The word 'pornography' instantly calls to mind something illicit. It's the unmistakable flavour of the forbidden fruit that's made porn a definite no-no when it comes to dinnertime conversation. But, sure enough, it's also something that piques everyone's curiosity (and more) the minute it's mentioned. For the lads, porn, especially the visual kind, whether it's a Playboy centrefold or a clip on www.youporn.com, constitutes a sort of sacred rite of passage from boyhood to the realm of 'real' men.
Over the past few decades, with inventions such as the VCR, the CD-ROM and the Internet explosion, the consumption of pornography has gone through the roof. Where there is demand, can supply be far behind? The adult entertainment industry is now booming like never before. So, what's the catch? Probably the fact that most of us seem to think it's all about the action without ever seeming to take into account that there might just be a story behind the smut. So we decided to decode the history of pornography-and why it's such hot property. Read on to up your badass babe quotient by an unbelievable degree.
What is Pornography?
The broadest definition for pornography is possibly any graphic sexual depiction. This could be either in the form of a movie, a photograph or words, and is designed to arouse the consumer. Danish criminologist Berl Kutchinsky traces the beginning of modern pornography to the 1650s when two pornographic classics were published-La Puttana Errante (The Wayward Prostitute) and L'Ecole Des Filles (Girls School).
Translated into almost every major language, these novels became the models for all pornographic books and movies to appear later. The depiction of sexual acts in the arts is as old as civilisation itself, but the concept of pornography didn't really come into existence till the Victorian era, primarily since state censorship with regard to viewing sexually explicit material came into being around this time. The 18th and 19th centuries also exploited the novel as a sexually-laden genre. The development of still photography in 1827 and motion pictures in 1894 led to further dissemination of erotica in its various forms. Almost all pre-World War II movies were shot on 16 mm film on single reels that were of 10-12 minutes duration. These were called 'stag' films, meaning for men only. America was the leading producer of such movies.
After the War, the greater availability of 16 mm equipment enabled these films to be viewed in the comfort of living rooms rather than in the smoking rooms of various clubs. Porn had finally made its way into the mainstream.
The Playboy Phenomenon
Quick to recognise the potential of the adult industry, 27-year-old Hugh Hefner launched his debut Playboy magazine, with Marilyn Monroe gracing the cover, in December 1953. Hefner bought the rights of the nude photos from a local calendar store in Chicago and put together the 44 pages of the first issue in his own home. Justifiably nervous about the venture, Hefner didn't put his name nor an issue date on the first 50,000 copies of the magazine. However, sales went through the roof. Hefner made his intentions clear in his very first issue by stating, "If you're a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you... We want to make it clear from the very start, we aren't a family magazine. If you're somebody's sister, wife or mother-inlaw and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies Home Companion."
The famous women of the 1950s that appeared on Playboy included stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Tina Louise, Joan Arnold, Kim Novak, and Brigitte Bardot. Today, Playboy has emerged as a platform for free expression and continues to go from strength to strength with leading celebrities vying for the status of covergirl.
On the heels of Playboy's success followed Hustler. In 1974, Larry Flynt, the owner of a series of strip clubs, decided to discard the tawdry newsletters his company used to circulate for cheap publicity and came up with a monthly pornographic magazine called Hustler. In contrast to the relatively modest Playboy, Hustler decided to break all the rules and become the first magazine to show pubic hair on its front cover in the July 1976 issue. From pregnant women, middle-aged mammas, hermaphrodites to photos of venereal diseases and sex toys, penetration and group sex , Hustler sought to define 'hardcore' in every way.
Another point which differentiated the rag from other porn publications was its left-wing editorial policy as compared to the liberal outlook of the others. Flynt launched vitriolic attacks against the Reagan establishment, openly supported Clinton during his near-impeachment and has also been involved (and won) a controversial court case which led to a landmark judgment on the freedom to parody public figures. Each month, Hustler is mailed, uninvited and for free, to the office of each member of the United States Congress. These two magazines defined the tone and feel of visual pornography in the years to come.
Books, Movies and Making Out
Erotic literature, as mentioned earlier, found a launch pad in 1650. But classic erotica goes as far back as the Song of Songs in the Old Testament of the Bible.
