The Business of Pornography
Most of the outsize profits being generated by pornography today are being earned by businesses not traditionally associated with the sex industry
AT&T is one of the biggest carriers of phone sex. In 1991, the FCC restricted the type of adult calls that could be made to numbers with a 900 prefix, banning "obscene communications for commercial purposes." But no such restrictions apply to overseas calls, which can easily be made from most telephones. Audiotext providers now make financial arrangements with foreign phone companies and route their phone-sex calls to "actresses" in the Dominican Republic, Aruba, the Marianas, Guyana, and Russia. Half of every dollar spent on one of these international sex calls goes to the domestic phone company; the foreign telephone company gets the other half, splitting its take with the phone-sex provider. Some phone-sex providers have started their own long-distance phone companies in order to cut the U.S. carrier out of the deal. The use of overseas calls for phone sex has been a boon to some foreign telephone companies. This new routing system helps explain why the annual volume of long-distance calls to the small African nation of Sao Tome recently increased from 40,000 minutes to 13 million minutes.
Online sex. The nation's obscenity laws and the Communications Decency Act are the greatest impediments to Flynt's brave new world of porn. Even he is shocked by some of the material he has obtained through the Internet. "Some of the stuff othere," he says, "I mean, I wouldn't even publish it." He supports the V-chip, which will soon give parents the ability to prevent their children from watching violent TV programming. And he thinks children should be strictly denied access to sexually explicit material. But Flynt believes that adults can safely read any book or see any movie without risk of being corrupted and that the obscenity laws are an insult to the intelligence of the American people.
Flynt has slowly, almost imperceptibly, made the sexual content of Hustler more explicit over the past few years. Its photo spreads are now right on the border between soft core and hard core. Readers have noticed the change and have sent letters asking if what they see is real. Flynt may soon cross the line and make Hustler hard core. His attorneys are not pleased with the idea. But Flynt is beginning to think about his legacy. The Supreme Court's 1988 decision in Larry Flynt v. Jerry Falwell extended constitutional protection to political satire. The infidel who once cursed the Supreme Court now seems almost old-fashioned in his yearning to set another legal precedent. "I have all the money I need now," Flynt says, "and I'm not really motivated by it anymore. The most important contribution I could make would be an end to the obscenity laws."
Flynt predicts that if the obscenity laws are rescinded, the amount of hard-core material sold in the United States will skyrocket--but not for long. Once the taboo is lifted, once porn loses the aura of a forbidden vice, people will lose interest in it. Within a decade of overturning the obscenity laws, he claims, the size of the American sex industry would decline to a fraction of what it is today.