Document Type




Publication Date


Journal, Book or Conference Title

New Books Network


When I was in college in the 1980s, I liked to listen to Iggy Pop (aka James Newell Osterberg, Jr.). I was always mystified, however, by his song "Five Foot One," with its odd and catchy refrain "I wish life could be/Swed-ish mag-a-zines!" What in the heck did that mean? I'd never seen a "Swed-ish mag-a-zine." Thanks to Elizabeth Heineman's wonderful book Before Porn Was Legal: The Erotica Empire of Beate Uhse (University of Chicago Press, 2011), now I understand. You see, the last and perhaps most significant Swedish contribution (if that's what it was) to Western Civilization was legalized hardcore porn. In the early 1970s the Swedes (and their porn-allies, the Danes) flooded European markets with the stuff. The Scandinavians were making a killing.

As Lisa explains, the "Swedish Invasion" put the queen of the German erotica industry, Beate Uhse, in something of a bind - but it also came at a moment of great opportunity. In the first two decades after World War II, the Luftwaffe pilot-turned erotica entrepreneur had built a sex empire legitimized by the idea that erotica helped married, heterosexual couples have more fulfilling relationships. After all, the bread and butter of the industry were condoms (for customers who could hardly afford babies, given wartime devastation) and basic how-to manuals (for customers suffered from dire sexual ignorance). And the demand was there: by the early 1960s, fully half of West German household had patronized a mail-order erotica firm. But by the end of that decade, pornography - both homegrown and imported - was the backbone of the industry. So what, exactly, was the social mission of the erotica industry in this brave new world? In the end, the market decided with more than a little help from liberalism: German men wanted porn and the West German courts and Parliament couldn't think of a reason not to let them have it. And so it is that you can buy porn on every high street in Germany, often in a Beate Uhse Erotik-Shop (Warning: really NSFW).

This is a terrifically interesting book. Read it.


Copyright © 2011 New Books In History