hether pornography has any sig-nificant harmful effects on con-sumers continues to be a contro-versial issue, not only for averagecitizens but also for behavioralscientists. This is not surprising inlight of the fact that two nationalcommissions--the Majority Report of the 1970Presidential Commission on Obscenity andPornography and the 1986 Attorney General'sCommission on Pornography--came to diamet-rically opposed conclusions about this matter.Some social commentators claim thatpornography is mainly a form of entertainment,possibly educational, sometimes sexuallyarousing, but essentially harmless. Or, theyclaim, at the very least, that there is no goodscientific evidence of harm. Other social com-mentators claim more dire consequences andgive as examples recent cases, played up by themedia, of sex-murderers who have claimed thatpornography "made them do it."
Defining Pornographyand Obscenity
o ascertain something about pornogra-phy's effects, we first need to define it.The word "pornography" comes fromthe Greek words "porno" and "graphia" mean-ing "depictions of the activities of whores." Incommon parlance, it usually means "materialthat is sexually explicit and intended primarilyfor the purpose of sexual arousal.""Obscenity," however, is a legal term whichwas defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in its1973
Miller v. California
decision. For some-thing to be found obscene, and therefore unpro-tected by the First Amendment, a judge or a jury representing a cross section of the commu-nity must determine that the material:
Taken as a whole, appeals to a prurient(sick, morbid, shameful, or lascivious) interestin sex;
Depicts sexual conduct in a patently offen-sive manner (i.e., goes beyond contemporarycommunity standards with regards to depic-tions of sexual content or activity); and
Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary,artistic, political, and scientific value.
he material has to meet
all three tests
before it can be found obscene in theeyes of the law and its distribution pro-hibited. This means that something could beregarded as "pornographic" but still not beobscene, such as an explicit sex film producedand used to teach medical students about humansexuality, or a film or book with serious artisticand/or literary value which has some explicitsexual content.Thus, the Supreme Court has protected a widevariety of sexual matter in movies, books, maga-zines and in other formats from being prohibitedfor sale and exhibition to adults (there is astricter standard with respect to minors). Underthe
test, however, the distribution of pornographic material which is obscene, such asmost of what has been called "hardcore," can beprohibited and penalties proscribed.The distribution of obscenity is prohibited onthe federal level and on the state level in over 40states. While enforcement of obscenity laws hasincreased in recent years, particularly at the fed-eral level, enforcement is at best sporadic inmany parts of the nation.This lack of enforcement, especially at thestate and local levels, may be attributable, inpart, to the view of many people and, in particu-lar, public officials that pornography is essen-tially harmless or, at the least, that there is
littleor no real evidence of harm.
Pornography's Effects OnAdults and Children
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Victor B. Cline earned his Ph.D.at the University of California,Berkeley and is presently a psy-chotherapist specializing in fami-ly/marital counseling and sexualaddictions. He is also ProfessorEmeritus of Psychology at theUniversity of Utah, Salt LakeCity, Utah,president of Marriage &Family Enrich-ment (a nation-wide seminargroup) andauthor/editorof numerousscientific arti-cles and books,including thebook, "Where Do You Draw theLine? Explorations in Media Vio-lence, Pornography, and Censor-ship."Great appreciation is expressedfor permission to use materialsfrom Dr. Cline's presentation atthe National Family FoundationWorkshop, Pittsburgh, PA, Nov.1990; in the book "Media: Chil-dren and the Family;" Dolf Zill-mann et al (eds.), New Jersey: L.Erlbaum & Assoc. (1993); andfrom his article in "The World &I" (Dec. 1992).
By Dr. Victor B. Cline
In common parlance, it (pornography) usually means "material that is sexually explicit and intended primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal."