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
John Stagliano is a wealthy entrepreneur, a self-made man whose rise to the top could happen only in America. Raised in a conservative, Midwestern household, Stagliano read the books of Ayn Rand and was greatly influenced by their heroes, rugged individualists willing to defy conventional opinion. He attended the University of California--Los Angeles hoping to become a professor of economics. Instead, he studied modern dance, struggled to find work as an actor, became one of the original Chippendale dancers, performed occasionally in hard-core films, and used the prize money won during a cable television strip contest to finance and direct a porn film of his own.
Today, Stagliano is the nation's leading director of hard-core videos, a porn auteur whose distinctive cinema verite style of filmmaking has been widely imitated. His videos cost about $8,000 to produce--and often earn him 30 times that amount. Stagliano shoots without a crew, edits the films himself, and performs in them. He also is a major contributor to the Cato Institute, a well-known think tank in Washington, D.C., where he regularly discusses policy issues with its economists.
Stagliano's company, Evil Angel Video, has become a veritable United Artists of porn, distributing the work of other top directors. Evil Angel sold about half a million videos last year. At its modern Southern California warehouse, hundreds of VCRs, stacked floor to ceiling, run 24 hours a day, five days a week, churning out copies of hard-core films.
A great deal has been written about pornography, both pro and con. A new movie about the life of Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, has once again raised the issue of pornography and the First Amendment. But much less attention has been given to the underlying economics of porn, to porn as a commodity, the end product of a modern industry that arose in this country after the Second World War and has grown enormously ever since.
Critics of the sex industry have long attacked it for being "un-American"--and yet there is something quintessentially American about it: the heady mix of sex and money, the fortunes quickly made and lost, the new identities assumed and then discarded, the public condemnations of a private obsession. Largely fueled by loneliness and frustration, the sex industry has been transformed from a minor subculture on the fringes of society into a major component of American popular culture.
Meese formation. More than a decade ago, Attorney General Edwin Meese III's Commission on Pornography issued its controversial report, asserting that sexually explicit materials were harmful and calling for strict enforcement of the federal obscenity laws. The report prompted President Ronald Reagan to launch one of the most far-reaching assaults on porn in the nation's history, a campaign that continued under President George Bush. Hundreds of producers, distributors, and retailers in the sex industry were indicted and convicted. Many were driven from the business and imprisoned.
The Reagan-Bush war on pornography coincided, however, with a dramatic increase in America's consumption of sexually explicit materials. According to Adult Video News, an industry trade publication, the number of hard-core-video rentals rose from 75 million in 1985 to 490 million in 1992. The total climbed to 665 million, an all-time high, in 1996. Last year Americans spent more than $8 billion on hard-core videos, peep shows, live sex acts, adult cable programming, sexual vices, computer porn, and sex magazines--an amount much larger than Hollywood's domestic box office receipts and larger than all the revenues generated by rock and country music recordings. Americans now spend more money at strip clubs than at Broadway, off-Broadway, regional, and nonprofit theaters; at the opera, the ballet, and jazz and classical music performances--combined.
Porn has become so commonplace in recent years that one can easily forget how strictly it was prohibited not long ago. The sociologist Charles Winick has noted that the sexual content of American culture changed more in two decades than it had in the previous two centuries. Twenty-five years ago, a federal study of pornography estimated that the total retail value of all the hard-core porn in the United States was no more than $10 million, and perhaps less than $5 million.
During the 1980s, the advent of adult movies on videocassette and on cable television, as well as the huge growth in telephone sex services, shifted the consumption of porn from seedy movie theaters and bookstores into the home. As a result, most of the profits being generated by porn today are being earned by businesses not traditionally associated with the sex industry--by mom and pop video stores; by long-distance carriers like AT&T; by cable companies like Time Warner and Tele-Communications Inc; and by hotel chains like Marriott, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn that now reportedly earn millions of dollars each year supplying adult films to their guests. America's porn has become one more of its cultural exports, dominating overseas markets. Despite having some of the toughest restrictions on sexually explicit materials of any Western industrialized nation, the United States is now by far the world's leading producer of porn, churning out hard-core videos at the astonishing rate of about 150 new titles a week.
