Denmark legalized pornography 50 years ago. Did the decision turn out as expected?

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Denmark legalized pornography 50 years ago. Did the decision turn out as expected?
A 'pornography supermarket' in Copenhagen in 1978. Photo: Allan Moe / Ritzau Scanpix

Thursday marked the 50-year anniversary of Denmark’s groundbreaking decision to legalize pornographic images in 1969.


Conservative Minister of Justice Knud Thestrup stated at the time that he hoped legalization of pornography would reduce interest in it amongst the general public.

Has that transpired in the half-century since Denmark became the world's first country to legalize porn?

The decision paved the way for distributors to make a fortune from the country’s 1970s ‘sexual revolution’.

Following legalization, which came into effect on July 1st 1969, the industry quickly flourished in Denmark, photographer Jon Nordstrøm, who produced the book Porno, which chronicles the industry through photography, wrote for DR earlier this week.

“It wasn’t that there hadn’t been any production before, but now producers could really let loose,” Nordstrøm wrote.

The government’s decision to make pornography legal, although taken by a conservative minister, came during a time when the hippie movement and concept of free love was at its height in Denmark and elsewhere.

“Even before the ban was lifted, the hippie movement, thoughts about free sex and nakedness mixed together with porn, because it was a youth culture that was against all forms of censorship,” Nordstrøm wrote.

One entrepreneur, Barny Nygaard, now 77, became one of Denmark’s biggest money-makers within the industry. Nygaard’s company was founded in the early 1980s and had a turnover of close to 15 million kroner annually during its most successful years, news agency Ritzau writes.

“It all started when I drove to Greve and bought the rights to four porn movies for 100,000 kroner, which I scraped together from my family,” Nygaard told Ritzau.

“I also went to the bank and asked whether I could borrow money to buy the four porn films. But they told me to forget it,” he added.

The advent of VHS tapes enabled Nygaard to distribute the films at the new video rental stores being opened across the country during the period.

Demand was also high at pornographic cinemas in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro neighbourhood – then a tough area which Nygaard was nervous about visiting, he said.

“It was a tough industry back then,” the porn distributor said.

“I must admit I looked over my shoulder a little,” he added.

Nygaard’s company BN Agentur continued to profit until around ten years ago.

“That’s when it stopped – from one day to the next. Turnover fell to around one million kroner per year. So we didn’t want to continue. Today we are a small postal order firm that just about breaks even,” he said.

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