Pornography has not always existed. It's not a natural idea. It's an invention of Victorian science ... It's a modern cultural invention.

Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the modern concept of pornography did not exist. There was no word to describe images based on their sexual content because one had not been needed.

Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization

For the Victorians, privacy is a central element. You read in private, you have these secret places, and they lead to secret acts. And a lot of Victorian regulation has to do with trying to control those elements of secrecy.

Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization

Once you start trying to define what pornography is (i.e. putting it into words), that's going to lead to reinterpretation, re-revision, redefinition, and so the debate perpetuates itself. And so it spreads and becomes more prolific. This has been perpetuated through this continuing of discourse really about pornography and its effect on audiences. So, the big paradox of pornography is that in trying to define and contain it, it has the actual reverse effect. It actually disseminates itself.

Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization

The trouble comes when you start to say that the problem is in the object, in the image itself, and not in the person who is looking. Because you can't regulate the internal feelings of a person, you can't say there is a law against being sexually stimulated, the Victorians had to try and draw up a list of things that were likely to, as they put it, deprave and corrupt. And all of the problems of legislation come from this tension: that in the ancient world, it was a problem for self-control, as opposed to the modern world where we try and regulate images by state law.

Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization


The Removing of pan & the goat from the culture it was embedded in, and putting it away, started a process that still continues today. That is, cordoning off sexual representation from the rest of life. For the Romans, it was part of a continuum. For us, it is still a very scary thing. We believe in the power of images of sex to create disturbance

—John Clarke, Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization


It [the art discovered at Pompeii] couldn’t be destroyed because of the fascination with this great new Classical source, and it couldn’t be put on display. So people discovered the idea of classifying it, but classifying it away, hiding it in a [secret] museum

—Simon Goldhill, Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization


The intervention of the State in the arena of sexual imagery [with the Obscene Publications Act of 1857] was one of the most dramatic and far reaching undertakings of the [19th] century. It shifted the focus from sex itself and created a legal structure around the act of looking at sex that still exists today


—Alison Smith, Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization