Community standards regarding sexually explicit materials in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: Personal standards and perceived standards

Mary Elizabeth Kearns, University of Pennsylvania


The 1973 Miller v. California decision of the United States Supreme Court established that individual communities have the right to determine which sexually explicit materials are to be considered obscene and barred from availability in their community. Since the Miller ruling, "community standards" have become central to the prosecution and defense of sexually explicit materials, and judges or jurors are expected to assess and apply local standards in determining whether or not material is obscene. Despite the centrality of the "community standards" issue in determining obscenity, very few communities have ascertained their community standards regarding sexually explicit material. This research determines the personal standards and the perceived community standards of 308 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania residents regarding access to sexually explicit materials in their community. Community members were surveyed by a questionnaire developed by the investigator and some respondents were studied further using a semi-structured interview. For consideration of the community standard, straight percentages were used. Chi-square, Spearman rho, and discriminant analysis were used where appropriate. Results indicate there is community consensus that adults should have access to materials depicting nudity, that minors should not have access to sexually explicit materials and that sexually explicit depictions of rape or sexual violence should not be available to adults. Beliefs in the negative or positive effects of sexually explicit materials influence attitudes regarding access to the materials. There is no community consensus regarding depictions of nonviolent sexual acts, therefore there is an absence of sufficient conditions for a community standard to be said to exist. Community standards are perceived as less tolerant than personal standards. Responses concerning sexually explicit material are significantly influenced by demographic variables. This research indicates a judge or jury applying the Miller test of obscenity is unlikely to make an objective assessment of community standards. This study's results provide grounds for a challenge to the Miller test of obscenity based on the Miller test's false assumptions regarding the assessment and existence of community standards.

Subject Area

Social studies education|Social psychology|Journalism|Welfare

Recommended Citation

Kearns, Mary Elizabeth, "Community standards regarding sexually explicit materials in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: Personal standards and perceived standards" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9125684.