Redefining Obscenity for the 21st Century

Redefining Obscenity for the 21st Century

Nearly every year, we hear rumors of government crackdown on porn and obscenity. Contrary to popular belief, obscenity isn’t protected by the 1st Amendment. But the criteria for defining obscenity is (and always has been) subjective.

Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973) established the current legal standard for obscenity, which includes three criteria:

  1. ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ appeals to ‘prurient interest’
  2. the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and
  3. the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

This standard has one major problem: The definition of community has changed significantly since 1973. Communities, at that time, were defined solely by geographic location. A city was a community. But today, on the internet, we define communities by shared interests.

It’s Time for a New Standard

One person can participate in several communities, each with its own definition of appropriateness. You can participate in an online message board devoted to wind energy, where any mention of sex would be considered offensive. And simultaneously participate in a message board devoted to forced arousal sexual fantasies, where a explicit descriptions of sexual activity are both encouraged and enjoyed.

Each community sets their own standard for posts ‘of value’. Yet they all find spam to be offensive. Why? Because it is both intrusive and irrelevant. Junk mail and telemarketing calls offend us for the same reason: they are intrusive and irrelevant. In fact, nearly everyone in every community (online and offline) finds intrusive, irrelevant advertising to be offensive. So, by ‘contemporary community standards’, it is obscene.

A second definition of obscenity may be derived from epistemology. American philosopher John Dewy once said that ‘growth is the only moral end’. According to the Dewy, the moral element of any situation or material lies in its ability to contribute to a person’s growth, i.e., their personal, intellectual, or emotional development. If reading, viewing or listening to sexual materials enables a person to better understand their own sexuality, then it contributes to their intellectual and emotional growth, and the material should be considered moral.

Conversely, anything that inhibits growth, i.e. causes cognitive or emotional impairment, should be considered immoral and obscene. Studies in information overload1 have shown that interruptions can impair long-term decision making. The more frequent the interruptions, and the more irrelevant they are, the more they interfere with cognitive function. Once again, we seem to be talking about advertising, which interrupt our TV viewing more than fifty times every hour. But we can apply this criteria to other aspects of modern media as well.

Rapid, agitated speech, such as employed by many TV news reporters, talk show hosts, and advertisers, interferes with rational thinking. Media personalities speak this way to prevent viewers from analyzing the show’s content and realizing just how absurd or irrelevant it all is. And this makes their rapid speech, regardless of subject or content, obscene. (Note: This criteria shouldn’t be applied to stand-up comedy or comedic films.)

Health and safety researchers have shown that noise pollution can cause numerous health problems, including  hearing impairment, hypertension and ischemic heart disease, annoyance, sleep disturbance, and decreased school performance2,3. And they have published more than 1,000 papers on the harmful effects of noise pollution on patient’s health in medical facilities, which makes televised ads and news reports especially obscene in the doctors’ waiting rooms.

A third definition of obscenity can be derived from the philosophy of Individualism. This philosophy emphasizes the moral worth of the individual over the state or social group. Individualists believe that every individual has the right to define themselves, live their lives on their own terms, engage in self-directed growth, and, as much as possible, determine their own fate.

Based on this philosophy, anything that diminishes someone’s individuality or their ability to engage in self-directed growth may be considered obscene. Misinformation campaigns that reduce individuals to tools of the campaigner are this kind of obscenity. As are clothing and wearable tech that prominently displays the manufacturer’s trademark and reduces the wearer from person to a walking billboard.

That’s three proposed definitions for modern obscenity, none of which include any mention of sexually explicit material or ‘prurient interests’.

Sex is Not Obscene

Note that none of the above definitions for obscenity include any mention of sex, erotica, or porn. Human beings are intrinsically sexual animals. Accepting and understanding this – both as a species and as individuals – is essential to understanding ourselves, maintaining our health4, and engaging in personal growth. So if sex is not intrinsically obscene, neither are depictions of it.

So how does this relate to erotic hypnosis? From outside, and based on old standards, erotic hypnosis can seem to appeal to ‘prurient interests’. Our community encourages a greater interest in sex. We encourage our members to accept, explore and develop their sexual desires.  We encourage our members to let themselves explore a wide variety of sexual fantasies far beyond the larger society’s normal boundaries. And we encourage our members to embrace all of this without guilt or shame.

Many people whose thinking is still based on the old standards view our entire community as obscene. This has resulted in a few problems, including censorship from merchant services and credit card companies. When ebay acquired Paypal in 2002, they prohibited Paypal from serving web sites that sold porn. Unfortunately, they lumped erotic hypnosis in with porn and killed several online businesses. Ten years later our community faced a second effort to kill us when several other payment processors suddenly refused to serve any companies providing sexual-related materials.

But human beings are intrinsically sexual beings. Exploring, understanding and developing our sexuality is essential to understanding ourselves. Trance is intrinsic to sex5. And erotic hypnosis is, in fact, one of the safest and most versatile ways to engage in sex positive exploration.

My recordings and my stories are my art. Writing and the research I conduct for my writing are the ways in which I explore and develop my understanding of human sexuality. When I share my stories and my recordings, I am sharing my knowledge and understanding. Hopefully this enables my readers and listeners to learn a little about their own sexuality and helps them engage in their own [perfectly moral] self-directed growth.


  1. The Influence of Task Interruption on Individual Decision Making: An Information Overload Perspective
  2. Noise pollution: non-auditory effects on health
  3. Noise exposure and public health
  4. 10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex
  5. Getting into the flow: Sexual pleasure is a kind of trance