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Obscenity and Pornography: Behavioral Aspects

Availability And Spread Of Pornography, Obscenity And Pornography Defined, Ideologies And Estimates Of Harm, Types Of Pornography For Research

Portrayals of sexuality have existed in virtually every society for which we have historical records. At the same time, virtually every society (Denmark being an exception) has called for at least some limits to sexual material, leading to precarious balances between free expression and social control.

Sex is a deep and mysterious part of human nature, being intimately linked to many aspects of human behavior, including those with the potential for good and the potential for evil. Some thinkers believe that pornographic or obscene portrayals provide insight into the nature of life and sexuality, while others contend that such portrayals cause moral and physical harm. For example, the Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (1970) concluded that pornography is largely harmless, whereas the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (1986) came to the opposite conclusion. The debate over the beneficial or harmful effects of pornography is as alive today as ever, and will probably never be fully resolved.

The controversy over the effects and meanings of pornography and obscenity is complicated by several factors that will be examined. First, many different types of sexual depictions are available, with each bearing different meanings and impact; furthermore, researchers disagree about which types are most prevalent in society. Some pornography contains substantial artistic value, while other material appeals predominantly to base prurient and aggressive emotions. Second, demonstrating effects has proved to be elusive because most of what we know is based on laboratory experiments rather than the real world, and the key concepts that govern research are unduly vague and elusive. Third, one's assessment of the impact of sexually oriented material is often at least somewhat dependent upon the political and moral values one brings to the table, and upon one's assumptions about human nature. The elusiveness of the concepts of research leave room for value judgments to enter one's assessment.

Finally, efforts to limit the availability of sexual materials have to be cognizant of constitutional limits that protect freedom of expression. Under the sway of the First Amendment in the United States, courts have attempted to balance free speech with the rights of the community to limit the most offensive and potentially harmful material.


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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law