Anti-pornography movement in the United States

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An anti-pornography movement in the United States has existed since before the 1969 Supreme Court decision of Stanley v. Georgia , which held that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes, by establishing an implied "right to privacy" in U.S. law. [1] This led President Lyndon B. Johnson, with the backing of Congress, to appoint a commission to study pornography. The anti-pornography movement seeks to maintain or restore restrictions and to increase or create restrictions on the production, sale or distribution of pornography.


Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography

In 1970, the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that "there was insufficient evidence that exposure to explicit sexual materials played a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior." In general, with regard to adults, the Commission recommended that legislation "should not seek to interfere with the right of adults who wish to do so to read, obtain, or view explicit sexual materials." Regarding the view that these materials should be restricted for adults in order to protect young people from exposure to them, the Commission found that it is "inappropriate to adjust the level of adult communication to that considered suitable for children." The Supreme Court supported this view. [2]

A large portion of the Commission's budget was applied to funding original research on the effects of sexually explicit materials. One experiment is described in which repeated exposure of male college students to pornography "caused decreased interest in it, less response to it and no lasting effect," although it appears that the satiation effect does wear off eventually ("Once more"). William B. Lockhart, Dean of the University of Minnesota Law School and chairman of the commission, said that before his work with the commission he had favored control of obscenity for both children and adults, but had changed his mind as a result of scientific studies done by commission researchers. In reference to dissenting commission members Keating and Rev. Morton Hill, Lockhart said, "When these men have been forgotten, the research developed by the commission will provide a factual basis for informed, intelligent policymaking by the legislators of tomorrow". [3]

Commission member Father Hill, the founder of Morality in Media, helped to author a minority report that disagreed with the findings of the Commission. Believing that the Commission was stacked towards First Amendment free speech advocates, Father Hill and another clergyman on the Commission, Dr. Winfrey C. Link, issued the Hill-Link Minority Report rebutting the conclusions of the majority report. Issued in 1970, the majority report was rejected by both President Richard Nixon and the United States Congress. The Hill-Link Report, which recommended maintaining anti-obscenity statutes, was read into the record of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It was cited by the Burger Court in its 1973 obscenity decisions, including Miller v. California . [4]

Meese Commission under Reagan

Meese report cover. Meese Report cover.png
Meese report cover.

President Ronald Reagan announced his intention to set up a commission to study pornography. [5] The result was the appointment by Attorney General Edwin Meese in the spring of 1985 of a panel of 11 members, the majority of whom had established records as anti-pornography crusaders. [6]

In 1986, the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, often called the Meese Commission, reached the opposite conclusion, advising that pornography was in varying degrees harmful. A workshop headed by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop provided essentially the only original research done by the Meese Commission. Given very little time and money to "develop something of substance" to include in the Meese Commission's report, it was decided to conduct a closed, weekend workshop of "recognized authorities" in the field. All but one of the invited participants attended. At the end of the workshop, the participants expressed consensus in five areas:

  1. "Children and adolescents who participate in the production of pornography experience adverse, enduring effects,"
  2. "Prolonged use of pornography increases beliefs that less common sexual practices are more common,"
  3. "Pornography that portrays sexual aggression as pleasurable for the victim increases the acceptance of the use of coercion in sexual relations,"
  4. "Acceptance of coercive sexuality appears to be related to sexual aggression,"
  5. "In laboratory studies measuring short-term effects, exposure to violent pornography increases punitive behavior toward women"

According to Surgeon General Koop, "Although the evidence may be slim, we nevertheless know enough to conclude that pornography does present a clear and present danger to American public health". [7]

New Right opposition

In the 1980s, a grassroots effort began to mount opposition to pornography. New Right conservatives considered pornography indecent, and detrimental to the traditional family. [8]

Pandering and prostitution statutes

In 1983, prosecutors in California tried to use pandering and prostitution state statutes against a producer of and actors in a pornographic movie; the California Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that these statutes do not apply to the production of non-obscene pornography (People v. Freeman (1988) 46 Cal.3d 419 [ permanent dead link ]). It has been suggested that this decision was one of the contributing factors that led to the popularity of California with adult filmmakers. [9]

Obscenity vs. free speech

In a line of cases beginning with Roth v. United States , 354 U.S. 476 (1957), the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that distribution of obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment or by any other provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The court in Stanley v. Georgia , 394 U.S. 557 (1969) however, later clarified that possession of obscenity is protected on the grounds of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Miller v. California

In explaining its position, in Miller v. California , 413 U.S. 15 (1973) the U.S. Supreme Court found that:

