How Our Ancestors Used Clever Workarounds To Look At Porn

Kids today with their personal screens, streaming sites, and "private mode" browsers don't know how good they have it, porn-wise. Back in the day, we had to make due with a bunch of crumpled Hustler foldouts stashed in the back of a sock drawer -- and yet, that's nothing compared to what our ancestors had to endure if they wanted to rub one out.

Yes, your grandparents risked imprisonment, political persecution, and had to exploit every possible loophole just to supply, make, and distribute pictures of dicks and boobs. For them, porn was literally a matter of life and death. Here's a not often told story of bravery and perseverance, as well as clear evidence that your grandparents' minds were just as one-track as yours.

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6
The First Erotic Prints Survived Over-Use, Mass Burnings, And Bootlegging

Agnostini Caracci

Much like the internet, the arrival of the printing press changed the world by allowing mankind to easily distribute information, works of art, and ideas. Also like the internet, we immediately started using this revolutionary technology to distribute something else: boners. The presses had barely cooled from printing the first Bibles when smut started flopping off of them and into the waiting hands of the Renaissance masses. Take this print, An Allegory Of Copulation (we're not sure they understood what "allegory" means):

The British Museum
The original title was Most Alluring Harlot Gets Double Teamed.

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That dickbird right there was so popular that the print's numerous pressings wore out the original plate -- people nearly wanked this masterpiece into oblivion. Of course, the church wasn't thrilled about the work of these proto-Hugh Hefners and did their best to eradicate it from existence. They almost succeeded, too. In 1524, Italian engraver Marcantonio Raimondi made no attempt to hide his set of sex position prints, I Modi (literally The Positions, because Raimondi was also an innovator at not giving a f**k). As a result, the church threw Raimondi in jail and were so effective in destroying his prints that no full copies exist today -- historians have only been able to find fragments of the originals, presumably under an undisturbed 16th century mattress.

Marcantonio Raimondi
They theorized that the full image depicted a lively game of Twister.

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But porn, as we at Cracked continue to note, always finds a way. Others managed to reproduce Raimondi's work on cheap woodblocks with lower quality results, kinda like that grainy fifth-generation Pamela Anderson VHS some of you cherished so much as a teen. When coupled with a series of filthy sonnets written by Pietro Aretino (the 1500s equivalent of the horny comments under porn videos), this bootleg I Modi edition became an international best-seller.

Marcantonio Raimondi
From this to Dan Brown. Where did we go wrong?

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And so, despite the setbacks, the noble office of printing images of people f*****g continued. It helped that later engravers, like Agostino Carracci, scaled back on the whole graphic insertion thing. They also covered their asses in a different sense by claiming comedy, or saying it was all illustrations of Greek mythology (which has been getting a pass for nudity for millennia).

Agostino Carracci
"It's, uh, Pendumules, the Greek ... fisherman ... of vaginas."

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5
Early British Erotic Novelists Hid Their Porn Behind Hilariously Elaborate Metaphors

Sutton Nicholls

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Not all porn is visual, as anyone who has ventured into the weirder parts of Amazon knows very well. Unfortunately for purveyors of literary smut, there was a time when just writing the word "penis" too often could land you in jail. In 1727, for example, British publisher Edmund Curll was convicted for "disturbing the king's peace" by printing a couple of pornographic books, including the classic A Treatise Of The Use Of Flogging In Venereal Affairs, Also Of The Office Of The Loins And Reins (E.L. James will never come up with a title that catchy).

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The solution? Don't write "penis." Or any remotely filthy word. Here are excerpts from a later Curll publication that went by without incident, A New Description Of Merryland (1741):

Edmund Curll

Edmund Curll
Heh, "fuch."

Yes, avoiding 18th century censors required a certain amount of finesse. Porn historian Karen Harvey (who has the profession we wish we knew about before seeing our middle school guidance counselor) compared one book that got banned to one that wasn't. Here's a sample of the one that made the cut, A Voyage To Lethe (1741), where the narrator describes working on a ship:

Samuel c**k
The semicolons should be read as Beavis and Butthead-type laughter.