Parallel universe. In the San Fernando Valley of Southern California, near Universal City and the Warner Bros. back lot, an X-rated-movie industry has emerged, an adult dream factory, with its own studios, talent agencies, and stars, its own fan clubs and film critics. Perhaps three quarters of the hard-core films made in the United States today come from Los Angeles County. Sound stages, editing facilities, and printing plants are tucked away in middle- and working-class neighborhoods, amid a typical Southern California landscape of palm trees, shopping malls, car washes, and fast-food joints. You could hardly choose a more unexceptional spot for the world capital of porn.
Nevertheless, strange things are happening in the valley, behind closed doors. Every few weeks, in the upscale suburb of Sherman Oaks, there's an open casting call at the industry's top talent agency. Scores of young men and women crowd its small offices, undressing for producers and directors who audition promising newcomers and inspect them for tattoos. At the sleek headquarters of an adult-film company in Chatsworth, the hallways are lined with autographed basketball and hockey jerseys, expensively framed. There is not an obscene image in sight. It could be the headquarters of ESPN. In addition to hard-core videos, the company's state-of-the-art, $30 million duplicating equipment also copies videos for government agencies and local church groups. At a factory in Panorama City, near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, shelves are lined with plaster casts of the buttocks and genitalia of famous porn stars. The casts are used to make sexual devices, lifelike reproductions packaged with celebrity endorsements. A rival L.A. company sells a plastic, inflatable woman that speaks with an English accent. The factory calls to mind the set of a science fiction movie: Wires peek from battery-powered devices; metal cages on the floor are filled with rubber body parts.
The distribution of sexually explicit material has become intensely competitive. Hundreds of companies now produce and distribute hard-core films, selling them to wholesalers and retailers and directly to consumers. Videotape has lowered production costs so much, according to one industry executive, that the only barriers to entry today are "a sense of embarrassment and the lack of a good lawyer." The availability of hard-core films on home video has forced adult theaters out of business in cities nationwide. Los Angeles once had more than 30 adult theaters; today it has perhaps six. The number of adult bookstores has also declined, though not so precipitously. The bookstores are supported mainly by their peep booths, which at some locations now allow a customer to watch five hard-core videos simultaneously on dual TV screens, demanding a new quarter every 20 seconds.
Although the sex industry in Southern California is booming, most of the revenues generated by hard-core videos are going to mainstream video stores. The consolidation of the retail video business, marked by the growth of national chains like Blockbuster, has put enormous pressure on mom and pop video stores. Faced with competition from superstores, independent retailers have turned to renting and selling hard-core porn as a means of attracting customers. This marketing strategy has been made possible by Blockbuster's refusal to carry X-rated material and by the higher profit margins of hard-core videos. A popular Hollywood movie on videotape, such as Pulp Fiction, may cost the retailer $60 or more per tape and rent for $3 a night. A new hard-core release, by comparison, may cost $20 per tape and rent for $4 a night. Some mom and pop video stores now derive a third of their income from porn. According to Paul Fishbein, editor of Adult Video News, there are approximately 25,000 video stores that rent and sell hard-core films--almost 20 times the number of adult bookstores.
Economies of scale. The spread of hard-core videos into mainstream channels of distribution has fueled a tremendous rise in the production of porn. Since 1991, the number of new hard-core titles released each year has increased by 500 percent. The falling cost of video equipment has attracted more and more filmmakers to the business. In 1978, perhaps 100 hard-core feature films were produced, at a typical cost in today's dollars of about $350,000. Last year, nearly 8,000 new hard-core videos were released, some costing just a few thousand dollars to produce. Wholesale prices have been driven down by this flood of product. A market once characterized by a relatively undifferentiated product has segmented into various niches, with material often aimed at narrowly defined audiences.