The dissenting Justices sound the alarm of repression. But, in our view, to equate the free and robust exchange of ideas and political debate with commercial exploitation of obscene material demeans the grand conception of the First Amendment and its high purposes in the historic struggle for freedom. It is a "misuse of the great guarantees of free speech and free press . . . ." Breard v. Alexandria, 341 U.S., at 645.

and in Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49 (1973) that:

In particular, we hold that there are legitimate state interests at stake in stemming the tide of commercialized obscenity, even assuming it is feasible to enforce effective safeguards against exposure to juveniles and to passersby. 7 [413 U.S. 49, 58] Rights and interests "other than those of the advocates are involved." Breard v. Alexandria, 341 U.S. 622, 642 (1951). These include the interest of the public in the quality of life and the total community environment, the tone of commerce in the great city centers, and, possibly, the public safety itself... As Mr. Chief Justice Warren stated, there is a "right of the Nation and of the States to maintain a decent society ...," [413 U.S. 49, 60] Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 199 (1964) (dissenting opinion)... The sum of experience, including that of the past two decades, affords an ample basis for legislatures to conclude that a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality, can be debased and distorted by crass commercial exploitation of sex.

The Supreme Court defined obscenity in Miller v. California with the Miller test.

Protect Act and U.S. v. Williams

The Supreme Court on May 19, 2008 upheld a 2003 federal law, the Prosecutorial Remedies and other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act, the Protect Act, aimed at child pornography, in a 7-to-2 ruling penned by Justice Antonin Scalia in United States v. Williams . It dismissed the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit's finding the law unconstitutionally vague. Michael Williams of Florida was caught in a 2004 federal undercover operation and found guilty later of "pandering" child pornography, since he offered to sell nude pictures of his young daughter and other forms of child pornography in an Internet chat room. [10] [11] [12]


The so-called "Sex Wars" of the late 1970s [13] challenged the traditional understanding of the gender role. Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon became well-known often-cited anti-pornography authors. Many debates have attended their political intervention into the law by way of their advocacy of anti-pornography ordinances in several midwestern cities. Other notable American anti-pornography activists to belong to this camp are Robin Morgan and Susan Griffin. Ordinary libertarians, who separate sex and violence, take MacKinnon and Dworkin to task for their refusal to leave sexual expression alone. [14] This was done particularly by Gillian Rodgerson and Elizabeth Wilson in Pornography and Feminism: The Case Against Censorship: "Yet this theoretical cocktail of biologism and behaviorism is lethal. To see men as naturally programmed for violence is to endorse the most conservative views on human nature, and to see it as unchanging and unchangeable". Rodgerson and Wilson argue that pornography plays a relatively minor role in the wider regime of sexist practices pervading women's lives. [15]

Another matter, which frequently circulates in American anti-pornography movement is a close bond of pornography with rape. According to a 2006 paper, Porn Up, Rape Down, by Northwestern University Law Professor Anthony D'Amato, "the incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85 per cent in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults". Recognizing that the Nixon and Reagan Commissions tried to show that exposure to pornographic materials produced social violence, D'amato concludes that "the reverse may be true: that pornography has reduced social violence". D'amato suggests there are two predominant reasons why an increase in the availability of pornography has led to a reduction in rape. First, using pornographic material provides an easy avenue for the sexually desirous to "get it out of their system". Second, D'amato points to the so-called "Victorian effect". It dates back to the British Victorian era when people covered up their bodies with an immense amount of clothing, generating a greater mystery as to what they looked like naked. D'amato suggests that the free availability of pornography since the 1970s, and the recent bombardment of internet pornography, has de-mystified sex, thus satisfying the sexually curious. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court modifying its definition of obscenity from that of "utterly without socially redeeming value" to that which lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value". It is now referred to as the three-prong standard or the Miller test.

Hardcore pornography Explicit graphical depictions of sexual acts

Hardcore pornography, or hardcore porn, is pornography that features detailed depictions of sexual organs or sexual acts such as vaginal, anal or oral intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, fingering, anilingus, ejaculation, and fetish play. The term is in contrast with less-explicit softcore pornography. Hardcore pornography usually takes the form of photographs, films and cartoons. Since the 1990s, hardcore pornography has become widely available over the Internet, making it more accessible than ever before.

Child Online Protection Act former U.S. law to protect minors from certain material on the internet

The Child Online Protection Act (COPA) was a law in the United States of America, passed in 1998 with the declared purpose of restricting access by minors to any material defined as harmful to such minors on the Internet. The law, however, never took effect, as three separate rounds of litigation led to a permanent injunction against the law in 2009.

