The words pornography, obscenity, and erotica — and the emotions they evoke — create an endless debate which quickly twists into confusion when terms are vague and law is complex.
Pornography, from the Greek for “writing about prostitutes,” is defined as writings and pictures intended primarily to arouse sexual desire. Erotica is slightly different: books and pictures of or arousing sexual feelings or desires; having to do with sensual love. Obscene is defined as offensive to one’s feelings, or to prevailing notions of decency or modesty; lewd; disgusting or repulsive.
All expression, in general, is protected by the First Amendment. Obscene materials are exceptions, as are libel and slander. Since Miller v. California (413 U.S. 5, 1973), the test for obscenity is:
a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community (local) standards (these are decided by juries), would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient (lustful) interest;
b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and
c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
This is a restriction of our first amendment rights. Also it is an expansion of the older “redeeming social value” test. It means stricter standards can be imposed on material sold to juveniles, importation of obscenity is regulated, the creation of child pornography is made illegal. And it means that your state cannot bar you from buying Anaïs Nin or Fanny Hill. Objections to the decision revolve around the case-by-case adjudication issue; there is no hard and fast rule to follow, no clear and present danger test as there is with freedom of speech cases.
A little freedom is a dangerous thing. As Americans we are at liberty to buy a recording of “Slave Whipping” (that’s one where she throws the wrist bar on him); we have the right to protest the corner theater showing “Nazi Nancy”; and constitutionally, we have the freedom to decide for ourselves. Our privileges all have restrictions — my right to swing stops where your nose begins — and debate is a righteous freedom.