Web Porn Connoisseur

The (naked) truth is coming

My friend, an imposing accountant/HR type who shall remain nameless, was showing me the other day how to erase the history file on a web browser. That file stores a running list of all the web sites you’ve visited over the past week or two.

She erases this file religiously, she says, whenever she goes on a bit of a pornography spree. These days her little fetish is typing random, suggestive URLs — kissylips.com, say, or whipmesilly.org — into her browser’s address line to see what comes up.

She has a remarkably high success rate, which illustrates the awe-inspiring fact about web porn: there’s so much of it out there. And the simple, supply-and-demand corollary is that it’s there because it’s what people want. I’d even go so far as to say it’s what people need, what they’re crying out for. There’s a hunger for the stuff that cannot be denied.

Most debates over Internet pornography devolve at once into wrangles over the hard-core extremes: child porn, addiction, stalking, and the like. Important questions all, but focusing on them throws out with the bath water every legitimate expression of human appetite. For the most pertinent thing about porn is that, disturbing, pandering, immoral though it be, it is also us. And we finally have the technological wherewithal to explore that fact.

Web porn is available to anybody with a computer and an Internet connection, any time. Admittedly, 95 percent of the stuff is shameful crap, indicative of a profoundly narrow imagination. But there’s still the other five percent, and with a little ferreting anyone open to the experience can find something of interest.

The other night, for example, I clicked a link on a big commercial site that brought up a video: A woman reclined on a couch, bare naked apropos of nothing at all, and told a pretty good joke. It was porn, I suppose, in that the intent was simple titillation. But it was less a sexual experience than a surprising non sequitur. I found it delightful. As long as there are sites like this dishing out creative, quirky content, web porn can only get better.

But commercial sites, however well done, will always have that slick, big-money air about them. The true promise of web porn lies with the amateur sites, where individuals make their own porn, exhibiting themselves and their own versions of sexuality to the world at large.

This is a huge advance from my teenage years, when the only available erotic study guides (purloined copies of Playboy and Penthouse) made it clear that but one female body-type was worth lusting after: big, blowsy blondes with chesterfield breasts. Now with just a few clicks I can see any number of people, female and male, of every physical type. Bodies are no longer such a mystery to me. I can see that normal breasts do not cantilever straight out. I can see more erections than I would in a lifetime without web porn, and realize for myself that the “eight-inch average” is highly exaggerated. More to the point, I get an inkling of what turns all these bodies on, of how incredibly wide the spectrum of erotic possibility really is.

My aforementioned lady friend, for instance, dabbles in “Christian BDSM” (a portmanteau acronym for “Bondage/Discipline, Domination/Submission, SadoMasochism”), which sounded to me at first like one huge contradiction in terms. But no, she explained — and it’s worth mentioning that we’d probably never have talked about this if web porn hadn’t broken the ice — there are any number of e-mail discussion groups to join if you want to discuss Christian BDSM with like-minded parties.

I’m no uncritical booster of technology, but I’ll say this for the Internet: It’s a tailor-made vehicle for discovering what turns you on. There are no sleazy stores to visit, no overpriced, plastic-sealed magazines to buy, no teenage video-store clerks to brave. Because you surf alone there is no third-party moral judgement hanging over your head (as long as you erase your history file, that is). Like never before, you’re free to follow your instincts.

And people discover that some pretty surprising things turn them on. Infantilism, role-playing, wearing a harness and pulling a cart around … any number of weird and wonderful fetishes that normal people would find disgusting. Except the web tells you that these are normal people, on both sides of the screen, wandering around in what used to be, before the web, the dark fringes of human sexuality.

This makes some people uncomfortable. The sexual mores we grow up with are perhaps our deepest and least susceptible to change. But a generation of kids is now growing up with every flavour of sex and nudity available for their viewing pleasure 24 hours a day. It may take nerve to pose today, but judging from the growth of amateur web porn it’s clearly just a matter of time until absolutely everybody appears naked on the web in one form or another.

From the point of view of social transformation, forget e-commerce. That’s just a minor tweak on the buying of stuff, something we’ve been doing openly and well for centuries now. No, the biggest gift of the Internet to humanity will be a sweeping and long-overdue loosening up of sexuality. Web porn tells me that sex is no longer the private, puritanical task our culture has made of it over the ages. It tells me that sex is becoming a great, open, shared endeavour.

I look forward to the day when anybody will be able to say “I’m an exhibitionist” with the same aplomb they might say “I’m an engineer.” It won’t be a disgrace or a scandal, it’ll just be a part of who we are. And it’ll all be right there in our history files.


This essay appeared on the Globe and Mail‘s Facts and Arguments page, way back in May 2002. Posted here so i can refer to it in a blog post.

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