Pictorial and written representations of sexuality are not modern inventions; even prehistoric cave drawings depict sexual activity. The ancient Indian love manual Kama Sutra, dating from about 400 CE, summarized philosophies of sexuality and spirituality in its descriptions of specific sexual techniques. Ancient Greek and Roman societies extensively used sexual themes to decorate housewares and public architecture. Graphic representations of coitus in Japanese schunga paintings and woodcuts from the 1600s and 1700s are regarded as art masterpieces.
With the emergence of Christianity and the fall of the Roman
Empire, the Roman Catholic Church became the most significant central
authority in the West. During the Middle Ages, Catholic monks handwrote
the books of the era, and the wealth of the Church enabled it to commission
the majority of artworks. This power made it possible for the.. Гі1 . ^ ^ ,
J ‘ n, і Homoerotic scene on 5th century BC Greek pottery. Ashmolean
Church to control the production of both written materials and Museum UK
fine art, and naturally these works reflected the Catholic Church’s ——————————————————————————
Sex for Sale
restrictive attitudes toward sexuality. However, in 1450 Johannes Gutenberg’s introduction of movable metal type in Europe ended the Church’s monopoly on the written word. After the initial printings of the Bible, some presses became busy producing sexually explicit stories, which are credited with helping bring literacy to the masses. By the 1550s, books had veered so far from the Church’s influence that Pope Paul IV established the Catholic Church’s first list of prohibited books (Lane, 2000).
The next technology to expand pornography was photography, developed before the Civil War. With the advent of photography, sexual photographs proliferated so extensively that Congress passed the first U. S. law prohibiting the mailing of obscenity ( Johnson, 1998). By the mid-1800s sexually explicit "advice literature," the burgeoning production of inexpensive pornographic novels, and the U. S. publication of the notorious English novel Fanny Hill prompted civic leaders to establish laws against publishing and selling pornographic materials. The champion of this cause was Anthony Comstock, who was appointed to the Society for the Suppression of Vice and as a special agent for the U. S. Post Office. Comstock claimed to have convicted more than 3,600 individuals and to have destroyed more than 160 tons of obscene literature. However, by the 1890s public approval of Comstock’s actions had waned, and he was dismissed as old-fashioned and provincial. More importantly, the postal service’s monopoly on the country’s shipping was eliminated by the development of the railroad and automobile, private shipping companies, and the subsequent emergence of the airplane—all of which made the distribution of pornography much more difficult to control (Lane, 2000).
The transition of the pornography business from an underground enterprise to a multibillion-dollar industry began in 1953, with the publication of the first issue of Playboy magazine. The World War II generation bought 50,000 copies of the first issue, and the magazine’s growing readership throughout the next decade made its publisher, Hugh Hefner, a multimillionaire. Another change involved sexually explicit movies. These films had been distributed only in the underground stag-film market until the 1973 film Deep Throat, which was the first adult film that drew mainstream audiences, including women, to X-rated movie houses. It generated $600 million in theater and video revenues. The success of Deep Throat launched the modern pornography industry and expanded the boundaries of sexual content in mainstream films. The increase in sexual explicitness also led to increased opposition by conservative political and religious groups that believed pornography was immoral, had a negative effect on adults, and increased crime around porn shops and adult movie theaters. Supreme Court decisions and government commissions attempted to determine legal questions regarding sexually explicit materials.