Denmark - the first country to legalize pornography
Professor of Criminology
Institute of Criminology and Criminal Science
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Before the mid-1960s, there was
nothing particular about Denmark in relation to pornography. Denmark
had absolutely no history as a pornography producing or consuming
nation. Danish laws against pornography were very similar to those
of other European countries. Both in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries books and pieces of art were prosecuted and
convicted in Denmark as in other countries, which by later standards
would seem perfectly innocent. In as late as 1959 an imported
English version of the famous pornographic classic, Cleland's
Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, was convicted.
During the 1960s, however, public
attitudes began to change, and in 1964 an unexpurgated Danish
translation of the Memoirs, under the title of Fanny Hill, was
published for the first time, prosecuted and acquitted first by
the High Court and, in 1965, by the Supreme Court.
Since Fanny Hill is, if anything,
pornographic in the true sense of this word, that is, extremely
explicit and graphic in its erotic descriptions, this meant that
the penal law banning pornographic literature had become obsolete.
The Minister of Justice asked the Permanent Criminal Law Committee
to investigate the issue, and this Committee, after consulting
criminologists, psychologists, educators and psychiatrists presented
a report in 1966 which recommended decriminalisation of pornographic
The point made by the Criminal Law Committee was that public attitudes
towards moral legislation had changed so that it was no longer
reasonable for the state to interfere with what people should
be allowed to publish or read, as long as no clear harm was done.
As far as harm is concerned,
it was generally agreed by the experts that all available evidence
pointed in the direction of pornography not being directly harmful
to individuals. Particularly influential was the statement of
the Medico-Legal Council, a distinguished body of leading physicians,
On the basis of general psychiatric
and child psychiatric experience it cannot be assumed that the
sexual orientation, the psychological development or attitudes
toward sexual life and sexual-ethical norms in adults or in children
can be influenced in a harmful direction through . . . pornographic
literature, pictures or films. Whether these media may have a
beneficial influence on a group of inhibited and sexually shy
neurotic personalities is doubtful, but can hardly be totally
excluded. What has been said here, holds true no matter whether
the pornographic publications, pictures, etc. describe normal
or perverse sexual relations (Penal Law Committee 1966, p. 80).
The Penal Law Committee's proposal
was adopted by the Danish Parliament in 1967 by 159 votes to thirteen.
During the debate in Parliament on this amendment, there was a
widespread inclination to extend the repeal to also include obscene
pictures, objects, and performances, 'if experiences with the
present amendment turned out to be as favourable as expected'.
The expected result was mainly a waning of interest in such material
when such an interest was no longer spurred by the illegality.
By 1969, politicians had become convinced that a favourable effect
had in fact occurred, and without once again asking the Penal
Law Committee's advice, the decriminalisation of pictorial pornography
was adopted in Parliament by 125 votes to twenty-five.
Section 234 of the Danish Criminal
Code (1969), reads whoever 'sells indecent pictures or objects
to a person under 16 years of age' is to be punished by a fine.
Section 235 (1980) has a special provision concerning the reproduction
and sale of child pornography, that is, sexually explicit photographs
of persons who appear to be under 15 years (the taking of such
pictures was always a criminal offence).
This means that, in Denmark,
any kind of pornography, except child pornography, can be produced
and sold, or shown in cinemas, to persons who are 16 years or
older. It does not mean that there can be pornography everywhere;
thus, police regulations forbid the public display of pornography,
for instance in porn shop windows, or to send or hand out pornography
to someone who has not asked for it.
As to legalisation of pornography,
Sweden followed suit in 1970, and the Federal Republic of Germany
(West Germany) in 1973. West Germany, however, kept certain provisions
regarding violent pornography and recently Sweden also introduced
such restrictions. Today, Denmark seems to be the only country
which does not have any legal restraints on sadomasochistic pornography.
This does not mean that it is not available elsewhere. The situation
today seems to be that wherever hard-core pornography is easily
available, sadomasochistic material is available also.