Hard-core videos now cater to almost every conceivable predilection--and to some that are difficult to imagine. There are gay videos and straight videos; bondage videos and spanking videos; tickling videos, interracial videos, and videos like Count Footula for people whose fetish is feet. There are "she-male" videos featuring transsexuals and "cat fighting" videos in which naked women wrestle one another or join forces to beat up naked men. There are hard-core videos for senior citizens, for sadomasochists, for people fond of verbal abuse. The sexual fantasies being sold in this country are far too numerous to list. America's sex industry today offers a textbook example of how a free market can efficiently gear production to meet consumer demand.
Men are by far the largest consumers of porn. Most of the hard-core material being sold depicts sexuality from a traditional male perspective, with women's bodies as the central focus, little subtlety, and an emphasis on the mechanics of sex. Some American women, however, are consuming a good deal of hard-core material. During the late 1980s, a survey by Redbook magazine, famous for its recipes and household tips, found that almost half of its readers regularly watched pornographic movies in the privacy of their homes. And a recent survey by the Advocate, a leading gay magazine, found that 54 percent of its lesbian readers had watched an X-rated video in the previous 12 months.
Valley girls. The offices of Vivid Video are in Van Nuys, Calif., the epicenter of the sex industry. Located in the middle of the San Fernando Valley and founded with the slogan "The Town That Started Right," Van Nuys has long been known as a solid middle-class community, home to the "Valley girls" whose distinctive idiom is often parodied. Great Western Litho, which prints the box covers for hard-core videos, is now one of the town's largest employers, along with Hewlett-Packard and Anheuser-Busch. The Mid-Valley Chamber of Commerce never mentions in its community guide that hard-core videos are one of the area's major exports. And yet from an inconspicuous set of buildings, across the street from a quiet residential block, Vivid Video has become one of the two or three leading adult-film companies in the world by adapting the old Hollywood studio system to the mass production of porn.
Steven Hirsch, the founder and president of Vivid, has long hair, a good tan, a firm handshake, and a brand-new black Ferrari parked outside his office. As he talks about pay-per-view buy rates, brand recognition, and foreign licensing rights, he seems no different from the aggressive young Hollywood executives a few miles to the south. He started his company in 1984, at the age of 23. He thought that all porn films looked alike--and that he could make better ones. He signed actresses to exclusive contracts, heavily promoted his stars as the "Vivid Girls," and put them in films aimed at couples, with dialogue and a plot. His formula soon proved a success.
In addition to creating a sex-star system, Hirsch has made Vivid one of the top hard-core film companies--along with VCA Pictures, Leisure Time, and Metro--by exploiting new avenues of distribution. Vivid's films appear on Playboy's cable channel, and in partnership with Playboy, Vivid has launched a new pay-per-view cable service called AdultVision. It offers porn films 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Adult movies on pay-per-view have become a large source of profits for cable companies; a "cash cow," one executive told Variety. When an adult film is sold on pay-per-view, the cable operator typically gets to keep 70 percent of the revenue.
Last year, Americans spent more than $150 million ordering adult movies on pay-per-view. Most of that money was earned by the nation's major cable companies: Time Warner, Continental Cablevision, Cablevision Systems Corp., and TeleCommunications Inc. The porn services like AdultVision and its main competitor, the Spice Channel, often attract more viewers than channels offering Hollywood movies. Some of the adult services give cable operators 5 percent of the revenues gained by selling various products that are advertised between porn films. There are cable companies that rank in the Fortune 500 that now earn money through the sale of love oils and lingerie.
Even larger revenues are being earned by companies that offer adult films in hotels. Last year guests spent about $175 million to view porn in their rooms at major hotel chains such as Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn. Few hotels have refused to carry adult material on their pay-per-view systems. Whenever a guest orders an adult movie through pay-per-view, the hotel gets a cut of up to 20 percent.
Hirsch also sells the foreign distribution rights to Vivid's films, sometimes covering the entire cost of a production through an overseas sale. Canal Plus, one of France's biggest cable companies, broadcasts two hard-core Vivid movies every month, which earn some of the channel's highest ratings. European countries tend to have much looser standards about nudity on television and much tougher restrictions on violence. In Germany, films like Rambo and RoboCop cannot be broadcast on television or rented in video stores by anyone under the age of 18--and yet German pay cable service offers extremely hard-core films. Although the French sex industry is growing, American porn dominates overseas markets.
In order to meet domestic and overseas commitments, Vivid shoots eight new hard-core movies a month, half on video, half on 16-mm film, with an average budget of $80,000. "We're like a big machine," Hirsch says. Logistical nightmares are common: Screenplays fail to arrive on time; performers don't show up on the set.
Hirsch says his job is not as exciting as some people think: "You spend half your day on the phone selling product and the other half of the day collecting for it." He also believes there's nothing wrong with being in the porn business; indeed, he grew up in it. Hirsch's father is a former stockbroker who started his own adult-film company and put his teenage kids to work in the warehouse during summer vacations. Hirsch's sister is now the head of production at Vivid.
Nina Hartley is the stage name of a well-known porn star whose career in the sex industry has lasted more than a decade. Hartley grew up in Berkeley, considers herself a radical feminist, and comes from a long line of American rebels. She says that her grandfather (a physics professor) and her father (a radio announcer) were members of the Communist Party. Raised as a feminist to distrust the male gaze, Hartley secretly fantasized about dancing naked. After graduating magna cum laude with a nursing degree from San Francisco State, she decided to become a porn star. Since the early 1980s, she has appeared in more than 300 hard-core films. She is a proud exhibitionist. For the past 14 years, she has lived in a stable, triangular relationship with her husband--a former member of the campus radical group Students for a Democratic Society--and another woman. "Nina Hartley" is a deliberate creation of theirs, a larger-than-life persona designed to show that a woman can be strong and sexually autonomous.
Fear of sex? "For all the lip service we give to sex being holy and wonderful and spiritual," Hartley says, "we let Madison Avenue use it to sell spark plugs and dishwashing detergent--to sell anything but sex." She thinks a great deal of today's porn is not only misogynous but misanthropic, treating men with disrespect. It is a disposable commodity, reflecting the culture's deep fear of sex. "The people who run the porn business are not sex radicals," she notes, with regret; their sex lives at home tend to be extremely conventional. "You'd be surprised how many of the producers and manufacturers are Republicans."
Some women are drawn to the sex industry because they're exhibitionists who love the sex and the stardom. Most are attracted by the money. One well-known porn star put herself through law school by acting in hard-core films; others have saved their earnings, invested well, and then quit. But many are drawn to the industry by drug habits and self-loathing. For these women, hard-core videos become a permanent record of the most degrading moments of their life.
There is a constant demand for new talent, and few actresses last more than a year or two. Hartley warns new performers to avoid overexposure. A woman's pay is largely based on her novelty. Hundreds of women are constantly entering and exiting the industry. As in Hollywood, the demand is greatest for actresses in their late teens and early 20s.
Sexually transmitted diseases are one of the industry's occupational hazards. Performers are now required to undergo monthly HIV testing, and their test results serve as a passport for work. A number of producers insist upon the use of condoms during especially high-risk activity; the majority of producers don't. A leading actor with AIDS could in a matter of days spread the virus to many other performers. Because such an epidemic has not yet struck the porn community, many performers question the prevailing wisdom about AIDS and how it is spread. Behind these doubts lies a great deal of fear, denial, and wishful thinking. Drawing upon her experience as a registered nurse, Hartley has published a set of "Health and Hygiene Tips for Adult Performers."
Attempts to form a union for sex workers have met with little success. Most of the performers, according to Hartley, are "eighties kids" who want to be rich and pay fewer taxes: "Solidarity? Brotherhood? Sisterhood? Ha!" Verbal contracts are routinely made and broken, by producers and performers. Checks sometimes bounce. The borderline legal status of the industry makes performers reluctant to seek redress in court.
