The word "pornography" means "the writing of prostitutes." The word
comes from the way prostitutes advertised their services by writing
their names and addresses on walls in ancient Rome and Greece.
Pornography refers to any picture or writing that is meant to be
sexually arousing. To many people, pornography is offensive and
indecent. However, some people distinguish between pornography and
erotica, which are sexually arousing pictures or writings that do
not offend the average consumer.
"Soft-core" pornography is also distinguished from "hard-core"
pornography. Soft-core pornography depicts naked bodies, including
genitals, and limited sexual activity. Hard-core pornography depicts
sexual intercourse and sex organs more graphically and more
exclusively. It may also include violent sexual acts or other
unusual behavior, such as sex with animals. Hard-core pornography is
more likely to be considered obscene.
Although the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the
right of free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court has always stated that
obscenity is not protected because obscenity is not speech. Over the
years, the Supreme Court has struggled to define obscenity.
In the 1973 case of Miller v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court
issued a legal definition of obscenity, which is the standard still
used today. The court found that a writing or picture, when taken as
a whole, is legally obscene if:
• it appeals to a prurient—lascivious or lustful—interest in sex
• it offends the standards of the community in which it appears
• it has no serious literary, artistic, political, educational, or
If materials are legally obscene, then laws that ban their sale can
be constitutionally upheld. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that a person could privately possess obscene material without
committing a crime. But in 1990, the court ruled that private
possession of child pornography is illegal and is not protected by
the US. Constitution. Child pornography depicts children in sexual
poses or engaged in sexual activity.
This controversy concerning whether sexually explicit material can
be banned grows out of the 1873 Comstock Act that made it illegal to
transmit any "obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecently filthy, or vile
article" through the U.S. mail. The censorship that Anthony Comstock
imposed on American society has had long-lasting and far-reaching
The Supreme Court definition of obscenity remains vague in many
ways. It continues to be challenged by people who advocate complete,
unrestricted freedom of speech, and it is challenged by people who
want greater restrictions.
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