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There's nothing technically erotic about that passage, but if you're not all horned up right now, you're not human. From the very first page, author Samuel c**k had cleverly managed to make his entire book about sex without actually mentioning sex once. By doing so, c**k (who was clearly born to write this stuff) managed to keep himself out of prison.

In contrast, the most famous erotic novel of the era, Johnny Cleland's Fanny Hill, Or Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure (1748), barely hit England's nondescript, brown-paper bags before the British authorities arrested the author and forbade the book's publication. See, instead of making mundane things sexual, Cleland tried a different approach:

Johnny Cleland
Abridged version: They fucked good.

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Cleland described sex through elaborate language ... but it was still sex. His defense was basically, "Good sirs, refraining from writing dick, I instead scribed plenipotentiary instrument." The authorities were having none of it. So, you could write about sex in 1700s Britain, as long as you were pretending to write about cucumbers or caves or mountains; stop pretending, and they'd arrest your ass and ban your book faster than you could say "take nourishment in my plenipotentiary instrument."

4
Men Went To Fancy Masturbation Clubs To Look At Porn Without Leaving It Around The House

George Mills

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It's easy to forget what a gigantic convenience the ability to delete your browser history is. To keep their porn stashes from being discovered, people in the 1700s would also destroy the evidence ... by burning it, then probably eating the ashes just so their spouses wouldn't see them.

Needless to say, buying books over and over and finding creative ways to get rid of them would get expensive, as well as stressful. Luckily for those Scottish men who didn't mind airing their affairs in front of other guys, back then they had fancy clubs for everything -- and looking at porn was no exception. Here's the logo of one such establishment:

Stirling Council Archives
"Hey, honey, have you seen the seal of my ... uh, banana appreciation club?"

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The most famous of these was the fantastically named, "The Most Ancient and Most Puissant Order of the Beggar's Benison And Merryland, Anstruther" (the same Merryland described in one of the porn books we mentioned earlier). The club would let gentlemen get together for a wide range of porny pursuits, and like "Trivial Pursuit," they were dressed up by being vaguely academic. A Merryland meeting could feature naked models to observe "anatomy," a live reading of some erotica to explore "literature," or a lecture on sex techniques because it was "scientific." And then all the members would "express themselves" right onto a ceremonial tray ... which, we're horrified to report, still survives.

Museum of St Andrews University
At least their branding was consistent.

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Other activities included drinking wine from a dick-shaped glass or reading from the Bible, which had a vagina-shaped lock (OK, that's officially trying too hard). At first glance it might seem like Scottish women were losing out here, but consider the fact that they probably had the house to themselves and little to do while their husbands were playing with each other. It was win-win.

3
Daguerreotype Photos Were Expensive, Inconvenient, And Literally One-Of-A-Kind ... And People Still Used Them For Porn (Obviously)

Galerie Bilderwelt

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In 1839, Louis Daguerre created the first successful photographic process, humbly named daguerreotype.

Louis Daguerre
"Welcome to my daguerreohouse. Please come into my daguerreostudio and sit in this daguerreochair."

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Daguerreotypes had several factors that made them a pain in the ass to mass market: each one is an original, the process embeds the image on expensive silver, you had to paint them by hand if you wanted color, and honestly, we're just letting spellcheck type the name for us. Naturally, despite all that, it didn't take long for the earliest porn photographers to emerge anyway.

Google Art Project
As soon as the first photo was taken, the first porn-stache materialized on the photographer's face.

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Perhaps inspired by a strange whispering voice ("If you put boobs on it, they will come"), daguerreotype portraitists began to produce porn as a way to pad their incomes. One brave innovator and porntrepeneur was Jacques Moulin, who got busted for selling his nudes in 1851. Moulin's studio was raided and authorities confiscated his work, which court papers described as "so obscene that even to pronounce the titles [Two Nudes Standing, Nude With Jewelry At Mirror, Woman Nude, and so on] would be to commit an indecency."

After spending a month in prison, Moulin learned his lesson and stopped taking erotic photos ... and started taking "artistic nudes." So, pretty much the same thing, except he avoided obviously suggestive postures and registered his daguerreotypes as academie (studies for painters to use as anatomical reference). Soon, other photographers got in on that action. Sometimes, the justifications as studies for painting were pretty, pretty thin.

