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07 May

The Rise and Fall of Danish Pornography

Foto: Gleie Erik / Polfoto Foto: Gleie Erik / Polfoto

Once, Denmark was the leading producer of pornography. Today, pornography has become a world-spanning form of entertainment, with revenues numbering in the billions. In Denmark, however, the picture is different. This is the story about Danish pornography. The story about the naked men and women. About the photographers and producers and the rise and fall of Danish pornography - not to mention the story about the money.

It was one of those decisions that changed the world, and for which he would be remembered for the rest of his life. The conservative Secretary of State for Justice, Knud Thestrup, had proposed a law which would make image pornography legal.

He was rather reluctant, but pressure had increased and he hoped that the proposed law would have the same effect, as when two years earlier in 1967 they had eased up on the same section and made legal the kind of erotic texts one could buy anyway in every bookshop. After being made legal, the demand fell and the disputed books quietly disappeared from the shelves. But later on, Knud Thestrup had to admit that the legalisation of image pornography had the exact opposite effect of what he had expected.

Image pornography did not fold by being legalised. Instead the Danish porn industry exploded and with the acceptance of the law almost 40 years ago, an industry was created which ever since has been plagued by prejudices, looked down upon and made a target of hate.

But at the same time, pornography became a piece of Danish cultural history, which made Denmark known for its open-mindedness, and which quickly made a group of men, who understood this new interest of society, rich. And some, very rich.


Hard to Earn Money Today

"Today you must struggle, if you want to make money on porn," says Niels Dencker, who has his own studio outside of Copenhagen. He is part of the small group of professional producers of Danish pornography, who still works in the industry today.

He and the other producers all discuss the crisis of Danish porn industry. Few scenes are filmed, established people in the industry have had to give up pornography as their living, and the porn models have to search far and wide for jobs. And as a porn producer in contemporary Denmark, Niels Dencker must also take pictures for advertisement of prostitutes, since he can no longer live exclusively on making pornography.

It is in other words difficult to make a living from making pornography in contemporary Denmark. What was once a lucrative business is today a business that must struggle to even exist.

Niels Dencker believes that the biggest problem with today's pornography is that everybody can make it:

"There are no demands for minimum quality in porn. That is not how porn works, because what turns me on is not necessarily what turns you on, and that is why today you see this wide range of niche productions."

Naked Breasts and Joints

When Denmark legalised pornography about 40 years ago, however, times were completely different. One of those who made a profit from this was a young man named Ole Ege. His business was then made legal.

He had taken and sold pictures of young women since 1955, when he to the sound of the new American rock music in a bar in Copenhagen for the first time persuaded a young girl to be immortalised on camera. But it was with 8mm film that Ole Ege was to make his money.

"There was perhaps more of a hippie approach towards losing your clothes. Of course it was not everybody who wanted to take part, but those who would were influenced by island camps and all that with naked breasts. And then you smoked a little joint. It was in the air that it was alright. And afterwards the girls were willing to appear in films and on photos. The gentlemen on the other hand were happy for the chance to get a little money and get laid," says Ole Ege, who towards the end of the 1960's had a business worth about a million DKR, drove a white Ford Mustang, lived in a large villa and had five employees.

The Industry Takes a Hit

Jørn Nielsen had been in the industry since the beginning of the 80's, where he by chance became part of it by selling photos and travel articles to the men's magazine Cats. Today he co-owns the internet porn site

"The Danish industry is in a rough spot. It is a business almost dead. There are almost no producers left. The very few producers, who are left, have lots of problems," he says.
When Ole Ege was active in the business, six minutes of 8mm pornographic film cost about 400 DKR, and the producers sold a lot of those.

Today, the money must be earned online, and according to Jørn Nielsen that is possible, even though the competition is tougher, not least because of everything that is offered for free on the internet.

"About ten-fifteen years ago we had a large VHS and DVD market. So we don't have to go far back before we arrive at when the industry made a lot, lot more money."

Brothers Put Denmark On the Map

It was two brothers who really placed Denmark on the world map of pornography. To this date they are still the greatest who ever existed in Danish porn industry.

The Theander Brothers were the men of Danish porn production who overshadowed everything. Already two years before the legalisation of images they had produced their first, illegal porn magazine.

In 1986 they made the magazine, which would be the leading one in the industry for many years to come - "Color Climax". While Jens Theander captured the images in the back room, Peter Theander kept the books.