Pornography in the United States

Pornography in the United States has existed since the country's origins and has become more readily accessible in the 21st century. Advanced by technological development, it has gone from a hard-to-find "back alley" item, beginning in 1969 with Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984) and home video, to being more available in the country and later, starting in the 1990s, readily accessible to nearly anyone with a computer or other device connected to the Internet. The U.S. has no current plans to block explicit content from minors, as many other countries have planned or processed to do.

Due to the international nature of the Internet, the legal status of Internet pornography carries with it special issues with regard to the law. There is no one set of laws that apply to the distribution, purchase, or possession of Internet pornography. This means that, for example, even if a pornographer is legally distributing pornography, the person receiving it may not be legally doing so due to local laws.

<i>United States v. Extreme Associates, Inc.</i> 2005 U.S. law case revolving around issues of obscenity

United States v. Extreme Associates, 431 F.3d 150, is a 2005 U.S. law case revolving around issues of obscenity. Extreme Associates, a pornography company owned by Rob Zicari and his wife Lizzy Borden, was prosecuted by the federal government for alleged distribution of obscenity across state lines. After several years of legal proceedings, the matter ended on March 11, 2009, with a plea agreement by Rob Zicari and Lizzy Borden.

In 1969, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Stanley v. Georgia that people could view whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes. In response, the United States Congress funded the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson to study pornography.

Pornography Explicit portrayal of sexual acts and intercourse

Pornography is the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the exclusive purpose of sexual arousal. Pornography may be presented in a variety of media, including magazines, animation, writing, film, video, and video games. The term does not include live exhibitions like sex shows and striptease. The primary subjects of present-day pornographic depictions are pornographic models, who pose for still photographs, and pornographic actors who engage in filmed sex acts.

New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982), was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court, unanimously ruling that the First Amendment right to free speech did not forbid states from banning the sale of material depicting children engaged in sexual activity, even if the material was not obscene.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly known as Morality in Media, is an American conservative non-profit known for its anti-pornography advocacy. The group has also campaigned against same-sex marriage, sex shops and sex toys, decriminalization of sex work, comprehensive sex education, and various works of literature or visual arts the organization has deemed obscene, profane or indecent. Part of the religious right, the group is primarily Catholic and its current president is Patrick A. Trueman. The organization describes its goal as "exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation".

The effects of pornography on individuals or their sexual relationships depend on the type of pornography used and differ from person to person. Pornographic material has been studied particularly for associations with addiction as well as effects on the brain over time. Some literature reviews suggest that pornographic images and films can be addictive, particularly when combined with masturbation, while others maintain that data remains inconclusive. Other research has looked at pornographic material's relation to sexual violence, with varying results.

An obscenity is any utterance or act that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time. It is derived from the Latin obscēnus, obscaenus, "boding ill; disgusting; indecent", of uncertain etymology. The word can be used to indicate a strong moral repugnance, in expressions such as "obscene profits" or "the obscenity of war". As a legal term, it usually refers to graphic depictions of people engaged in sexual and excretory activity.

In the United States, distribution of "obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy" materials is a federal crime. The determination of what is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy" is up to a jury in a trial, which must apply the Miller test; however, due to the prominence of pornography in most communities most pornographic materials are not considered "patently offensive" in the Miller test.

Child pornography laws in the United States specify that child pornography is illegal under federal law and in all states and is punishable by up to 20 years' imprisonment or fine of $5000. The Supreme Court of the United States has found child pornography to be "legally obscene", a term that refers to offensive or violent forms of pornography that have been declared to be outside the protections of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Federal sentencing guidelines on child pornography differentiate between production, distribution, and purchasing/receiving, and also include variations in severity based on the age of the child involved in the materials, with significant increases in penalties when the offense involves a prepubescent child or a child under the age of 12. U.S. law distinguishes between pornographic images of an actual minor, realistic images that are not of an actual minor, and non-realistic images such as drawings. The latter two categories are legally protected unless found to be obscene, whereas the first does not require a finding of obscenity.

Feminist views on pornography range from condemnation of all of it as a form of violence against women, to an embracing of some forms as a medium of feminist expression. This debate reflects larger concerns surrounding feminist views on sexuality, and is closely related to those on prostitution, on BDSM, and other issues. Pornography has been one of the most divisive issues in feminism, particularly in anglophone (English-speaking) countries. This deep division was exemplified in the feminist sex wars of the 1980s, which pitted anti-pornography activists against sex-positive ones.

