Pornography and Obscenity Sold in “Adult Bookstores”: A Survey of 5132 Books, Magazines, and Films in Four American Cities

During the eighteen months that the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (the Commission) conducted public hearings, public discussion, and staff research, one of the most common types of inquiry directed to the staff consisted of questions as to the content of pornography currently available in the United States. Critics of the Commission’s work asserted that the pornography used as exhibits by witnesses at the public hearings was extreme, not commonly available, or unrepresentative of that sold in pornography retail outlets; The only pertinent, quantitative data available to the Commission appeared in a single report in the American Journal of Psychiatry. To provide more recent data from a selection of cities, the Commission, through its staff, investigated the materials currently marketed in so-called “adults-only bookstores.” This Article reports the results of that investigation.

Part I of the Article details the methods used to conduct the study and points out the limitations of the methods and, consequently, the findings. Part II presents the findings by examining: (A) the quantity of merchandise sold; (B) the distribution of sexual and other behaviors in the pornography sold, exploring (1) the overall distribution of depictions, (2) the occurrence of violence, bondage, and sadomasochism, (3) the occurrence of nonviolent paraphilic (deviant) behaviors, (4) the occurrence of nonparaphilic sexual variations, (5) the occurrence of particular sexual acts, (6) the occurrence of degrading and humiliating behavior, and (7) the occurrence of nonviolent, nondegrading, nonhumiliating sexual behaviors; (C) gender differences in the occurrence of particular behaviors; and (D) differences among magazines, books, and films. Part III summarizes the findings and suggests how they may be interpreted to estimate the proportion of materials sold in “adults-only” bookstores that would meet the “prurient interest” prong of the Miller obscenity test under different sets of assumptions about juror attitudes and values.