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Denmark: Pornography: What Is Permitted Is Boring

4 minute read

On July 1, Denmark will become the first state in modern history to abolish every legal sanction against pornography for adults. That milestone became official last week when the Danish Folketing overwhelmingly approved the necessary legislation. In fact, by deliberately not enforcing the laws still on its books, the Danish government had already achieved that distinction for Denmark —and had become as well the first signatory ever to resign from the Geneva convention on obscene literature.* For the past several months, any Dane over 16 has been able to indulge his appetite for pornography to his limit—in books, films and still pictures that display everything from conventional copulation to group sex. Judging by what all this permissiveness has done to the pornography business, the effect on public morals in Denmark has been downright socially redeeming.

Interest in pornography has declined markedly since Denmark’s carte blanche began, and sales of all forms of blue stuff have correspondingly declined. Says Minister of Justice Knud Thestrup, who led the effort to legalize pornography across the board: “Publishers who printed the books tried to counter falling sales by price reductions, but even this was not successful.” One of those publishers is Stig Vendelkjaer, whose titles include I, a Woman. “I have 500,000 unsold books in stock,” he complains. “Heaven knows how I shall ever get rid of them.” Hardest hit of all, perhaps, are the obsequious little men who run Denmark’s fleshier kiosks and porno stores—and who are now trying to unload for $8.50 a reel skin flicks that last year sold for $40. “The legalization is killing business,” says one, “and you have to be content with what you can sell of decent magazines.”

So-Called Altruism. Though it is still too soon to make final judgments, there may be other benefits as well. Police statistics for 1967, when the ban on books but not pictures had been lifted, showed a 25% decrease in the number of sexual crimes. Whether this was coincidental or had some relation to the relaxation of the laws, police are firmly convinced at least that no increase has resulted. Nor, so far as school officials can tell, has children’s contact with obscene material increased. Rektor Ole Barfoed, headmaster of one of Copenhagen’s largest grammar schools, says the new license simply proves that most children are not interested in pornography. He adds: “This so-called altruism about protecting the children is often just a false way adults have of saving themselves from embarrassment.”

The new law would continue to provide prison terms of up to six months for pornographers who purvey to children. In Minister Thestrup’s opinion, however, the rektor’s observation about the normal reaction to pornography applies equally well to adults and is the assumption behind his bill. When they are freely available, he believes, “pornographic books and pictures very quickly become boring and distasteful to adults with a normal sexual life.” He is backed up by a four-member professional commission that spent two years studying the subject. The public’s interest in pornography, he maintains, is mostly “the result of curiosity about what is forbidden.”

Export Trade. Most Danes seemingly agree—and accepted his legal proposal to abolish all restrictions. Now pornography is no longer an issue in Denmark: leaders of the Danish Lutheran Church have not bothered to take a stand on the Thestrup bill, newspapers do not dwell on it in detail, and a majority of parliamentary parties have given it their backing. Newsstands in tourist areas are still festooned with pictures of every pose imaginable. But this export market does not impress Denmark’s most active pornographer, Leo Madsen, who publishes the mass-circulation Weekend Sex magazine. Says he ruefully: “Business is not going to be good.”

* A 48-member international agreement that seeks to prevent the circulation and trade of obscene publications.

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