The highest-paid performers, the actresses with exclusive contracts, earn between $80,000 and $100,000 a year for doing about 20 sex scenes and making a dozen or so personal appearances. Only a handful of actresses--perhaps 10 to 15--are signed to such contracts. Other leading stars are paid roughly $1,000 per scene. The vast majority of porn actresses are "B girls," who earn about $300 a scene. They typically try to do two scenes a day, four or five times a week. At the moment, there is an oversupply of women in Southern California hoping to enter the porn industry. Overtime is a thing of the past, and some newcomers will work for $150 a scene.
The dirty dozen. The actors in hard-core films serve mainly as props for the female performers. Leading actors earn less money than the top actresses but enjoy much longer careers. Most enter the business in order to have sex with a large variety of women. The men are valued primarily for their ability to perform on cue. Perhaps a dozen men consistently display that skill; some have now appeared in more than 1,000 hard-core films.
Hartley spends about half of her year on the road, dancing in strip clubs four to six nights a week. Like many porn actresses, that is how she earns the bulk of her income. The huge growth in the hard-core-video business during the 1980s coincided with the opening of large strip clubs all over the country. Hard-core videos now serve as a promotion for live performances. According to Rob Abner, a former analyst at E.F. Hutton who now publishes Stripper magazine, a trade journal, the number of major strip clubs in the United States roughly doubled between 1987 and 1992. Today there are about 2,500 of these clubs nationwide, with annual revenues ranging from $500,000 to more than $5 million at a well-run "gentlemen's club." The salaries of featured dancers have risen astronomically. The nation's top five or six porn actresses earn $15,000 to $20,000 a week to dance at strip clubs, doing four 20-minute shows each night. Another five or six porn actresses earn between $8,000 and $15,000 a week. Featured dancers are now paid, for the most part, according to the "credits" they have accumulated--their appearances in hard-core films, on video-box covers, in men's-magazine photo spreads. In the hierarchy of sex workers, strippers always used to look down at porn stars, viewing their work with distaste. Now strippers from all over the United States are flocking to Southern California and competing for roles in hard-core films.
The uncontrolled, and perhaps uncontrollable, nature of today's sex industry is best illustrated by the thriving trade in home-made hard-core videos. During the 1980s the camcorders advertised as a means of recording weddings, graduations, and a child's first steps were soon used to record sex. People began making and exchanging tapes of themselves in bed. An underground market arose for these crude but authentic sex tapes, and companies began to distribute them. Today anywhere from one fifth to one third of the hard-core videos being sold in the United States are classified as "amateur," featuring to some degree the work of nonprofessionals. Most of the companies that distribute amateur porn are located in Southern California. But there are hard-core amateur-video companies distributing tapes from Vandalia, Ohio, and Wentzville, Mo.; from Wichita, Kan., and Ronkonkoma, N.Y.; from Woodridge, Ill., and Chattanooga, Tenn. Americans who like to be watched and Americans who like to watch are now linked in a commerce worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The oldest, and one of the largest, amateur porn companies is based in San Diego, not far from the Salk Institute. Homegrown Video offers more than 500 different tapes of ordinary people having sex. The company's current owner, Tim Lake, is 31 years old and could easily pass for a drummer in a Seattle rock band. Lake and his wife, Alyssa, sift through the new tapes that arrive at their office each week from around the world. The people who appear in these videos are of every race, size, and shape. Their bodies are different from those seen in typical hard-core films, in which the performers often look like parodies of the reigning masculine and feminine ideals. People who send tapes to Homegrown hope to break into the porn business, or earn a little extra money, or show off. The company pays them $20 for every minute of video it uses; about half the tapes that Homegrown receives are eventually released in some form. In a sense, the company serves as a clearinghouse for the democracy of porn, supplying hard-core videos by the people, for the people.
Lake, whose real name is Farrell Timlake, was raised in Fairfield County, Conn. He attended prep schools in New Canaan and Kent, studied literature at the University of Washington, became a performance artist, met his wife at a rock club, and followed the Grateful Dead with her for years. The two have been together for more than a decade and have a young daughter. Lake was a porn star in Los Angeles before buying Homegrown, as was his wife. Lake's brother, who attended Exeter and Stanford, is now Homegrown's head of sales and has performed in its films.
In much the same way that hard-core films on videocassette were largely responsible for the rapid introduction of the VCR, porn on CD-ROM and on the Internet has hastened acceptance of these new technologies. Interactive adult CD-ROMs, such as Virtual Valerie and The Penthouse Photo Shoot, created interest in multimedia equipment among male computer buyers. The availability of sexually explicit material through computer bulletin board systems has drawn many users to the Internet. Porn companies have established elaborate Web sites to lure customers. But these new technologies have not yet become a major source of income for the sex industry. Most of the adult-film producers in Southern California--like their Hollywood counterparts--have been disappointed with their multimedia sales. Despite the vast quantities of porn available on the Internet, the revenues being generated are minuscule compared with the video trade. Nevertheless, distributing porn via the Net may yield large profits one day. Playboy's Web site, which offers free glimpses of its Playmates, now averages about 5 million hits a day.
Larry Flynt imagines a future in which the TV and the personal computer have merged. Americans will lie in bed, cruising the Internet with their remote controls--and ordering hard-core films at the punch of a button. The Internet promises to combine the video store's diversity of choices with the secrecy of purchases through the mail. The best example of how such "non-face-to-face transactions" will take place can be found in any recent issue of Hustler. Most of the ads, which cost $15,000 a page, are selling telephone sex.
Tough call. Telephone sex--considered simply one more form of "audiotext" by executives in the trade--became a huge business in the 1980s despite government efforts at regulation. Every night, between the peak hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., perhaps a quarter of a million Americans pick up the phone and dial a number for commercial phone sex. The average call lasts six to eight minutes, and the charges range from 89 cents to $4 a minute. According to the owner of one of America's largest "audiotext providers," three quarters of the callers are lonely hearts seeking conversation with a woman. The sexual content of the call is often of secondary importance. Some calls reach a recorded message, but most are answered by "actresses"--bank tellers, accountants, secretaries, and housewives earning a little extra money at the end of the day. The ease, anonymity, and interactive quality of phone sex explain its commercial success and its relevance to the future of the Internet. Last year Americans spent between $750 million and $1 billion on telephone sex.
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.
Bruce A. Taylor is president and chief counsel of the National Law Center for Children and Families, one of the leading supporters of the Communications Decency Act and of its provision banning information on abortion from the Internet. Taylor thinks that Flynt's prediction is absurd, that eliminating the nation's obscenity laws would be an unmitigated disaster. Taylor opposes hard-core porn because, he says, it degrades women, promotes rape, and thrives on prostitution--hiring people to have sex. He thinks most soft-core porn should be outlawed as well. Taylor warns Americans not to be fooled by Flynt: "Of course people in the business want to see it legalized!"
But Flynt's theory--that legalizing porn will eventually reduce the demand--may not be as outlandish as it seems. That is exactly what happened in Denmark a generation ago. In 1969, Denmark became the first nation in the world to rescind its obscenity laws, an act taken after much deliberation and study. According to Vagn Greve, director of the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Law at the University of Copenhagen, when the Danish obscenity law was overturned, there was a steep rise in the consumption of porn, followed by a long, steady decline. "Ever since then," he says, "the market for pornography has been shrinking." Porn sales remain high in Copenhagen mainly because of purchases by foreigners. Greve's colleague at the institute, the late Berl Kutchinsky, studied the effects of legalized pornography in Denmark for more than 25 years. In a survey of Copenhagen residents a few years after the "porno wave" had peaked, Kutchinsky found that most Danes regarded porn as being "uninteresting" and "repulsive." Less than a quarter of the population said they liked watching hard-core films. Subsequent research confirmed these findings. "The most common immediate reaction to a one-hour pornography stimulation," Kutchinsky concluded, "was boredom."
This story appears in the February 10, 1997 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.