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Obscenity and Pornography

Today, the terms obscenity and pornography refer to material of a sexual nature, particularly that designed to inspire sexual excitement. But, until the middle of the 19th century, obscenity and pornography were as likely to refer to blasphemous, seditious, or otherwise prohibited religious or political speech as to sexual expression per se. Nor did the terms begin to acquire exclusively sexual connotations in the United States until the 19th century ushered in a number of pivotal changes, including technological advances in print and film, increased literacy, urbanization, and immigration, all of which produced efforts to control a rapidly changing population that had access to an expanding array of media. Assuming that sexual material encouraged masturbation, Victorian reformers treated it as yet another call to censor ...

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