Pornography (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
Any printed or pictorial material containing representations of sexually obscene behavior, intended to sexually arouse its audience.
There is an obvious and necessary imprecision in this definition of the term pornography, in the sense that what is considered to be sexually obscene behavior, and, for that matter, what might sexually arouse an audience, vary quite widely from time to time, from place to place, and from individual to individual. Nearly all modern societies have laws that prohibit the possession or distribution of at least some forms of pornography, although the statutory suppression and criminalization of sexually obscene material is a relatively recent phenomenon, and is significantly predated by the legal censorship of material that was judged to be sacrilegious or antireligious (religiously obscene) or seditious or treasonous (politically obscene). Generally, laws against pornography have been based on the controversial assumption that exposure to pornography morally corrupts individuals and is a cause of sexual crimes. In the United States, legislation concerning pornography dates from the middle of the 19th century. Since that time, the admittedly elusive legal definition of what constitutes pornography and can be regulated by law has evolved into material that portrays sexual conduct in a patently offensive way and appeals to prurient...
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Pornography (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
The representation in books, magazines, photographs, films, and other media of scenes of sexual behavior that are erotic or lewd and are designed to arouse sexual interest.
Pornography is the depiction of sexual behavior that is intended to arouse sexual excitement in its audience. During the twentieth century, Americans debated whether pornographic material should be legally protected or banned. Those who believe pornography must be protected argue that the FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, including sexual expression. Traditional opponents of pornography raise moral concerns, arguing that the First Amendment does not protect expression that corrupts people's behavior. Toward the end of the century, some feminists advocated suppressing pornography because it perpetuates gender stereotypes and promotes violence against women.
Pornography has been regulated by the legal standards that govern the concept of OBSCENITY, which refers to things society may consider disgusting, foul, or immoral, and may include material that is blasphemous. Pornography is limited to depictions of sexual behavior and may not be obscene.
The U.S. Supreme Court has established that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. The more troublesome question has been defining what is and is not obscene. In 1957, the U.S. Supreme...
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Pornography (American History Through Literature)
The term "pornography" did not appear in the English language before 1857 and did not enter American usage until the late nineteenth century. Until then, Americans referred to objectionable literature as "blasphemous," "obscene," or "indecent." Prior to 1820 the slow growth of literacy and the high expense of books erotic or otherwise generally limited circulation. In 1821, however, in the first recorded American prosecution of literary indecency, Massachusetts jailed Peter Holmes and Stillman Howe for selling John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (also known as Fanny Hill, 1748), a book previously owned by only affluent Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and William Byrd. Isaiah Thomas, the distinguished printer, ran off a few pages of Fanny Hill sometime between 1786 and 1814 but did not complete the project. Other printers, however, soon used new steam presses (1814) to pirate bawdy imports such as Cleland's novels and Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.
Unlike Massachusetts, most states remained unconcerned about erotica. On his 1831832 visit, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the United States had few laws against "licentious books" because lack of demand meant that no Americans wanted to write them (1:265). As if to contradict de Tocqueville, McDowall's Journal, issued by the Reverend John McDowall in 1833, inveighed against the proliferation of erotica in New York City, whose population had risen sharply since the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. In 1834 McDowall assembled an exhibit of "indecent" books, pamphlets, papers, prints, and playing cards for fellow ministers. Twelve years later Henry Ward Beecher (1813887) complained that tasteless literature was by then epidemic (p. 211). The increase was associated not only with the rampant prostitution in American cities but also with the tumultuous politics of the Jacksonian era and the growth of a large work-force created by industrialization.
