Pornography Business Upsurge

October 19, 1979

Report Outline
Rapid Growth in Recent Years
Past Efforts to Control Smut
New Trends in the Sex ‘Business’
Special Focus

Rapid Growth in Recent Years

New Permissiveness: Boon to ‘Adult’ Trade

It was noon in Washington and the usual crowd of bureaucrats, clerks and tourists filled the sidewalks near the White House. But to their normal midday activities of eating in the parks and window-shopping on the way back to work, another has been added — visiting the dozens of close-by “X-rated” movies and pornographic bookstores. For not only is the area around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue famous as the president's neighborhood, one of the city's busiest pornography markets is only a few blocks away.

In Washington, as in many other cities throughout the country, “adult” entertainment has become a growth industry, and it is growing in many directions. Once confined to relatively tame magazine stands, strip clubs and peep shows in low-rent downtown areas, the nationwide “porno” trade has mushroomed in recent years, moving into quiet middle-class communities and outlying suburban shopping centers. Just as the territory has expanded, so has the product. Magazines that used to be considered racy, like Playboy and Penthouse, now can be bought in most drugstores, while hard-core erotica — books and films depicting the extremes of explicit sex — are openly sold in a multiplying array of specialty shops. As the line between soft-and hard-core sex continues “to blur,” wrote James Cook, an editor of Forbes magazine, every aspect of the industry “is certain to grow.”

By one estimate, adult businesses in the United States took in some $4 billion, roughly one-third of the amount Americans spent on fast food, in 1977. That same year, the 10 leading sexually oriented magazines were reported to have generated close to $475 million; the nation's 800 adult theaters grossed over $360 million. Despite the spread of pornography, a May 1977 Gallup Poll found that only 6 percent of those questioned favored relaxing community standards regarding the sale of sexually explicit matter. Forty-five percent said local and federal laws against pornography should be made stricter. This compares with 76 percent who favored stricter laws 10 years ago. In the 1977 poll, 32 percent said their communities had both X-rated theaters and adult bookstores. About the same number of people, 35 percent, said they had seen at least one X-rated film.

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