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A Brief History of Porn

In the 20th Century, the rights of adults to view adult-oriented material have been hotly debated in the media, all levels of government and organized religion. Dramatic changes in the public attitude toward explicit material have been driven by a loosening of restrictive moral strictures, an acceptance of sexual fantasy as healthy and by the spread of these materials throughout the media. 


Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine was one of the first to take adult material into the mainstream. In 1953 he obtained a calendar photo of Marilyn Munroe for $500 and featured it in his first issue, selling more than 50,000 copies on the newsstands. The second anniversary issue of Playboy sold 400,000 copies. Many imitators followed, the most notable of which were Penthouse and Hustler. These magazines definitely pushed the envelope for explicit photography and content. They were also sometimes considered degrading to women.

By the mid 60's stars like Jane Fonda, Shirley McLean and Elizabeth Taylor had appeared in Playboy. In 1971 Hefner's worth was pegged at $168 million, and in 1973 Roger Ebert wrote a profile for Esquire Magazine of Hefner's daughter Christie when she became the Chief Executive Officer of the Playboy empire.

Magazines catering to a gay clientele were clearly in evidence by the 1950's. After Dark, published in New York was a glossy entertainment magazine that featured lengthy articles and tastefully revealing photographs on choreographers, dancers and handsome young actors in the early stages of their careers. Robby Benson and Jean Michael Vincent are just two of many who were featured.

On the opposite coast, in Los Angeles, Physique Pictorial also began in the 50's. Muscular young men in "athletic" or playful poses filled its pages. Photographers such as Van Gloeden and William Day published portfolios of frankly erotic photographs. In the 1970s gay pornographic magazines took their places on newsstands. Of course gay men read them only for the articles!

Adult Movies

Movie loops and underground film footage were in wide circulation in both the straight and gay communities by mid-century; however by the early 70s mainstream films such as Deep Throat, starring Linda Lovelace and Behind The Green Door, starring Marylyn Chambers took pornographic movies into the mainstream. Male stars such as John Holmes and Harry Reams received notice for their own unique talents. In recent times, porn stars Ron Jeremy and Traci Lords have crossed over into mainstream films and television. Sexual themes, plot lines and images have now become common in all of the mainstream media.


The advent of the videocassette recorder in the late 1970's caused a sea-change in the adult movie world. The VCR allowed millions of consumers who would never be caught dead in a porn theater to enjoy adult films in the privacy of their own homes. The adult video industry exploded. Today, over 10,000 new DVD titles a year are released, a star system has developed and there are industry associations, trade fairs, and a multitude of publications and guides to the adult film world.

The Internet

The development of viable personal computers in the early 1980's started the revolution we enjoy today. Color monitors with improved screen resolution and greater graphics capabilities coincided with the development of File Transfer Protocols, which allowed files to be transferred between computers using a remarkable piece of hardware called a modem. Despite the fact that the early modems were slow, and the transfer of large files over long distance lines was expensive, the earliest computer bulletin boards were a huge success. The Bulletin Board Services (BBS's) became a repository for large numbers of explicit images scanned in by willing contributors.

In 1989 a computer scientist named Timothy Berners-Lee created a set of protocols for linking documents that would allow personal computers to talk to each other. He called it HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language and it was the single most important milestone on the road to the World Wide Web. Because of the need to be able to move around between and inside a website, the first Web browsers appeared in 1991. Then came Mosaic, a browser that allowed more than one type of information to appear on the screen at the same time, combining graphics, text color and sound.

The need to broaden the reach of the Net became quickly apparent. Universities and governments operated the first servers and access to the Web was very limited. Soon more and more commercial servers opened up, allowing customers with PCs to access other PCs via the growing Net.

In 1994 the development and mass marketing of Netscape Navigator boosted the number of Internet users to 2 million. Individuals and businesses began realizing the potential of the Internet and started setting up their own sites. In the mid to late nineties, Internet traffic grew exponentially.

By the late 1990's large and small advertisers were spending billions a year on Internet advertising. Advertising of adult sites represented a significant percentage of that amount, demonstrating the economic potential of the Net. Pornographers made early use of online shopping mechanisms such as catalogues and credit card use, monthly site fees and provision of extensive free material as a lure for potential customers. In just a few years, the Internet changed the way we all interact with the world.

We applaud the operators of porn sites for their early recognition of the Internet's potential, their creativity and their willingness to portray frank sexuality in all its many facets.

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