Historians have observed that obscenity often drives democratic movements as aggrieved groups level charges of misconduct at aristocrats or politicians. During the 1830s and 1840s radical American journalists used sexual invective to call for social and political reform in cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Like other professionals, such journalists were drawn to a subculture called "the sporting life," the term applied to a volatile stratum of restless young males who worked in the cities' factories and businesses by day and roistered by night. The sporting life also flourished in the seedy sectors of riverboat towns in Ohio and West Virginia. Those western frontiers also generated bawdy works such Davy Crockett's Almanac of Wild Sports of the West, and Life in the Backwoods (1835), but sporting-life literature was more closely associated with the eastern seaboard. Here, for the first time, domestic sexual expression began to compete with classic European erotica.
THE SPORTING PRESS
Out of the masculine realm of prizefights, billiard rooms, poker dens, cockfight arenas, racetracks, music halls, saloons, and bordellos sprang the sporting press: cheap newspapers that were at first little more than catalogs of amusements. Presses on Ann and Nassau Streets in New York, in a district known at the time for its whorehouses, increasingly became partisan, as Jacksonian Democratic editors savaged Whig politicians. The Whip, The Flash, The Weekly Rake, and The Libertine often caught their political opponents patronizing brothels and bawdy music halls and charged them with hypocrisy and immorality. Some publishers blackmailed their targets by threatening to run exposés unless they were paid not to, but others seemed sincere in their outrage and identified themselves as crusaders determined to crush corruption.
Sporting papers led to penny papers, sensational novels, and the new writing class that produced them. The most famous penny newspapers, Benjamin Day's (1810889) New York Sun (1833) and James Gordon Bennett's (1795872) New York Herald (1835), attacked the sporting papers on "moral" grounds that scarcely disguised eagerness to destroy their rivals. In turn, the penny newspapers slightly sanitized the sexual scandal that was the sporting papers' stock-in-trade by transforming it into crime reporting, a species of salacious subliterature. Just as important, sporting papers extruded sensational novelists. Conservatives denounced as depraved George Lippard's (1822854) The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall: A Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery, and Crime (1846). A radical newspaper editor, labor organizer, feminist, and reformer, Lippard wrote The Quaker City as a tale of seduction, revenge, forgery, drugs, and murder based on actual Philadelphia events. Its immense popularity triggered imitators of the "city mystery," most of them more sexually candid than Lippard, and influenced writers including Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835910) and Walt Whitman (1819892); the latter, a newspaper editor himself, often printed scandal and actually tried to write a "city mystery" called "Proud Antoinette" in the late 1850s. Edgar Allan Poe (1809849) based his "The Mystery of Marie Roget" (1842) on an abortion scandal of 1841.
The most prolific author of city mysteries was George Thompson (1823. 1873). Also editor of The Broadway Belle (1855858), a sporting paper, Thompson wrote magazine serials, pamphlets, and novels (perhaps as many as sixty), often under the pen name of "Greenhorn." Of several publishers who printed Thompson's fiction, George Ackerman (sometimes spelled Akarman or Akerman) is representative. Ackerman operated a press at 167 William Street in New York. Here he issued sensational works under his own name, and "fancy" or "rich" titles (that is, erotic) under the imprint of "James Ramerio." In the first category was Flora Montgomery, the Factory Girl: Tale of the Lowell Factories. Being a Recital of the Adventures of a Libidinous Millionaire, Whose Wealth Was Used as a Means of Triumphing Over Virtue (1856), by "Sparks." Henry Spencer Ashbee, the great English bibliographer of erotic texts, points out that there is nothing "libidinous" in this story of social justice wrought by Flora, who, after having been duped into a sham marriage, leads a strike that ruins the factory owner who seduced her. By contrast, "James Ramerio" published Thompson's much racier Venus in Boston (1849) and a tabloid, Venus's Miscellany (1856. 1857), whose stories of wives seeking illicit pleasures, augmented by engravings of embracing couples, led to Ackerman's arrest.
