1. Public Exposure to Sexually Explicit Materials

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
3

The data from 1970 and 1985 are comparable only in a limited way because of differences in the materials mentioned and changes in technology (e.g., the widespread use of cable and home videos). In 1970, for instance, the respondents were asked if they had "ever seen stag movies or skin flicks." In 1985, respondents were asked whether they had gone to an X-rated movie or bought/rented an X-rated video cassette in the last year. The 1985 respondents were asked if they had "ever read" magazines like Playboy or Penthouse, while 1970 respondents were asked if they had seen or read a magazine "which you regarded as pornographic." Again, we note that this is a loose comparison, only afforded by the fact that the 1985 question is more specific in nature and, therefore, a more conservative estimate.

In response to the question whether they had seen or read a magazine "which you regarded as pornographic," one in five in 1970 said "yes," with twenty-eight percent of the men and fourteen percent of the women responding in the affirmative. However, half of the men and a third of the women in this group were unable to recall the title. Of those titles mentioned, it was clear that the term 'pornographic' embraced a wide variety of material including Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home journal (Abelson, et. al., p. 23).

In contrast, two thirds of the 1985 respondents had read Playboy or Penthouse at some time. Over a third said they "sometimes buy or read magazines like Playboy" (37%) while thirteen percent said they "sometimes buy or read magazines like Hustler."

In 1970, fifteen percent of respondents said they had seen a movie they regarded as 'pornographic' in the past year. Again the range of titles mentioned included such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Graduate, Easy Rider, and Bonnie and Clyde, in addition to titles that could more likely fall in the "adult" movie category. On the other hand, less than ten percent (7%) of the 1985 respondents had been to an X-rated movie in the past year while close to one in ten (9%) had purchased or rented an X-rated video cassette. The marked difference between the questions asked at both time points precludes any conclusion about any increase or decrease in film viewing in the last fifteen years although the media for purveying adult films certainly has increased.

In 1970 as in 1985, men, younger individuals, and those with more education were more likely to have been exposed to sexually explicit material than women, older respondents, and those less educated (Tables 1 and 2). The differences in exposure between men and women are fairly large both in 1970 and in 1985 but are particularly striking in 1970.

Table 1

Previous Exposure to Sexually Explicit Materials, By Age and Gender: 1970 Commission Survey

21-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60+

Men

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, have seen stag movie

54%

55%

44%

43%

27%

Yes, have seen skin flick

49

28

22

12

6

 

 

 

 

 

Women

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, have seen stag movie

17

12

13

5

1

Yes, have seen skin flick

15

10

6

4

1

N = 2482

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: "There are some movies called stag movies or party movies. These are not shown in regular theaters, but are shown in private homes or private parties or at club meetings. Have you ever seen stag movies or party movies of this kind?"

 

Question: "Nearly every city has one or more theaters that specialize in showing movies that feature a lot of nudity and suggestions of sexual activity. These movies are sometimes called 'skin flicks.' Have you ever seen these kinds of films?"

(Table 13, Abelson, et al., 1970, p. 17)


Table 2

Exposure to Sexually Explicit Material, By Age, Gender, and Permissiveness:
1985 Newsweek-Gallup Survey

Men

18-20

30-49

50+

Standards Stricker

Standards Less Strict

Ever read Playboy or Penthouse

91%

92%

70%

77%

88%

Sometimes buy/read magazines like Playboy

63

58

29

29

61

Sometimes buy/read magazines like Hustler

28

24

11

11

26

Went to X-rated movie in past year

12

9

6

3

12

Bought/rented X-rated video cassette in past year

17

14

4

7

13

 

 

 

 

 

Women

18-20

30-49

50+

Standards Stricker

Standards Less Strict

Ever read Playboy or Penthouse

64

62

28

41

61

Sometimes buy/read magazines like Playboy

40

32

5

18

31

Sometimes buy/read magazines like Hustler

15

5

0

3

8

Went to X-rated movie in past year

14

4

.3

3

8

Bought/rented X-rated video cassette in past year

12

8

.9

4

10

N = 1020

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 1985, by Newsweek, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by Permission.

