When I was in my early 20s, I went with a friend to see a double feature at the Bristol Art Theater in . The movies were classic pornographic films, “Deep Throat” and “The Devil in Miss Jones.” The Bristol Art Theater was a reincarnation of the Bristol Theater, the theater I used to go see Saturday morning matinees with my brother and friends.
Pornography has been around for as long as humans have been capable of making it. John Phillip Jenkins, a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University said that even in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire “Phallic imagery and depictions of orgiastic scenes were widely present, though it is unlikely that they fulfilled anything like the social or psychological functions of modern pornography.” Many early paintings, sculptures and other artworks of people and people having sex could be considered pornographic.
Pornography is hard to define. In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme court said he couldn’t exactly define pornography, but “I know it when I see it.” In 1973, the Supreme Court developed the Miller test to determine pornography. In order to not be determined to be pornography, the subject had to pass three tests. The item would taken as a whole appeal to the prurient interest, if the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions, whether the work lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Webster’s Dictionary defines pornography as “The depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement; material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement; or the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.”
Today the internet makes seeing pornography easy. Back in the 1960s and 70s to obtain pornography usually required going to an adult store and purchasing a book of photos or stories or to an adult theater that showed pornography films. It could be embarrassing as it was when one time I went to an adult store and my boss was there purchasing items. He was much more embarrassed than I was.
In order to meet the 1973 Miller test many pornography movies of the time, at the end, would have a short segment on some social issue such as smoking is bad for you so it had some serious value.
Magazines of the times appealed to many people and were in different categories. The nudes in Playboy were usually tasteful, Penthouse did show pubic hair, but it was usually a soft focus, other magazines, such as Hustler, were very explicit and left nothing to the imagination. Playgirl, due to the nature of the male anatomy being external to the body, did show the male sex organs.
When VCRs were popular, one could rent adult tapes at many video rental stores. Typically video rental stores had the boxes of the tapes on display. To rent a movie you took the empty box to the counter where you were then given the tape. Many stores had an adult section, usually behind a curtain or door to differentiate between the regular tapes and adult tapes. As most video rental stores were local, you would see your friends and neighbors in the store. One time I wanted to rent an adult film, I put the box between some regular tape boxes and went to the counter trying to be discreet. The female clerk yelled out so everyone in the store could hear “Bring Debbie Does Dallas II up here. This guy wants to rent it.” I turned bright red. Another time I went behind the curtain, and a guy I worked with and his wife were in the adult section, selecting movies. I said hello, they awkwardly said Hi back..
Video cameras and Polaroid cameras allowed anyone to make a video or take photos without a need to get the film developed by a lab as it was with 8mm. Kodak labs did not return pornographic or nude photos to the owner but refunded the processing fee. Some people made homemade videos of themselves having sex. Returning the homemade pornography tape to the video store instead of the rented movie has been the theme of many TV shows and movies.
The internet changed the distribution of pornography. No longer did one have to be in public to see pornography, it can be streamed to your home. Some of the early internet newsgroups were full of pornography. Newsgroups such alt.sex.with a suffix such as “pictures” or “stories,”. were early distributors of pornography. In 1995 a congressional report found more than 450,000 pornographic images online that had been accessed approximately 6.4 million times the previous year. The amount of pornography on the internet contains to grow. In 2019 it was estimated that 4% percent of website are pornographyographic and up to 20% of all web searches are for pornography per studies, one by computational neuroscientists Ogas and Gaddam from Boston University and another joint one by Google and Columbia University.
Many pornographic websites are free, but some require payment. Some of the free sites are used to drive traffic to paid sites so much of the content is not accessible unless you pay.
Today anyone with a cell phone can make pornography for their own use or to post online, and many do. There are many sites on the internet that cater to the amateurs. Be warned that anything posted on the internet does not die even when removed but can be found for many years.
Obtaining pornographic material has never been easier, and is much more private than previously, before the internet. It is said anyone with an internet connection can view more pictures of a naked person in one day then your parents did in their lifetime.
Alan Lewis is the photo editor of The Express. Follow him @alolewis1.