The most noteworthy example from the medieval period was Decameron (1353) by Italian-born Giovanni Boccaccio which features tales of lechery by monks and the seduction of nuns from convents. As expected, this book was banned in many countries. Five centuries after its publication, copies were seized and destroyed by the authorities in America and the UK. The rise of the novel in 18th century England provided a new medium for erotica. One of the most famous in this genre was Fanny Hill by John Cleland who set a new standard in smut with his graphic writing. In the late 18th century themes of sado-masochism were explored by the Marquis de Sade in Justine, or The Misfortunes Of Virtue and 120 Days Of Sodom.
In 1870 the erotic novella, Venus In Furs, by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, brought the attention of the world to phenomenon of masochism, named after the author. 20th century erotic fiction boasts of classics such as Lolita (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov, Delta of Venus (1978) by AnaÃ¯s Nin and The Bicycle Rider (1985) b y Gu y Davenport. Books such as D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover brought questions of obscenity versus literary merit to the fore. A different genre of sex writing that deserves a mention is the kind done by magazine journo-turned-author Nancy Friday who published her first book, My Secret Garden, in 1973. This book, which compiled interviews of women discussing their sexuality and fantasies, became a bestseller bringing female sexual repression out of the closet.
When it comes to movies, pornography taps into some of our most intimate fantasies. The 1920s saw the rise of 'exploitation' films which included topics like white slavery, Christians lashed at the stake and orgies. Directors like Russ Meyer, David Friedman and Ted Paramore trailblazed soft porn. Then came the era of sexual terror; husband-wife team Michael and Roberta Findlay were the poster children of this movement along with pornographer Bill Margold. The 1960s were witness to full-frontal nudity shot increasingly in colour. Porn theatres opened up in storefronts by the late 60s and Sony launched its new consumer video cassette; the implications for the adult film industry were immense as now porn could be recorded and replicated by amateurs as well.
Further developments in technology like the CD-ROM and DVDs added to the proliferation of porn in households across the world. But it is the Internet that has proven to be the biggest boon for the industry.
The Internet Invasion
The rapid growth of the Internet has completely negated any control over sexual expression. In cyberspace, anything goes. And the innumerable number of pornographic sites depicting various sexual acts bears testimony to this. Now anyone can have 24/7 access to any form of sexual titillation that they prefer. While most hardcore porn sites do have explicit warnings about the user needing to be 18 years of age, the fact remains that there really is no way of enforcing rules and regulations when it comes to the World Wide Web. There is no provision to distinguish a minor from an adult. And completely no control over who is uploading what. Sites like www.youporn.com have videos of every possible sex act under the sun while others like www.literotica.com are for those who prefer reading over graphic videos or imagery. According to recent research, in the United States alone, every second there are at least 28,258 internet users who are viewing pornography while 372 users are typing adult search terms into search engines like Google. A new pornographic movie is being made every 39 minutes. These figures are proof that this isn't an industry to shrug off lightly.
Pornography Vs Passion
Are pornography and love mutually exclusive? Does liking porn degrade you into a social aberration? These questions have long divided society into two camps-one which believes that sex and arousal are natural instincts and that there is nothing wrong at all with depictions of sexuality and sexual acts in Father Jonathan Morris who says on www.foxnews.com, "Viewing pornography is a self-centred stab at satisfying sexual desire. It is a love-letter written to oneself."
This debate clearly has no end in sight. As William Jankowiak, Professor of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, comments, "Whatever a culture's posture toward sex and the many facets of love, ambiguities, conflicting emphases, perplexities, unclear strictures, and downright quandaries litter the cultural landscape. The diversity of ambivalence, tension, and contradiction across the globe is infinite and, when viewed collectively, bewildering in its range of differences."
While one must be aware of the dangers of porn addiction, it can be used as a healthy tool to stimulate one's sex life. Caution: much of the material out there isn't for the fainthearted. But then, Cosmo chicas don't really need that warning, do they?
THE BENEFITS OF WATCHING PORN
Some doctors actually advise seriously ill patients to watch porn in an attempt to control their pain.
Access to Internet porn is reported to reduce the incidence of rape and other sexual crimes. In fact, psychologists have found that male subjects, immediately after watching pornography, are less likely to express misogynistic attitudes.
A lot of couples who have been in long-term relationships use porn as a method of amping up their sizzle beneath-the-sheets factor. Way to go!