Sexuality As Art: Differentiating The Obscene From The Artistic

November 28, 2016 11:31 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Obscenity is defined as relating to sex in extremely shocking or offensive way. Clearly, obscenity is, at best, a nuanced termed that will vary from individual to individual. A major problem that publications face is navigating the legal challenges between obscene and artistic.

A Clear Divide?

How to bridge the divide between individual artistic expression and offensive or “obscene” material circulated in the public arena. The United States has created obscenity laws which can oftentimes be considered malleable or imprecise depending on an individual’s perspective and modern social standard. This paper will attempt to clarify the difference between obscene and artistic.

The Miller Test, a landmark Supreme Court decision decided in 1975, held that obscenity should be defined using the following criteria:

(a) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest. . . (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value2.”

Using the Miller Test along with social normative standards, an analysis will be conducted on the following images.



Obscene vs Artistic: A Comparative analysis


The subject is relaxed and not in any clear or imminent danger.

The quality of the image, considering it’s composition, lighting, framing, color scheme and overall harmony is well thought-out.

Sexual content: The subject is moderately dressed, covering her genitals yet still expressing sexuality.

Violence: The subject is clearly tied with rope, however, violence is not clearly present as much as artistic composition.  


The subject is tense, appears uncomfortable and possibly in danger.

The quality of the image is poor, at points blurry and not well balanced from an artistic perspective.

Sexual content: The subject is nude, fully exposed and positioned in a way that can be interpreted as submissive in an aggressive situation.

Violence is clearly present.  


  1. Obscenity defined by Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
  2. Miller Test, Oyez.Org,

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This post was written by Edward Singleton

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