Pornography Control

March 21, 1973

Report Outline
Reaction Against Sexual Explicitness
Past Attempts to Regulate Obscenity
Debate Over Legalizing Pornography
Special Focus

Reaction Against Sexual Explicitness

Hardening of Public Attitude Toward Pornography

The great outpouring of sexually explicit material upon the American scene has become deeply troubling to broad segments of the population. They are making their views known in legislative halls, living rooms and pulpits, saying that an “epidemic” of pornography has gone so far in offending public standards of morality and good taste that corrective action is needed. Attempts at “corrective action” are being made almost everywhere—to close a “skin flick” at the corner movie house, divest an “adult” book store of its literature, or get rid of the downtown peep show. These efforts frequently end up in the courts and run afoul of defendant rights, frustrating the crackdown and its backers.

Contemporary pornography poses a dilemma for many American liberals. Gone is the day when the intellectual community could stand shoulder to shoulder to defend such classics as James Joyce's Ulysses and D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love against the book burners. Civil libertarians are as apt as others to see the current genre of hard-core pornography as completely devoid of artistic or literary merit. Their arguments against outlawing it are likely to be based solely on the propositions that the government has no right to legislate morality, that adults are not harmed by erotic material, and that censoring it would be both dangerous and counterproductive.

Conservatives and old-fashioned moralists have an easier time defending their anti-pornography views. For one thing, public sentiment seems to be overwhelmingly on their side despite all of the talk—and evidence—that society has become increasingly permissive in recent years. A Gallup poll in 1969 indicated that 76 per cent of the people favored stricter laws against pornographic material sold on newsstands and 85 per cent wanted tougher regulations on obscene literature sent through the mails. A Harris survey the same year revealed that 76 per cent of the persons interviewed were in favor of outlawing pornographic literature. A survey undertaken by the Los Angeles police department in 1971 disclosed that 98 per cent of the respondents wanted government restrictions on nudity and sexual activity in live performances, movies and magazines.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 16, 2004  Broadcast Indecency
Mar. 28, 2003  Movie Ratings
Nov. 17, 1995  Sex, Violence and the Media
Feb. 19, 1993  School Censorship
Dec. 20, 1991  The Obscenity Debate
Dec. 07, 1990  Does Cable TV Need More Regulation?
May 16, 1986  Pornography
Jan. 04, 1985  The Modern First Amendment
Oct. 19, 1979  Pornography Business Upsurge
Mar. 09, 1979  Broadcasting's Deregulated Future
Mar. 21, 1973  Pornography Control
May 17, 1972  Violence in the Media
Jan. 21, 1970  First Amendment and Mass Media
Jul. 05, 1967  Prosecution and the Press
Jun. 28, 1961  Peacetime Censorship
Apr. 12, 1961  Censorship of Movies and TV
Dec. 23, 1959  Regulation of Television
Jul. 29, 1959  Control of Obscenity
Jul. 27, 1955  Bad Influences on Youth
Mar. 21, 1952  Policing the Comics
Apr. 12, 1950  Censorship of Motion Pictures
Sep. 20, 1939  Censorship of Press and Radio
Freedom of Speech and Press
Popular Culture
Regulation and Legal Issues