Porn Through the Ages

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When someone says the word pornography, what jumps to mind first? For most people we would think that the first thing you think of is explicit movies and clips on the internet. Although that is where our minds go first, most of us remember a time before the internet when VHS tapes and magazines were the most common places to find porn. What came before that? How far back does pornographic imagery go? You may be surprised.

One of the oldest representations of the naked human body ever found is a four-inch statue called “The Venus of Willendorf”. This statue was found on the banks of the Danube River in Austria and is estimated to be more than 25,000 years old. The figure represents a curvy female body with large breasts, full hips, and detailed genitalia. Obviously we have no way of knowing if this piece was created for a particular reason or if the artist simply enjoyed full-figured woman but it is very representative of later erotic art.

Jumping ahead in time we find the ancient Greeks and Romans depicting a wide range of sexual acts. There are examples of a variety of art forms from stone carvings and statues to frescos and pottery that show heterosexual, homosexual, and even group sex. Some would hesitate to call this art pornographic however the definition of pornography is any printed or visual material that is intended to sexually stimulate. We look back on these works with a historic perspective but at the time they were probably very stimulating. One of the largest collections of this type of material comes from the excavations at Pompeii. Pompeii was a city of around 11,000 people near Naples in Italy. It was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. The fact that it was buried under nearly 20 feet of ash and pumice means that it was remarkably preserved for how old it is. In fact it was so well buried that the site was lost for over 1500 years. It was rediscovered in 1599 however real exploration of the site didn’t happen until 1748 when Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre, a Spanish engineer started working on the site. As they excavated the site they filled the voids where bodies used to be with plaster, this showed the exact position of the individuals when they died. They also discovered many skeletons like these of two lovers holding each other as they went. 

The other thing they found a lot of was erotic art. The bath houses and private homes were decorated with paintings and sculptures of heterosexual, homosexual, group sex, and even beastiality. One of the most famous statues is of the god Pan engaging in sexual relations with a goat. 

Many people will argue that these pieces are not porn but a higher form of art however if think of porn as it is defined,  “Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic feelings,” then these very graphic images found in bedrooms and bath houses seem more like porn than anything else.

Around the same time period in India there were teachings being shared that covered many aspects of human sexuality. During the third or fourth century (no one is really sure an exact date) a Hindu sage named Vatsyayana Wrote down these teaching in the Kama Sutra. Translating to “ A treatise on pleasure” the book is a guide to not only sex positions but on how to get and keep a wife and how to live a good life. The main premise of the book is that in order for a relationship to be happy both partners must be well versed in the arts of pleasure. Although the first copies of the material did not include illustrations later ones did and they were very  graphic.

The book was originally written as a guide however over the years the imagery has caused quite a stir among those more conservative individuals and was deemed obscene at several points in history. Today there are countless translations and interpretations including posters, playing cards and board games. So if you are interested in ancient Indian sexual teachings then it should not be hard to get your hands on it.

Taking another leap in time takes us to 1440 and the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. This allowed the written word to be mass-produced for the first time. The first book Gutenberg printed was the christian bible but it didn’t take long for dirty stories to find their way into print shops. The most infamous was probably Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasurewhich was later known as Fanny Hill written  in 1749 by John Cleland. This novel with it’s graphic sex scenes depicting bisexuality, voyeurism, group sex and masochism was deemed “the lewdest thing I’ve ever seen” by a bishop of the time. It will probably not surprise you learn that the author and the publisher were both arrested soon after publishing it. The book was labeled obscene and banned until 1966 in the United States.

The written word dominated the erotic world until 1839 when the daguerreotype was introduced. This early version of photography was achieved by coating highly polished silver plates with a silver amalgam and exposing it to light. As you can imagine this was an expensive and time-consuming process. The subjects in those early photos had to stay motionless for up to a minute eve on sunny days. These hurdles however didn’t stop enterprising photographers from producing erotic pictures. The oldest known sexual daguerreotype is from 1846 and pictures “a rather solemn man gingerly inserting his penis into the vagina of an equally solemn middle-aged woman.” Although that does sound very erotic to us at the time it would have been a huge deal. Pornographic photographs only became more common and more erotic as time went on and are still a big part of the porn industry.

The next big turning point was the early 1900s and the invention of movies. Again it didn’t take long for someone to figure out that there was a market for what were later known as stag films. These films were illegal and smuggled around the country by traveling salesmen. They were popular for bachelor parties, frat parties, and any other gatherings of men. The Kinsey Institute estimate that around 2000 stag films were made from 1915 and 1968.

Obscene movies were still illegal until the Supreme Court case Miller vs. California lessen the definition of what obscene meant therefore opening the door to today’s porn industry. Pornographic movies became more available however they were mostly shown in larger theaters and not able to be viewed in your home. 1976 changed that because that was the year VCR’s became available. JVC released its VHC technology and it was immediately used to view porn. In fact it is estimated that in 1978 less than 1% of americans had a VCR however of the tapes sold 75% were pornographic. Porn could now legally be produced and sold and viewed in the privacy of your own home, the industry has never looked back.

VCR’s and DVD’s were king until the early 90’s when the World Wide Web went live. The first porn sites showed up in 1994. The first sites were just photos because the connection speeds were so slow but as the technology got faster the available amount of porn at your fingertips has grown exponentially. In fact today you can find just about anything you want including everything from history. Look and you shall find!

Hugs

Dragonfly Love