PornHub is the world’s largest pornography platform, according to their own analytics by the end of 2016 PornHub had amassed over 23 billion page views, over 64 million each day. Enough that every single person on the planet could have watched three videos on the platform each. That’s not the viewership distribution though and the vast majority of that traffic came from the United States. Which makes it pretty hard to believe that just under 50 years ago pornography was illegal in the United States. Once that changed though congress formed the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, issued a report on the possible impact of legal pornography and the report itself contained enough pornographic material that it was later sold as porn until the publisher was arrested for “conspiring to mail obscene material.”
In 1969 the Supreme Court case Stanley vs. Georgia determined that the “implied right to privacy” allowed adults to view whatever they wanted in the privacy of their own home. This move dramatically reshaped the place pornography held in American life. Once the decision came down many Americans felt that big changes were to come and President Lyndon Baines Johnson requested congress study the issue and they quickly formed the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.
The commission had a few explicitly laid out goals from the beginning. One was to discover “constitutional and definitional problems related to obscenity controls”. A clever way of saying how can we make porn illegal again. Another goal was to study the “traffic in and distribution of obscene and pornographic materials.” Which also could have been called where are those damn kids getting their titty mags. Finally the commission looked into “the effects of such material, particularly on youth, and their relationship with crime and other antisocial conduct.” That one basically speaks for itself, but congress clearly felt that porn was going to turn the youth into a bunch of rapists and criminals.
The commission was made up of numerous professionals from various fields, faith leaders, and members of congress. The commission came up with various suggestions, none of which the Nixon administration agreed with when they were presented with them. Much like the Johnson administration Nixon and company had a preconceived notion as to what the impact of legalizing porn was and the commission’s report did not live up to those expectations.
The commission found “there was no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youths or adults.” They also found “a majority of Americans believe that adults should be allowed to read or see any sexual materials they wish.” Furthermore the commission found that there was no clear reason to believe that keeping such products illegal would prevent people from getting them and that there was “no evidence that exposure to explicit sexual materials adversely affects character or moral attitudes.” The commission also requested a scientific study on similar situations and Berl Kutchinsky found in his report Studies on Pornography and Sex Crimes in Denmark (1970) that there was no discernible link to pornography and sex crimes.
Congress and the president went into the report trying to confirm a set of beliefs and in the process the study shattered those beliefs, but that didn’t stop congress from rejecting the finding. In the end the senate voted 60-5 with 34 abstentions to reject the aforementioned findings. President Richard Nixon who became president during the commission’s study also rejected the report. Despite that rejection, the law of the land had changed which allowed for the proliferation of the report itself which actually contained a fair amount of explicit material.
Explicit material which plenty of people were willing to buy and in an ironic twist the Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography was one of the first products in the newly unregulated pornography market. A science fiction and erotic fiction writer named Earl Kemp published an illustrated edition of the report. It wasn’t long until the feds caught wind and arrested Kemp and his publisher, sentencing them both to one year in jail, of which they each served the minimum sentence of three months and one day.
Some 50 years later American’s watch 221 pornographic videos a year per capita. Pornography is a billion dollar industry and with such pornographic saturation the findings President Johnson sought out is pretty clearly false. It’s not surprising to the average person living in the modern world, but that’s because in a world where PornHub is one of the world’s most popular websites it is incredibly easy to forget that less than 50 years ago people went to jail for publishing illustrations of pornographic acts described in a congressional report.
Which is pretty crazy considering how easily accessible porn is today.