At what age is the average person first exposed to sexually explicit materials? Abelson, et. al. (1970) found that about one in five males and about one in ten females had their first exposure by age twelve. By age seventeen, over half of the males (54%) and a third of the females had been exposed (p. 8). Those exposed earlier also tend to differ from those exposed at a later age. "Young adults, college-educated people, those with relatively liberal attitudes toward sex, and people who have experienced the most erotica recently are all disproportionately more likely than others to have had their first experiences with erotica at a young age" (p. 9).

No comparable age-of-first-exposure question was asked in the 1985 Newsweek-Gallup Poll. A few other studies have similarly examined these questions and the results may identify any changes which have occurred since 1970.

Gebhard (1980) compared data collected by the Kinsey Institute between 1938 and 1960 (using only the data from white males and females with at least some college education-a total of 4,388 respondents) to a much smaller nonprobability sample of undergraduate males and females in one university in 1975. By comparing responses to questions on age and source of first knowledge of such topics as coitus, pregnancy, fertilization, menstruation, and venereal disease. Gebhard concluded that "children and young people are learning the basic facts about sex at considerably younger ages than did their parents and grandparents" (p. 168).

For example, over half of each sex in the 1975 sample knew of coitus by age ten whereas only a third of the earlier sample's females and half of the males had this same knowledge at that age. By age eight, thirty-one percent of the males in the Kinsey sample knew of pregnancy compared to sixty-three percent in the 1975 sample; for females, it was thirty-one percent versus seventy-six percent, respectively.

A second finding of this study was that sources of early sex information appeared to have shifted slightly in relative importance. Same-sex peers remained the major source in both samples but to a lesser degree for the more recent sample, with mothers and the mass media becoming more significant (ranked second and third, respectively). These results, however, are simply suggestive because of the difficulty of generalizing beyond these particular groups of respondents and the limited size of the 1975 sample. These data also gave little indication of whether "mass media" includes pornography.

Another more recent set of data based on a national probability sample of 1071 respondents is available from Canada (Check, 1985). The Canadian results show that adolescents, ages twelve to seventeen, report most frequent exposure of sexually explicit fare. As Table 3 shows, two in five twelve to seventeen year olds view such material in movie theaters at least once a month; over a third (37%) see similar material on home videos with the same frequency.

Table 3

Frequency of Viewing Sexually Explicit Films in Movie Theaters and on Videos, By Age
(Canadian National Sample)

 

Movies

 

12-17

18-34

35-49

55+

Never

28%

34%

48%

74%

1-2 times/yr.

22

44

35

12

1/mo. Or more

39

12

7

4

 

Videos

 

12-17

18-34

35-49

55+

Never

32

33

50

83

1-2 times/yr

22

37

25

7

1/mo. Or more

37

23

20

5

N = 1071

 

 

 

 

Note: "Don't know"/No Response not included
(Check, 1985)

 

 

These results should be viewed with caution because of the small numbers in this age group. The 1970 survey data demonstrated a similar pattern. Respondents in the 1970 sample were asked how many times during the past two years they had seen photographs, snapshots, cartoons or movies of a list of sexually explicit items. Adolescents reported more frequent exposure than adults, with three in ten of the adolescents saying they had seen such material six or more times in the last two years compared to one in four adult males and one in seven adult females.

In comparing his results to the 1985 American Newsweek-Gallup data discussed above for comparable questions, Check found parallel results at least for sexually violent material. Results on nonviolent fare could not be compared because of the differences in question wording. This consistency and the fact that over eighty percent of the sexually explicit material in Canada is from the United States (Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution, 1985, p. 161) might suggest that the Canadian results may not be dissimilar from what might be found in the United States.