THE FIRST AMERICAN PORNOGRAPHIC NOVELS
David Reynolds has argued that Venus in Boston is the first truly pornographic American novel. As Ashbee notes, however, its tales of "low-life"bduction, attempted rape, confidence swindles, and murderualify only as "semi-erotica." Two other contenders for "first" are more plausible. Appearing also in 1849, Madge Bufford: A Lively Letter to a Lonely Lover. What Uncle Bob taught her; and how she profited by his instruction with men and women black and white, with diversions among the quadrupeds. Showing that Yankee gals, grope, gape, gallopive and take the salacious sweet as sensually as their smutty sisters over the sea contains prurient descriptions of intercourse, sodomy, voyeurism, and miscegenation. The second candidate, also published in 1849, is D'Amour La Rose: or, The Adventures of a Gentleman in Search of Pleasure, whose equally anonymous American author (the legend "translated from the French" is fraudulent) set his story in Europe; here a rich rakehell deflowers women in castles, clubs, and brothels.
Deciding which was the first domestic pornographic novel is less important than observing that erotic fiction had entered a new phase as immigration, education, science (and pseudoscience), and feminism fostered greater awareness of the body and sexuality. From the Midwest came calls for female "dress reform," an attempt to replace shroud-like attire with pantaloons and bloomers. Faddists such as Sylvester Graham (1794851) and John Harvey Kellogg (1852943) crusaded against masturbation and intercourse, prescribing vegetarian diets, celibacy, and enemas as curbs to sensual appetites. At the other extreme, members of communitarian movements as diverse as the Oneida Community (1848) and the Brotherhood of the New Life (1861) engaged in physical unions justified by spiritual desire. After Robert Owen (1771858) purchased the Harmony Community (Indiana), a colony that originally endorsed celibacy, his son Robert Dale Owen (1801877) became the first to advocate birth control in America (in Moral Physiology ). Doctrines of "free love" that would reach an apogee in the 1870s attracted feminists such as Victoria Woodhull (1838927) and freethinkers such as Ezra Hervey Heywood (1829893) because of their advocacy of birth control and the right of women to choose their partners. Their publications on such subjects were routinely suppressed as obscene. Thompson's Fanny Greeley; or, Confessions of a Free-Love Sister Written by Herself (c. 1865) charged freethinkers with promoting extramarital sex; its title probably twitted rival editor Horace Greeley (1811872) as well.
Because such trends seemed to undermine social order, moralists attempted to impose control over what they thought of as the easily inflamed passions of women, immigrants, and the urban poor. The outlawing of "low" fiction, ostensibly a matter of setting standards of taste, aimed to preserve fragile class and gender boundaries. Conservatives worried especially about the effects of romances written for women and about the curiosity stimulated by marriage manuals and physiology texts. In 1850 Dr. Frederick Hollick published his Marriage Guide, the first of an astonishing five hundred editions. It focused on female masturbation, which had been one of the major motifs, according to Peter Wagner, of erotica in the eighteenth century. Hollick's book was followed by Seth Pancoast's The Ladies' Medical Guide and Marriage Friend (1859), which expanded on the female orgasm but warned against lesbianism, and by Harmon Knox Root's The Lover's Marriage Lighthouse (1858), which cautioned against the use of dildoes, an indication that they were common. Images of female sexual appetites, at once frightening and titillating to Civil War soldiers separated from wives, informed steadily more explicit male-oriented pornography. Scenes of homosexuality appeared only occasionally in texts otherwise aimed at heterosexual audiences; the market for exclusively homosexual erotic genres was small, uncertain, and dangerous, as reaction to Whitman's hardly pornographic Leaves of Grass (1855) would soon demonstrate.
THE CIVIL WAR AS EROTIC STIMULUS
By the late 1850s the reformer William Sanger (d. 1894) pointed out that newsboys around hotels, steamboat docks, and railway stations in New York sold "lecherous" publications surreptitiously but freely. Books and sexual appliances were available by mail from cities as large as New Orleans and towns as small as Georgetown, Ohio. The Civil War dramatically increased the number of dealers in both North and South, and advertisements quickly found their way into the trenches on both sides.