Galerie Bilderwelt

Galerie Bilderwelt
Ah, the classic "woman combing another woman's pubic hair" pose.

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This all means that it was some bureaucrat's job to look at naked pictures all day and try to determine which ones were art and which ones were Playboy centerfold material. Hard work, we're guessing.

2
One Of The Creators Of Cinema Clearly Used His Motion Studies As An Excuse To Watch Boobs

Eadweard Muybridge

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Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey were pioneers in early motion studies (basically, flip books printed on one page), and their work led directly to the development of movies. The two men worked along similar lines and ended up influencing each other amiably, instead of one going full Edison. For instance, here's Marey's motion study of somebody walking down an incline ...

Etienne Jules Marey

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... aaaand here's Muybridge's version of the same thing.

Eadweard Muybridge
Dude was using "I'll cast you in a movie" as a come-on before movies existed.

You might have noticed a difference or two. By all accounts, Marey was much more of a scientist and his work influenced both aviation and zoology. Meanwhile, Muybridge studied naked women kissing and walking down stairs to understand ... the exact range of boob bounce? According to some historians, Muybridge had women kiss because it would be seen as "more innocent" by Victorian society than a man and a woman. Not because he wanted to see ladies make out, no.

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It's also been claimed that he was just selling his nude prints as artists' studies, which, based on the history of artists' studies, is like saying, "They're not not naked."

Eadweard Muybridge
"Study on woman in apartment across street who doesn't know I'm watching, take 73."

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Muybridge even printed a catalogue of his prints that included things like the models' marital status and state of undress, thus ensuring anybody looking for porn among his collections could find it easily. Muybridge not only helped to invent the movies, but porn categories.

Despite the fact that the first movie of a clothed kiss on the cheek was officially denounced by the Catholic Church only ten years later, Muybridge successfully squeaked his work past the censors. To be fair, not everything he did was sexual (he also proved that a galloping horse's hooves leave the ground simultaneously as a result of the stupidest bet in history), and he did do motion studies on men, too ... including his own floppy Santa dong.

Eadweard Muybridge
"I'm gonna be stuffing more than stockings ..."

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And hey, if you think there isn't enough of that in this article, good news ...

1
Beefcake Magazines Hid Gay Pornography In Plain Sight

Physique Pictorial

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Let's say you're a gay man living in 1960s America. Not only is it not safe to come out, but your sexuality is still both illegal and classified as a mental illness. How in the world do you find erotica that caters to you in any way? Beyond figuring out where to get it, keep in mind that getting caught with it later would be, in most cases, life-ruining.

That's where sports magazines came in. Even in the most prudish eras, male nudity automatically became acceptable if it had to do with sports and fitness. One of the earliest movies ever made, when Queen Victoria was still alive, is of a semi-naked guy showing off his bod for 40 seconds:

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That's Eugen Sandow, one of the fathers of modern bodybuilding. And other pictures of him allegedly molesting a leaf should make clear what was coming next.

Eugen Sandow
Old-time photographs took so long to take, sometimes you grew vegetation.

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This acceptable nudity would slowly morph into beefcake magazines, a hilariously flimsy pretext to show bodybuilders almost or completely naked. Started by Bob Mizer in 1951 with his magazine Physique Pictorial, the mags would use coded language to hide their true nature from a casual observer -- certain symbols on the pages meant that the models in the photos would/wouldn't do certain acts, or swung in one or several directions, or had especially large or tiny equipment (seriously, there's a market for everything). But the main draw was, of course, the pictures.

Physique Pictorial

Walter Kundzicz's Champion Studios
He's great at finding a hole to run through.

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Beefcake magazines became like humanitarian relief packages, dropped into the war zone of sexual equality -- they don't stop the war, but they do give the refugees something to hold onto. Mizer saw them that way, and not only used Physical Physique to publish beefcake, but as his platform to fight against anybody who would attack somebody else's "private morals." Say what you want about pornographers, but you've got to admit they tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to stuff like this.

For more ways porn has always been life, check out 5 Artifacts That Prove Ancients Were Some Sick M'fers and 6 Depraved Sexual Fetishes That Are Older Than You Think.

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