“There has not been a sex murder in the history of our department in which the killer was not an avid reader of pornographic magazines.” (Detroit police inspector Herbert Case)
PORNOGRAPHY is the portrayal of behaviour designed to cause sexual excitement. The word comes from the Greek pornográphos, which literally means ‘harlot writing’ or ‘the writing of prostitutes.’ Books, magazines, advertising or films that appeal to a base sexual appetite are considered pornographic.
Some argue that pornography should be outlawed, since it is associated with immorality. Others consider any restrictions an infringement of personal freedom.
In the United States, as elsewhere, there has been much confusion over the matter. Earl Warren, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once said: “In all my years of service on the Supreme Court, the subject of obscenity and how to deal with it has given me the most difficulty.”
How widespread has the tide of pornography become? In the United States, Cincinnati lawyer Charles Keating, Jr., stated: “The spread of pornography has reached epidemic proportions in our country.”
Writing in McCall’s magazine, Myra Mannes declared: “We have, in short, now reached a state in our society when anything goes, where all is permitted, and where no limits are placed on the appetites of the individual, on the gratification of their desires and fantasies.”
There has also been a huge increase in pornographic films, plays and sex shows. These feature nudity, suggested or actual fornication, lesbianism, homosexuality and violence or masochism..
Even films and plays for general audiences are becoming more open in their display of nudity and suggested sexual acts.
In 1957 the United States Supreme Court ruled against obscene literature, defining it in this way: “Obscene material deals with sex in a manner appealing to prurient interest.” The word “prurient” means to long for, or to be characterized by lascivious thought.
In the following few years, there were several convictions in prominent cases. But then in 1967 the Supreme Court reversed obscenity convictions in twenty-two cases in thirteen states. The reversal was based on the idea that the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution protected such material.
In 1968 the Supreme Court considered a New York law valid when it prohibited the sale of obscene materials to persons under seventeen years of age. However, this was taken as an open invitation by publishers of pornographic material to concentrate on the adult market. Hence the slogan: “FOR ADULTS ONLY.”
A landmark case was decided late in 1968. It concerned a Swedish film that abounded in scenes of nudity and sexual intercourse. A New York federal court jury declared the film obscene, and barred its importation. But a United States Court of Appeals overruled the jury decision, and the film was widely shown throughout the country (Make Love, Not War – The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History).
This ruling was based on the 1957 definition of what was considered “prurient.” Part of that 1957 decision included the thought that pornography was not protected under the Constitution because it lacked “redeeming social importance.” But the appeals court considered the Swedish film to have some “redeeming social importance.” So now publishers of pornographic material often make it a point to claim that their material has some “redeeming social importance.”
In Denmark all prohibitions against written pornography were repealed by law in June of 1967. Prohibitions against pornographic pictures disappeared in July of 1969. About the only restrictions left apply to barring the sale of such material to children under sixteen and forbidding offensive window displays.
A similar legalizing has been proposed in the United States by a commission created by Congress and appointed by the former president. In its report issued at the end of September 1970, a majority of the commission recommended eliminating all legal restrictions on pornography for adults.
Many condemned the report. But it did demonstrate a trend. Senator Robert C. Byrd stated: “This outrageously permissive commission shows how far this nation has travelled down the road of moral decadence.”
Some who favour the distribution of pornography claim that this will have no harmful effect on public morals. The President’s Commission on pornography also contended that there was no evidence that pornography is harmful. Yet, its report admitted the following:
“This is not to say that exposure to explicit sexual materials has no effect upon human behaviour. A prominent effect of exposure to sexual materials is that persons tend to talk more about sex as a result of seeing such materials. In addition, many persons become temporarily sexually aroused upon viewing explicit sexual materials and the frequency of their sexual activity may, in consequence, increase for short periods.”
But what about the continued bombardment by all forms of pornography over a period of time? The consequences are far more damaging than the above report suggests. Commenting on this, Dr. Natalie Shainess, member of a New York psychiatric institute, said: “From my own professional practice, I know that the more we are exposed to things that are degrading, the more we are degraded. . . .with this lowering of self-control, in and out of marriage, the weaker or anti-social individual who cannot get sex when and where he needs it will take it when and where he pleases—by any means. In this sense, pornography is likely to lead to increased sex crimes.”
Law enforcement officials strongly agree with that analysis. The Federal Bureau of Investigation blamed the spread of pornography for much of the alarming increase in crimes of sex violence. They said: “Such filth in the hands of young people and curious adolescents does untold damage and leads to disastrous consequences.”
Detroit police inspector Herbert Case stated: “There has not been a sex murder in the history of our department in which the killer was not an avid reader of pornographic magazines.” Chicago police superintendent O. W. Wilson said: “Sexual arousals from obscene literature have been responsible for criminal behaviour from vicious assaults to homicide.” And Postmaster General Winton M. Blount called its spread the “commercial degradation of the human spirit,” and said that “pornography is a threat to the best interests of our children.” Since the 1960’s, there has been a steady rise in public awareness of Paedophilia, which cannot simply be attributed to publicity of previously hidden acts, there is a widely acknowledged link with easy access to pornography.
In England’s famous ‘Moors murders,’ Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were convicted of torturing, sexually abusing and murdering three young children and burying the bodies on the moors. They were both ardent readers of the Marquis de Sade’s perverted literature and owned much pornographic material. One reporter doubted that these murders would have been committed if the couple had not had free access to such literature. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were both ten when they abducted and killed two year old James Bulger in 1993. The trial judge Mr. Justice Morland stated that exposure to violent or sexually explicit videos might have encouraged the actions of Thompson and Venables, but this was disputed by David Maclean, the Minister of State at the Home Office at the time, who pointed out that police had found no evidence linking the case with “video nasties”. Some British newspapers claimed that the attack on James Bulger was inspired by the film series “Child’s Play”, and campaigned, with limited success, for the legislation on “video nasties” to be tightened.
The reading of pornography leads to unhealthy, damaging attitudes on sex and marriage, since it is separated from moral teaching. In the Guardian Weekly of September 19, 1970, child psychiatrist Louise W. Eickhoff stated: “Sex indoctrination, far from leading to greater stability in marriage has led to increased sexual dissatisfaction, interchange of marital partners, and sexual excesses. “Sex education, apart from parents, in school is dangerous, for it destroys the inbuilt natural safety devices of personal, private, intimate, love connection that protect the individual… from evil and harm.”
While these comments were particularly directed at sex education in school, they are even more valid in connection with learning about sex from pornographic material. Dana L. Farnsworth, Harvard University’s director of health services, observed: “Most college psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that the students who ignore sexual standards are not happier or more effective than students who observe those standards; they are, in fact, the ones most afflicted with depression, anxiety, a tendency toward acting-out behaviour, and loss of self-esteem. Although sexual restrictions can and do produce emotional disorders, complete sexual freedom produces even more disabling conflicts.”
Pornography treats human relationship in a loveless and degrading way. It stresses personal gratification, not the unselfish love needed for happy marriage. In this regard California District Attorney Cecil Hicks said: “I’m afraid that by having these shows and books and films, even without letting kids see them, you give young people the idea that sex of any kind is available anywhere, anytime with anyone. Do that and you eventually destroy the family unit as we know it—and is not the family unit the basic unit of our civilization?”
Many historians agree with Arnold Toynbee’s analysis of, for example, Greece and Rome, that the spread of obscenity is an unfailing symptom of a civilization’s breakdown. That breakdown is proceeding worldwide. It becomes more obvious each year as a growing wave of pornography flows across stage, screen and literature.