The magazine was the seed of the brothers' great empire. And when Denmark, as the first country in the world legalised image pornography in 1969, you could already four days later find articles in American newspapers with headlines such as "Have you tried Danish Blue?"

The legalisation of image pornography in 1969 energised the producers. And in autumn that same year, the big producers of pornography, the brothers Theander and Leo Madsen, held the world's first sex convention - "Sex 69" - in the KB-hall. The interest was huge and attracted more than 300 journalists from all over the world, and more than 50,000 guests managed to visit the convention, which at times had a queue up to a kilometre long.

Eventually, the brothers Theander sold porn to the entire world, and so the press began to take an interest in the finances of the rapidly growing company.

The brothers Theander therefore withdrew from the public eye, and ever since the story of the two brothers have been surrounded by a certain air of mystique. They have later told that they sold up to 4,000 movies a day between 1976 and 1981. Today the movies are still being sold though the rights no longer belong to the two brothers, who have retired entirely from business.

Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of their company in 1996, they tallied that the last 30 years of production had resulted in more than 3,000 books and magazines with more than 140 million copies produced. Added to that was about eight and a half million movies and almost a million video tapes.

The Man on the Street

While people lined up for the sex convention in October 1969, a young man tried to make a living in Vesterbro, the tough neighbourhood of Copenhagen, where the sex shops, prostitutes and hustlers formed a symbiotic bond.

The first tourists who came to Copenhagen to enjoy the liberal legislation were really becoming visible as they rushed towards the sex Mecca of the world, and the porn shops appeared rapidly along the street of Istedgade.

The young man Kai Rasmussen had until then earned a bit of money with his ex-wife as models in various porn magazines, but Red Kai, as he was called due to his red beard and hair, quickly discovered along with the rest of the underworld of Vesterbro that you could make quick money off of the many sex tourists.

One of the methods was painting black one of the many empty cellars on Vesterbro, fill the room with chairs and then announce among the tourists that they now had the chance to watch a real live show.

The tourists had to pay to sit in the cellar, and while they waited for a woman to show up and strip, Red Kai and his partners showed a cheap porno, while they assured their customers that the girl would arrive in a moment.

But she didn't. When the room was full, Red Kai disappeared, about a 1000 DKR richer, and the tourists had to move on with nothing.

The Shops Suffer

Copenhagen still has its porn shops. But they are acutely aware of what the internet has done to the porn industry. The sale of pornographic movies is no longer something you can run a business on.

The DVD's are outmatched by the many options online, and so the customers do not have to show their faces in the stores.

On Vesterbro, once considered the sex Mecca of the world, there are still some of the shops that opened around the years of 1969.

"We don't sell a lot of movies in our shop anymore. It happens online. On the other hand we sell a few more adult toys," Michael says, who owns a sex shop in Copenhagen. It was his father who founded it in 1969.


Porn Model Today

One of those, who are trying to make a living off Danish pornography today, is Lasse Lundum. In the business he is known as "Don LP". Besides working as a porn model he is also in charge of finding porn models for a number of producers.

"There are a lot of male models who sign up. But it is not everybody who can do it. They say you have to go through a 100 men to find two, who will work out. So it takes a bit of luck to find the right ones. The girls that they have to work with also have to like them. If they don't, it won't happen. It's the female models who wear the pants in the end," Lasse Lundum says, who is 27 years old.

Women who want to do pornography are not that easy to find though.

"Of course we get applications, but not that many, and then it is important that they look good. But there are so few who are interested in this country, so you often take what you can get, and that's why you can't really be picky," says Lasse.

Today, a female porn model earns about 4,000-5,000 DKR for a day's work, while the male models get about 1,000-2,500 DKR for the same job. There has always been that kind of reverse inequality in the industry. It is the female model who is the attraction, and it is she who gets the bigger payment.

"Josephine" is one of those girls. She is 23 years old and started working in the business a couple of days after her 18th birthday, which besides the right to a driving license also gave her access to the business.

"My parents didn't take it so well, but I try to be honest with them, but of course I don't tell them everything that I do. They are very frustrated and can't understand me at all. Especially my dad has had a tough time with it, but of course he doesn't like the idea of his little girl doing something like that."

Josephine has tried several times to explain to her parents why she works in this industry.

