Pornography Then and Now

We've Been Making Porn Since the Stone Age

Pornography seems to have been part of human life since prehistoric humans started doing cave paintings in the Stone Age hundreds of thousands of years ago.

But it only came to be called "pornography" by the Victorians in the 1800s, in just the last couple hundred years, when sexual depictions began to be seen as taboo. Before that, for thousands of years, sexual depictions in paintings, sculpture, music and writing weren't generally thought to be "bad" or "immoral," and in some cases may even have been part of religious practices.

Wikipedia's " history of erotic depictions" is enough to confirm that pornography has been around for a very long time. Today, according to the Wikipedia entry: "the Internet [is] the preferred source of pornography for many people, offering both privacy in viewing and the chance to interact with people."

'The Internet Is For Porn'

So goes the saying.

As Jason Byassee wrote for Christian Century way back in 2007, today's Internet pornography is not your father's pornography: "Today's porn is not the naughty deck of playing cards your great uncle owned." Byassee describes a world in which pornography is everywhere in mainstream culture, so much so that we've become desensitized to it.

Indeed, porn consumes a huge amount of Internet bandwidth, more than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined. Numbers differ, depending on the source, but you can generally find that there's some truth behind the saying that "the Internet is for porn."

'As Long as People Are Not Being Exploited...'

In an article published by the Bangkok Post in 2010 (" The Importance of Porn"), the author wrote: "I would be hesitant about imposing any controls on Internet porn. [...] As long as people are not being exploited, it matters little to me what others choose to do with themselves and their sexuality."

This is really what it comes down to: The criminal law seeks to prevent people from being exploited-especially children-when it comes to Internet pornography. At the same time, Internet pornography (and the sex industry as a whole) has a right to exist within the context of American freedom and individual liberty.

The tension between what is "obscene" and exploitative and what is legal and permissible is what leads to new criminal sexual offenses. Some of these laws make sense. Others, like charging teens for child porn related to "sexting," simply don't.

Our interest in Internet pornography-like sex itself-is here to stay. The tough part is figuring out how to uphold our sense of justice and fairness when the government accuses us of crossing a line that should not have been crossed.