Golden Age of Porn  

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A typical image from Perversion for Profit: a photograph taken from a lesbian pornography magazine and censored with colored rectangles

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The Golden Age of Porn, or porno chic, refers to a 15-year period (around 1969–1984) in commercial American pornography, that spread internationally, in which sexually-explicit films experienced positive attention from mainstream cinemas, movie critics, and the general public. It began with release of the 1969 film Blue Movie directed by Andy Warhol, and the 1970 film Mona produced by Bill Osco. These films were the first adult erotic films depicting explicit sex to receive wide theatrical release in the United States. Both influenced the making of films such as 1972's Deep Throat starring Linda Lovelace and directed by Gerard Damiano, Behind the Green Door starring Marilyn Chambers and directed by the Mitchell brothers, 1973's The Devil in Miss Jones also by Damiano, and 1976's The Opening of Misty Beethoven by Radley Metzger.

Following mentions by Johnny Carson on his popular Tonight Show and Bob Hope on TV as well, Deep Throat achieved major box office success, despite being rudimentary by mainstream standards. In 1973, the more accomplished, but still low-budget, film The Devil in Miss Jones was the seventh most successful film of the year, and was well received by major media, including a favorable review by film critic Roger Ebert. The phenomenon of porn being publicly discussed by celebrities, and taken seriously by critics, a development referred to, by Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times, as "porno chic", began for the first time in modern American culture. It became obvious that box office returns of very low budget adult erotic films could fund further advances in the technical and production values of porn, making it extremely competitive with Hollywood films. There was concern that, left unchecked, the vast profitability of such films would lead to Hollywood being influenced by pornography.

Prior to this, thousands of U.S. state and municipal anti-obscenity laws and ordinances held that participating in the creation, distribution, or consumption of pornography constituted criminal action. Multi-jurisdictional interpretations of obscenity made such films highly susceptible to prosecution and criminal liability for obscenity, thereby greatly restricting their distribution and profit potential. However, the US Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Miller v. California, narrowing and simplifying the definition of obscenity, resulted in dramatically fewer prosecutions nationwide. Freedom in creative license, higher movie budgets and payouts, and a "Hollywood mindset", all contributed to this period.

However, with the increasing availability of videocassette recorders for private viewing in the 1980s, video supplanted film as the preferred distribution medium for pornography, which quickly reverted to being low budget and openly gratuitous, ending this "Golden Age".


The era

pornographic film#1970s

The Golden Age was a period of interactions between pornography and the contemporaneous second wave of feminism. Radical and cultural feminists, along with the Christians, religious, and conservatives attacked pornography, while other feminists were pro-pornography, such as Camille Paglia, who defined what came to be known as sex-positive feminism in her work, Sexual Personae. Paglia and other sex-positive or pro-pornography feminists accepted porn as part of the sexual revolution with its libertarian sexual themes, such as exploring bisexuality and swinging, free from government interference.

The origins of the Golden Age are typically associated with the 1970 film Mona the Virgin Nymph, the first adult film to obtain a wide theatrical release in the USA. Following this came the massive success of the 1971 film Boys in the Sand, which represented a number of pornographic firsts. As the first generally available gay pornographic film, the film was the first to include on-screen credits for its cast and crew (albeit largely under pseudonyms), to parody the title of a mainstream film (in this case, The Boys in the Band), and to be reviewed by The New York Times. The apex of the era is perhaps the American hardcore feature film Deep Throat (1972). The prediction that frank depictions of onscreen sex would soon become commonplace did not eventuate. William Rotsler expressed this in 1973, "Erotic films are here to stay. Eventually they will simply merge into the mainstream of motion pictures and disappear as a labeled sub-division. Nothing can stop this." In Britain, however, Deep Throat was not approved in its uncut form until 2000 and not shown publicly until June 2005.

These films brought pornography into mainstream consciousness, whereby drive-in theatres would take out full page newspaper ads to promote the latest adult features. Porn films started being shown in mainstream movie theaters, and were accepted as suitable for general public consumption, or at least tolerated.

With releases such as The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1975) and The Image (1975), American director Radley Metzger is regarded as the auteur of the era. In France Emmanuelle (1974) was a huge box office success and the film Le Sexe qui parle is regarded as one of the most bizarre films of the golden age of porn.

Mainstream attention

For a period of two or three years it was fashionable to watch and discuss pornographic films. An influential five-page article about the film Deep Throat in the New York Times Magazine in early 1973 used the phrase "porno chic" in the title to describe the phenomenon. Actress Linda Lovelace once stated at that time that she believed that pornography would merge with the mainstream film industry.

Porno chic actors

Major pornographic film actors of the Golden Age included Linda Lovelace, Marilyn Chambers, Annie Sprinkle, Lisa De Leeuw, Jacqueline Lorains, Nina Hartley, Juliet Anderson (a.k.a. "Aunt Peg"), Seka, Desiree Cousteau, Harry Reems, John Leslie, Jack Wrangler, Ron Jeremy (a.k.a., "the Hedgehog") and John C. Holmes (a.k.a. "Johnny Wadd").

As their popularity rose, so did their control of their careers. John Holmes became the first recurring porn character in the "Johnny Wadd" film series directed by Bob Chinn. Lisa DeLeeuw was one of the first to sign an exclusive contract with a major adult production company, Vivid Video, and Marilyn Chambers worked in mainstream movies, being one of the first (and still rare) crossover porn actors.

The dominant pornographic film studios of the period were VCA Pictures and Caballero Home Video.

Films of the period

Some of the best-known pornographic films of the period include:


  • Weitzer, Ronald John (2000). Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92294-1.
  • Legs McNeil, Jennifer Osborne and Peter Pavia: The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry. Regan Books 2005. ISBN 0-06-009659-4

See also

sexual revolution

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Golden Age of Porn" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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