [b] lacks serious, [c] literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.’ ” [11].

As a practical matter, current law makes obscenity prosecutions very difficult, as most pornography falls outside the very narrow definition of obscenity.

Pornography in the Law of Other Countries

Pornography and Christianity

Pornography and Feminism

The second wave of feminism in America began as a unified movement, seeking to redress the perceived wrongs of male dominance, but eventually split over the question of pornography. The so called “porn-wars” divided the feminist movement into two distinct camps.

Anti-Pornography Feminism

Catharine A. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin advance views typical of the anti-pornography camp of the feminist movement, which argues that pornography is inherently degrading to women and that any pornography violates the rights of all women[12], as a result they aregue that women should be able to sue pornographers for violations of their civil rights [13]. (This law was found to be unconstitutional by Judge Easterbrook of the seventh circuit court of appeals in American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut [14].) Anti-pornography feminists prefer to understand pornography as a violation of the rights of individual women (both those involved in the making of the pornography and those dehumanized by the depiction of women in pornography (all women)) rather than as an offense against the state as letting women rather than the state shut down pornography empowers women[15].

Anti-pornography feminism is often caricatured by the claim “All sex is rape,” but this caricature is a false one, based on the more complicated claim by Dworkin that "Penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent. But I'm not saying that sex must be rape. What I think is that sex must not put women in a subordinate position. It must be reciprocal and not an act of aggression from a man looking only to satisfy himself. That's my point." [16].

Pro-Pornography Feminism

The Pro-Pornography camp of second wave feminism (which prefers to call itself Sex-positive feminisms) is less organized than the anti-pornography camp, perhaps because they simply have to advocate for the status quo while the anti-pornography camp has to advocate for a change in the law. As a result it is hard to find a clear spokes person for the camp, though authors Susie Bright and Camille Paglia can be seen as somewhat representative of the position. Pro-Pornography feminists argue that the natural outcome of the feminist revolution is that women be allowed to enjoy their sexuality as they see fit, just as men are. [17]. Further they argue that censorship has traditionally harmed women and that, as a result, feminists should oppose censorship of even those depictions of human sexuality they find personally offensive. [18].

Pornography Today

Pornography's Effects

Women respond to pornography in a way that is more similar to the way men respond than was previously thought. Erotic imagery elicits a faster and stronger electrical response in a woman’s brain than any other kind of image, recent research reported in the journal Brain Research reveals.[19] The researchers expected lower levels of response, since previous research had indicated men that are more aroused by erotic images than women, but found that women’s responses were as strong.

Pornography's Effects on Individuals

Pornography’s Social Effects

In the UK pornography continues to be used by the mass circulation tabloids to bolster sales. Since the 1970's the UK 'red-top' tabloids, in particular the News International Corp owned 'Sun' and the 'Daily Star' have used images of naked or semi-naked women to attract a readership of B2,C,D males. They then fill other pages in the paper with biased articles pushing their political viewpoint in an attempt to control clearly influencible minds. The Sun in particular influenced the result of the 1992 General election with their pornography-ridden viewpoint that they claimed to have won the election.

Other tabloids such as the 'Daily Sport' and the 'Daily Express' are owned by David Sullivan and Richard Desmond, both of whom made their fortunes in pornography before moving into newspapers.


  1. Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary[1]
  2. Secret Museum [2]
  3. Archeologist finds ‘oldest porn statute’ [3]
  4. Reference which does not depict pornographic imagery needed
  5. Reference which does not depict pornographic imagery needed
  6. Reference which does not depict pornographic imagery needed
  7. Reference which does not depict pornographic imagery needed
  8. Reference which does not depict pornographic imagery needed
  9. Reference which does not depict pornographic imagery needed
  10. Jacobellis v. Ohio , 378 U.S. 184 at 197
  11. Volokh, Eugene, The First Amendment and Related Statutes: Problems, Cases and Policy Arguments 2nd ed. Foundation Press of Thomson/West: New York , 2005. Page 114
  12. Dworkin and MacKinnon on pornography and civil rights [4]
  13. Excerpt from Dworkin and MacKinnon’s proposed law defining pornography as a violation of the civil rights of all women [5]
  14. Full text of American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut[6]
  15. Dworkin and MacKinnon’s press release [7]
  16. Debunking All sex is rape [8]
  17. A defense of the pro-porn feminist position [9]
  18. Feminists for Free Expression on pornography [10]
  19. Female response to erotic imagery [11]
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