A Brief History of Porn

by Andy Kay
June 19, 2013

From ancient, painted Chinese pottery to Roman frescoes, mankind has been all about porn since they learned how to draw. The following video is probably not how porn started, but there have been several examples of ancient erotic art (perhaps the most ancient) from England to Germany in Paleolithic caves. [1]


An ivory statuette of a well-endowed woman discovered in Germany suggests that humanity’s earliest art might have been of the erotic variety. Digging in a cave near Stuttgart last fall, an archeologist found the oldest figurine/sculpture of a naked woman. At about 35,000 years old, it makes one of the oldest sculptures ever discovered, not to mention the oldest pornographic item. The find came almost 100 years after the 1908 discovery in Austria of another figurine (of the goddess Venus) that was created almost 25,000 years ago. The Venus sculpture was made of stone and is more obviously a pornographic item as it has overly large breasts and a clearly carved vulva. [4]

The birthplace of modern pornography started in Rome, as printing became possible in the 1500s. In 1524, Marcantonio Raimondi printed sixteen sexually explicit engravings, created by artist Giulio Romano, called “I Modi.” The engravings were simply a man and a woman fucking in a variety of positions. Although today, no one would look twice, Pope Clement VIII jailed Raimondi in prison, where he remained for about a year. The founder of modern pornography negotiated his release. [2]

That founder of modern pornography was Pietro Aretino. He was bisexual, proclaimed himself a sodomite and apart from visual art, created erotic poetry and stories. He dodged the Papacy and the law almost his entire life, due to his less than wholesome words and in the end, he is said to have died of suffocation from “laughing too much.” [3]


300 years later, the invention of film made possible the first short movies. It took less than ten years after its invention for the first pornographic film to emerge. A French film titled Le Coucher De La Marie (1896) was the first pornographic film; it showed a couple having sex and the woman stripteasing. These films were a major leap forward for modern pornography; audiences could finally watch real people engaging in real sex acts as if they were there with them.

After pornographic films became common across the United States, the most important porn milestones crossed to get to where we are today were made over the space of 100 years.

1930, The New Tariff Act authorizes the courts to determine obscenity and removes this authority from the U.S. Post Office and U.S. customs department.

1952, Joseph Burstyn, Inc v Wilson; the U.S. Supreme Court decides that cinema is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

1957, Roth v United States, the U.S. Supreme Court repudiated the Hicklin Test and ruled that material was obscene when it would be considered objectionable by an average person using community standards and, where the media has only prurient not artistic merit.

A guided tour through the not-so-sacred halls of adult entertainment, following the rise and rise of an industry that keeps on giving.

1969, Stanley v Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the conviction of a man accused of possessing pornographic films for his own private use.

1973, Miller v California, the U.S. Supreme Court constructed a test to determine whether a work was obscene. It had three parts: (1) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would judge that the work appealed primarily to prurient interests, (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Using the ‘Miller Test’, a work is deemed obscene only if all three conditions are satisfied.

1982, New York v Ferber, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not prohibit states from banning the sale of material that depicts children engaging in sexual activity.[2]

Porn has been on our minds since we climbed down from the trees and there’s no doubt (made apparent by its eventual wins in the court system) that it’s here to stay. Take a look at this fun video above that fills in the spaces I left, if you want to learn more.


[1] – Chris Rodley, Dev Varma, Kate Williams III (Directors) Marilyn Milgrom, Grant Romer, Rolf Borowczak, Bob Guccione, Dean Kuipers (Cast) (2006-03-07). Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization (DVD). Port Washington, NY: Koch Vision. ISBN 1-4172-2885-7. Retrieved 2006-10-21.

[3] – Waterfield, Gordon, ed. (1966). First Footsteps in East Africa. New York: Praeger Publishers. p. 59 footnote.

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