Pornography in Canada has changed since the 1960s when the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69 that suppressed various laws related to sexual norms was passed. There has been a shift in the mode of determining whether a material is obscene or not with the R v. Butler judgment. The obscenity laws were challenged as violative of freedom of expression in R. v Butler. Obscenity is defined as follows under the Criminal Code: "the undue exploitation of sex or of sex and one or more of the following subjects; namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence." The court held that the term “undue” should be interpreted on the degree of harm which flows from such exposure that predisposes people to act in an anti-social manner. The court ruled that pornography is harmful if it contains violence or explicit sex which is degrading or dehumanizing and which creates a substantial risk of harm, as it harms a person's right to be equal. Therefore, there is a shift from the community standard's test to the harm test post the Butler judgment.

Child pornography is pornography that exploits children for sexual stimulation. It may be produced with the direct involvement or sexual assault of a child or it may be simulated child pornography. Abuse of the child occurs during the sexual acts or lascivious exhibitions of genitals or pubic areas which are recorded in the production of child pornography. Child pornography may use a variety of mediums, including writings, magazines, photos, sculpture, drawing, cartoon, painting, animation, sound recording, film, video, and video games. Child pornography may be created for profit or other reasons.

Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002), is a U.S. Supreme Court case which struck down two overbroad provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 because they abridged "the freedom to engage in a substantial amount of lawful speech". The case was brought against the Government by the Free Speech Coalition, a "California trade association for the adult-entertainment industry"; along with Bold Type, Inc., a "publisher of a book advocating the nudist lifestyle"; Jim Gingerich, who paints nudes; and Ron Raffaelli, a photographer who specialized in erotic images. By striking down these two provisions, the Court rejected an invitation to increase the amount of speech that would be categorically outside the protection of the First Amendment.

Sable Communications of California v. Federal Communications Commission, 492 U.S. 115 (1989), was a United States Supreme Court case involving the definition of "indecent material" and whether it is protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court invalidated part of a federal law that prohibited "dial-a-porn" telephone messaging services by making it a crime to transmit commercial telephone messages that were either "obscene" or "indecent".

United States obscenity law deals with the regulation or suppression of what is considered obscenity. In the United States, discussion of obscenity typically relates to pornography, as well as issues of freedom of speech and of the press, otherwise protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Issues of obscenity arise at federal and state levels. The States have a direct interest in public morality and have responsibility in relation to criminal law matters, including the punishment for the production and sale of obscene materials. State laws operate only within the jurisdiction of each state, and there are a wide differences in such laws. The federal government is involved in the issue indirectly, by making it an offense to distribute obscene materials through the post, to broadcast them, as well as in relation to importation of such materials.


  1. STANLEY v. GEORGIA, 394 U.S. 557 (1969)
  2. President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Report of The Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. 1970. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office.
  3. "Politics and Pornography". Archived from the original on 2009-08-25. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  4. Archived January 25, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  5. "Ronald Reagan: Remarks on Signing the Child Protection Act of 1984". 1984-05-21. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  6. Wilcox, Brian L. "Pornography, Social Science, and Politics: When Research and Ideology Collide." American Psychologist. 42 (October 1987) : 941-943.
  7. Koop, C. Everett. "Report of the Surgeon General's Workshop on Pornography and Public Health." American Psychologist. 42 (October 1987) : 944-945.
  8. Cossman, Brenda; Bell, Shannon; Gotell, Lise; Ross, Becki (January 1997). Bad Attitude/s on Trial: Pornography, Feminism, and the Butler Decision - Google Boeken. ISBN   9780802076434 . Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  9. "Porn In The U.S.A." CBS News. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  10., Supreme Court Upholds Child Pornography Law
  11.,UNITED STATES v. WILLIAMS, No. 06–694, Decided May 19, 2008
  12., Busting child pornography, real and imagined
  13. Henry L. Minton. Gay and Lesbian Studies. 1993, ISBN   1-56024-307-4
  14. Thomas L. Dumm. United States. 1994, ISBN   0-8014-3002-X
  15. Rodgerson, Gillian; Wilson, Elizabeth (1991). Pornography and feminism : the case against censorship. London: Lawrence & Wishart. p. 163. ISBN   9780853157427. mentioned in Taylor, L.'s chapter From Psychoanalytic Feminism to Popular Feminism cited in Hollows, Joanne; Jancovich, Mark (eds) (1995). Approaches to popular film. Manchester New York: Manchester University Press. ISBN   071904393X.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  16. D'Amato, Anthony (23 June 2006). "Porn Up, Rape Down". Social Science Research Network. SSRN   913013 .CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) in "Pornography has its benefits by James McConvill; posted Friday, 29 September 2006". Retrieved 2010-01-24.