Columnist Elizabeth McQuillan finds the prevalence of sexual fantasies about incest in literature ‘extremely alarming’ in her article A Very Dark Side of Erotic Fiction, which I read in Caledonian Mercury, an online magazine that markets itself as a provider of ‘analytical, discursive writing’. She thinks that this ‘may be closely related to sexual abuse in children’ and concludes, ‘these are murky waters I do not wish to navigate’. Which isn’t a brilliant conclusion for an analytical journo to make. Because if she had been even a little bit more rigorous in her investigation, she might have observed what a well-trodden path she is pursuing.
Most of the pornographic titles written in the US between, say, 1965 and 1990 were either about bestiality (dogs heading the popularity poll here) or incest – two of the American Midwest’s greatest taboos. The reason for this is obvious: it is, as any fule kno, populated by isolated farmers, and most isolated farmers in need of a fuck only have two options: either they enter into relations with relations or they develop a fondness for livestock.
These publications courted the revolutionary ruling of Judge Potter Stewart, who argued in ’66:
Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime…In the free society to which our constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself.
Two years later, the National Commission on Pornography and Obscenity was commissioned to produce a report in an effort to re-impose old obscenity standards. Its main objectives were:
- To analyse laws pertaining to the control of obscenity and pornography and to evaluate and recommend definitions for obscenity and pornography.
- To ascertain the methods employed in the distribution of obscene and pornographic materials and the nature and volume of traffic of such materials.
- To study the effect of obscenity and pornography on the public and minors in particular, and pornography’s relationship to crime and other antisocial behaviour.
- To recommend legislative, administrative or other actions to regulate pornography. These facts were easily come by – Michael Goss’s excellent Young Lusty Sluts chronicles the period extremely well.
The report declared that there were no harmful effects of pornography. When it was released in 1970, Nixon was enraged:
The Commission contends that proliferation of filthy books and plays has no lasting, harmful threat on man’s character…Centuries of civilization and ten minutes of common sense tell us otherwise.
The crucial sentences of the report were these:
Empirical research designed to clarify the question has found no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent behaviour among youth or adults. The Commission cannot conclude that exposure to erotic materials is a factor in the causation of sex crime or sex delinquency.
So we have, in recent history, had this debate in a much fleshier form than it took in McQuillan’s article.
Still, despite her concerns about incest and bestiality fantasies, McQuillan credits writers at the Erotic Review (who occasionally take advantage of the magazine’s gloriously uncensored yet attentively edited pages to address such things) with producing ‘steamy and titillating material’. So she’s not all bad…
This article was first published in November 2010.