"I think my parents have tried all kinds of reactions to get me to stop. But they don't understand that I make movies because I think it is really exciting to be a part of. At first it was something I did to try it out, and I have never done it for the money."

Lots of Money in the 80's

In the 80's, a technological advancement took place which changed the porn industry in both Denmark as well as the rest of the world. In the middle of the 1980's it was made possible to build a recorder directly into a film camera, and the first camcorders were made.

That meant that everybody who could afford a camera and wanted to do porn could do it. The market for porn distribution exploded as the VCR became common in Danish households and made it possible quite cheaply to rent pornographic movies and watch them inside your own home, whereas before you had to go to the cinema.

According to the former porn producer and now owner of the internet porn site, Jørn Nielsen, who entered the industry at this time, there was now lots of money to be got:

"Everything worked in the 80's, there was really a lot of money in it. There were plenty of girls to choose from, and the internet hadn't happened yet, so it was great for both actors, producers and distributors," he remembers.

But the VCR also meant that pornography became more soft.

"Pornography simply became nicer in the 1980's. Animal sex, S/M and other fetishes were common themes in the 70's, but became diminished since they didn't suit the shelves of ordinary video stores," Nicolas Barnabo explains, who is a cultural distributor and film producer with a specialty in genre films, such as pornography.

"Producers and the distributors quickly realised that the nicer and more common their pornographic movies were, the greater chances they had of selling them to the biggest markets available," Nicolas Barbano says.

But the foreign producers eventually caught up with the Danish ones, despite the Danish head start. Already in the beginning of the 80's the Americans had far superior production techniques than what the Danes could do, just as a large part of the porn distributed in Denmark increasingly came from a larger and more effective German industry.
Former porn producer and now owner of the internet website, Jørn Nielsen, explains:

"As we got closer to the 1990's, revenues fell as everybody tried to make pornography."

Reign of the Internet

Earning money on pornography is done entirely different today. The channels of distribution through video stores and rental stores from the old days have been overrun, and pornography is today viewed online.

The internet is today the absolute dominant channel of distribution for pornography. Several claim that the internet has become so widespread due to the big interest in pornography, but it is certain that the largest porn sites have huge numbers of users. Sites like, and have a daily number of visitors larger than sites like CNN and New York Times.

However, the demand accentuates the problem which Danish producers and distributors struggle with. On those sites, the content is free. And when you can see thousands of pornographic movies and scenes for free, why use internet sites that require payment?

"The many free sites online are a huge problem for many. They really have a lot of users, and it is obvious that they steal a lot of attention from other internet sites," says "Thomas", who does not want his last name or the name of his company mentioned in the article, since his company does not exclusively deal in online pornography.

Thomas' company administrates more than a 100 different internet sites with pornographic material.

"The internet is the way to go, and there is plenty of money to be made. It just isn't Danes who are the ones making it these days."


Carefree Amateurs

It is today about 40 years ago since the Danish Parliament legalised image pornography, and the Danish producers, who were already established, were given a unique competitive advantage compared to the rest of the world's pornographic producers.

But while you can either cheer or scowl at the fact that the Danish porn industry has had its 40th anniversary, the scene is now reversed.

The worldwide recession along with the free offers of pornography online has halted several production companies, and those few who are left are fighting to survive. That is the consensus in the industry.

The Danish porn magazines, who once boasted incredible sales, have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves. Their number of readers have steadily declined and it is no longer a certainty to find porn magazines in the stands across the country.

The publishing house Rapport still produces a handful of titles, however, and the company does make money off of it, even if their circulation has been reduced to about 12,000 readers per magazine, which is in stark contrast to the company's flagship Ugens Rapport, which sold 200,000 copies a week in the beginning of the 1970's.

"It may be that porn magazines are outdated in this world. And the publishing house Rapport may also close in a number of years, if we don't make a comeback with our products." That is the evaluation made by the chief editor Jan NIelsen, who has been in charge of the titles of Rapport since 1989. Porn magazines may be outdated in this world.

However, he does believe that the magazine can be saved if you really invest in it, and although he believes that it is clear how the Danish porn industry has taken a heavy hit, he does not believe that the Danish porn industry will disappear entirely.

"40 years ago it was a bunch of carefree amateurs who begin a worldwide pornographic production, and I believe there will always be some of these carefree amateurs, who want to give it another go."

Last modified on Saturday, 12 May 2012 14:30
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