Traditional objections to pornography were based on “Victorian priggishness” and the unease of proper society with explicit written description or graphic displays of sex. During the twentieth century, Victorian standards of propriety have been abandoned, and with them much censorship. The current law of obscenity remains as a vestige of the thinking of an earlier era in which certain “forms of speech and thought were supposed to be incompatible with decent social community.”
The sexual revolution of the last decade, however, has bred a new pornography. Since “ordinary” sex is no longer a taboo subject, pornographers have explored new avenues of prohibited behavior to titillate their readers and maintain profitable circulation of their publications. This recent trend in pornography centers on the depiction of violence against women as an integral part of sex-including bondage, beating, torture, and self-inflicted injury-and the use of children as sex objects. In response to these trends, feminists have raised questions about whether current pornography poses a threat to public safety. They urge that the ever-increasing number of publications that equate sex with violence molds readers’ attitudes toward women and toward sex, and physically endangers women and children. Recognizing that the media have a massive impact on the thoughts and desires of consumers, feminists are concerned that what is sold by the sex industry will be replicated in real life. Their aim is not to suppress sexuality, but to prevent its dehumanization.
The purpose of this colloquium was two-fold: to expose the legal community to the recent developments in pornography, and to familiarize feminists with the protection afforded pornography by the first amendment. We hoped to get the civil libertarians “unstuck” from addressing only the obsolete moralistic objections to pornography, and also to discuss what legal remedies may be available to women subjected to the dehumanization and the physical threats posed by violent pornography