Heated debates about pornography have been ongoing since the Victorian era (no word yet on whether stone-age people hid the fertility figurines under the mattress). It’s weird that we are blaming pornography as the primary reason for our moral decay. Some would argue all the porn we are consuming is also causing irreparable damage to our body, minds, and spirits. But isn’t that what they said about literature and art too? Pish-Posh, we say!
As it turns out, pornography existed long before television or even photography. In fact, depictions of sex date as far back as 30,000 years. Yes, even cavemen were jerking their gherkins to original carvings of large-breasted, thick-thighed women. Thus proving that people have always had an interest in images of sex. Lots and lots of sex!
Before there was a moral code, there was erotic imagery. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans got some action with public sculptures and frescos depicting homosexuality, threesomes, fellatio, and cunnilingus. In India during the second century, the Kama Sutra (a half how to sex-manual and half self-help relationship handbook) changed the way couples were having sex. Even the Moche people of ancient Peru created sexual scenes with ceramic pottery, while the aristocracy in 16th century Japan were fond of erotic woodblock prints.
How the West was Won
But with technology progressing so did the smutty tales of sex and intrigue. The Gutenberg Printing Press established in 1440 allowed for the mass production of scandalous content to reach the hands of the eager public. The French revolutionaries used the printing press to satirize the aristocracy with sexually charged pamphlets. Tales of sordid affairs, bad marriages, and scandals involving the famous were the buzz at dinner parties and soirées. The most popular pornographer of the time was the Marquis de Sade. His famously brutal and erotic works were chocked full of bisexuality, voyeurism, group sex, and sadomasochism. However, he suffered great consequences because it was illegal and immoral for any to distribute such sordid materials. Anyone caught peddling smut was usually invited to lengthy prison stays or a padded cell at the local mental institution.
A Porn Star is Born
The first [recorded] porn image, depicting a man inserting his penis into a vagina, surfaced around 1846. Photography would be the next logical step for producing pornography. A few enterprising saw the advantage of this new technology and quickly adopted the 19th-century invention of the daguerreotype. They repurposed it solely for the selling and distributing pornography. The word ‘Pornography’ was officially added to the English language eleven years after. But why stop at photographic stills?
By 1896, filmmakers in France were delving into the erotic arts with short, silent clips like “Le Coucher de la Marie,” in which an actress performed a strip tease. Following suit was Thomas Edison’s The Kiss in 1896. As the title suggests, the film portrayed cinema’s first kiss. Pushing boundaries even further hard-core porn started popping up after 1900.
The early 1900’s mark the time of “stag films.” These vivid skin-flicks were illegal to produce and watch. But it did not stop traveling salesmen from smuggling them into town so guys could watch during all-male gatherings like bachelor parties, frat events, and exclusive male-only clubs. Between 1915 and 1968 filmmakers produced approximately 2000 stag films.
Then, in the 1970s, changing social mores opened the door for public viewings of X-rated movies. Between 1971 and 1974 over 60,000 peep-show booths (armed with plenty of tissue boxes) began popping up around the United States and Canada. Modeled after the old penny arcades, these ‘pay and spray booths’ had coin-operated machines that projected the films. When the timer ran out, the viewer would have to put in another quarter. In addition to peep-shows, there was an explosion of porn theaters across the country. The classic Hollywood film industry was drying up, and it left many of their chain theaters in complete disrepair. Struggling theater owners had to stay in business, so they started showing pornographic movies.
Ron Jeremy, Nina Hartley, Peter North, John Holmes, Marilyn Chambers and other famous faces joined the porn scene. Now labeled as porn superstars, people were lining up to gain entry to porn theaters. The first international sex film, Behind the Green Door, was released in 1972. That same year, Deep Throat hit theaters, starring Linda Lovelace as a sexually frustrated woman who learns her clitoris located in the back of her throat. And the porn world hasn’t been the same since.
Chicken or the Egg
The popularity of going into the city for dinner and a show began declining after a few years, and the porn business took a nosedive. Breathing life back into the dirty business was the arrival of video technology. In 1976, JVC launched VHS, a format that would make “video technology” a household name. Now viewers could relax in the privacy of their homes while watching people screw. A recent PornHub report found that in 1978, fewer than 1% of American homes had VCRs, but “a whopping 75% of VHS tapes sold” were pornographic. This new generation of technophiles takes for granted the ability to pause, fast-forward, and rewatch their favorite sex scene.
2007 marked a critical year for porn. A leaked celebrity sex tape made its way around the internet, which we all were clamoring to watch. It’s mind blowing knowing we can watch famous people fuck with a simple push of a button. It just goes to show that porn is more than an internet sensation. It’s now a part of our mainstream consciousness.
More and more people feel comfortable talking openly about their porn preferences. But when it comes to the personal pursuit of pleasure, a customized experience is what people are seeking. The increased speed of the internet along with the ability for recording our sexual experiences has completely altered the trajectory of porn—once again.
There’s no more lurking in back alleys or sticking quarters in a machine! Now, with a simple search on Google, we can have our cake and eat it too. That’s because when it comes to our sexual vices—anything goes. Our history shows that porn has been there from the beginning of time.1