During the 1980s, anti-pornography ideologues—an unlikely alliance of feminist activists and right-wing evangelical Christians—waged an open war against pornography and the anti-censorship feminists who supported legal protection for pornographic works. Following a pivotal defeat of an anti-pornography ordinance in federal court, the ideologies constituted in the so-called “Porn Wars” continued to guide obscenity doctrine. These ideologies have informed lower courts’ understanding of the harms and values associated with sexually explicit content more than constitutional scholars recognize, at least explicitly. Although courts recognize core feminist values such as sexual autonomy and privacy in sexually explicit content, they have built doctrine that essentially forestalls the exchange of sexual content, even among consenting adults in private and quasi-private spaces. Anti-pornography presumptions of harmful effects predominate lower court decisions in ways that could produce disastrous consequences for artistic speech, privacy, and even public health.
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