Typical was a notice in the September 1863 issue of Ormsby's New York Mail Bag: A Journal of Wit, Humor, and Romance (86 Nassau Street, New York City), which offered Ovid's Art of Love; "Gay & Witty Novels" such as Confessions of a Voluptuous Young Lady of High Rank, Bertha; or, The Adventures of a Spring Mattress, The Private Looking Glass; or, Secrets of Nature, The Amours of a Quaker, The Intrigues and Amours of Aaron Burr, and Confessions of a Boarding School Miss; as well as another manual by the prolific Dr. Hollick, The Male Generative Organs in Health and Disease (1853). Aside from the Hollick text, only one of these titles, The Intrigues and Amours of Aaron Burr (n.d.), was by an American, a proportion similar to that in the booklists of other dealers. A few ambitious American original erotic novels did appear, with titles such as The Life and Amours of the Beautiful, Gay and Dashing Kate Percival, The Belle of the Delaware, Written by Herself, Voluptuous, Exciting, Amorous and Delighting (1864) and Amours of an American Adventurer in the New World and the Old (1865), but most American erotic fiction was short, as was evident from the catalog of "Cupid's Own Library" (the first in the series was a twenty-nine-page illustrated pamphlet called Amours of a Modest Man , by "A. Bachelor").
Postwar traffic in trashy books attracted the notice of increasingly alarmed authorities. In 1865 a federal mail statute prohibited the shipment across state lines of obscene materials, but the law seemed directed as much at birth control information as at erotic fiction. In 1868 conservatives and progressives formed the American Railway Literary Union, modeled on the Pure Literature Society of England, to persuade news-dealers along transportation routes not to handle books that were "unseemly" or "questionable," categories that often included dime novels of thrilling adventure and romance (pp. 3). Although the latter types managed to survive the efforts to censor them, campaigns against truly explicit fiction became more draconian and drove genuine pornography underground for the remainder of the century.
See also Literary Marketplace; Publishers; Sensational Fiction; Sexuality and the Body; Taste; Urbanization
The American Railway Literary Union, for the United States and the Dominion of Canada. To Publishers, Railway and Steamboat Managers, Newsdealers, the Public Generally. New York: ARLU, 1868.
Ashbee, Henry Spencer [Pisanus Fraxi]. Index Librorum Prohibitorum; Centuria Librorum Absconditorum; Catena Librorum Tacendorum, Being Notes Bio-BiblioIconographical and Critical on Curious, Uncommon and Erotic Books. 3 vols. London: Privately Printed, 1877, 1879, 1885. Reprinted as Bibliography of Forbidden Books. 3 vols. New York: Jack Brussel, 1962.
Beecher, Henry Ward. Letters to Young Men, on Various Important Subjects. New York: Saxton and Miles, 1846.
Sanger, William W. The History of Prostitution: Its Extent, Causes and Effects Throughout the World. 1858. New York: Eugenics Publishing Company, 1937.
Thompson, George. Venus in Boston and Other Tales of Nineteenth-Century City Life. Edited by David S. Reynolds and Kimberly R. Gladman. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002.
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Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Rereading Sex: Battles Over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Knopf, 2002.
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Lowry, Thomas P. The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1994.
Mendes, Peter. Clandestine Erotic Fiction in English, 1800930: A Bibliographical Study. Aldershot, U.K.: Scolar Press; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1993.
Reynolds, David S. Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville. New York: Knopf, 1988.
Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.
Rose, David. "Prostitution and the Sporting Life." Upper Ohio Valley Historical Review 16 (1987): 71.
Rugoff, Milton. Prudery and Passion: Sexuality in Victorian America. New York: Putnam, 1971.
Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991.
Slade, Joseph W. Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide. 3 vols. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Wagner, Peter. Wagner, Peter. Eros Revived: Erotica of the Enlightenment in England and America. London: Secker and Warburg, 1988.
Joseph W. Slade III