Pornography Has Been Around A Long Time, Regardless of What Grandma Says

I’ll admit it. I’m surly today. I just found out I’m going to have to drop $3K on my daughter’s dental work and it’s the first Halloween that neither of my kids are doing anything and I really just want to turn off my lights and draw the shades. But, while I was in the waiting room at the dentist I just read an article from some senior citizen’s magazine where several people over 65 were complaining about how the world has changed, specifically sexual standards including pornography. Their attitudes and white-washing of the history was frustrating to read.

I’m not here to defend pornography at all, but I think it’s buffoonish to pretend like it didn’t exist in the first 80 years of the 20th Century. I don’t mean to attack senior citizens at all, and if any read this blog, I’m not talking about you. It’s your Golden Girls-watching brethren who need to recognize they hold some responsibility for where we find ourselves today. It wasn’t my generation or the next one making sex-soaked films in the 60s and 70s that became the norm in Hollywood.

If you want me to point out 1,000 things that are better now than they were in the past, I easily can. From safety standards to communications to health care to transportation, it’s impossible to make a solid argument that things were better back then…whenever you decide “then” was.

Yeah, maybe you didn’t have to have school shooter drills, but you did have air raid drills. If you’re going to believe you had a more moral, less sexualized society, I’d point out to you the teenage (15-19) pregnancy rate in 1957 was 9.6% while in 1979, that figure was 11.1%. In 2015, it dropped to 4.3% — less than half of what it was during your romanticized vision of society.

There’s too much sex on TV compared to your day? We have 800 channels now. There’s too much everything on TV compared to when there were three channels. Times Square in NYC became a cesspool for strip clubs and adult theaters in the 1960s. Sixty years later, you won’t find any adult entertainment there. Exponentially more cities and towns have strict rules about or against adult entertainment businesses than ever before.

The reality is, those who condemn the youth of today as immoral were once labeled that as well and it’s been happening for ages:

“The free access which many young people have to romances, novels and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth…” – Rev. Enos Hitchcock, 1790

“Never has youth been exposed to such dangers of both perversion and arrest as in our own land and day.” – Granville Stanley Hall, 1904

“Many young people were so pampered nowadays that they have forgotten there was such a thing as walking, and they make automatically for the buses… unless they do something, the future for walking is very poor indeed.” – The Falkirk Herald, Scotland, 1951

If you want to believe there really wasn’t porn in the 1950s, one only has to point out that Playboy made its debut in December 1953. That means somebody who is 70 today was 4 years old when it debuted. You can look back into the 1920s and see widely distributed magazines with naked people that were produced specifically for titillation. Let’s not forget all of the art created between 1500 and 1900 that had adult themes. I’m not talking about naked angels. There was plenty of hardcore nudity in paintings during those 400 years. Want to go further back? There are erotic paintings and carvings that have been found in caves dating back to the paleolithic era more than 50,000 years ago and plenty also found in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago. Let’s not even talk about what the Greeks and Romans were into.

The world has always been a sexual place; it’s how we get the new humans here. I understand that we have technology that makes ease of access to sexually explicit materials easier than in the past, but Playboy isn’t still around because the Internet appeared 20 years ago. Playboy is struggling because the Internet appeared. Somebody caused its circulation to rise to 7 million per month in the 1970s, when these moral people interviewed for the article were in their 20s and 30s. But I’m sure they never looked at one.

I take exception to the romanticism, nostalgia and rose-colored glasses that the past is looked upon and the scorn with which the present and future are seen. I hear the word “millennial” tossed around like it’s a horrible thing, but I’ve never seen a more ethically conscious, morally aware generation. I think the future is in good hands with your grandchildren. Perhaps your distaste comes from the job you did raising my generation. Maybe my generation took notes and tried to do better.

I could give more than enough examples to fill volumes of books, but I know that the current group of older, conservative people who rue the day and wish things were like they were in the good old days are simply not going to understand what the rest of us already know: There never were good old days and if there are, these are the good old days for today’s youth. Your generation brought the same things every generation brings to the table, advancement of science and culture that scared the people who came before you.


9 thoughts on “Pornography Has Been Around A Long Time, Regardless of What Grandma Says

  1. One thing that surprised me when I was in Greece was the amount of homoerotic art from the Ancient Greek days. Vases and all kinds of decorative objects were covered in pictures of guys boning each other, with the odd animal tossed in for good measure.

  2. I get your point. But porn’s never been so cheaply (free) and easily accessed as it is now. We used to have to hide our skin mags or slink into “adult theaters.” Now it’s at our fingertips 24/7. I think that does make a difference. But you’re right, it’s been around as long as folks could draw pictures. There’s nothing new under the sun…

    1. Well, according to the figures, back then, everybody was doing it instead of looking at it. Porn is more available now, but the Millenial generation is having less pre-marital sex with fewer partners than any generation in 60 years. And the “chaste” history of our grandmothers isn’t so virginal. A study for the National Survey of Family Growth found that among American women born between 1950 and 1978 (making them 41-69 in age today) 91 percent had premarital sex by age 30. It’s not the access I’m questioning, it’s the denial that it happened in their time and the castigation of younger generations they know nothing about.

  3. As an old person, I spend (actually, spent; read on) a lot of my time trying to understand the world – we were promised an end to war and poverty, a cure for cancer, holidays on the moon and, most importantly, flying cars. What we got was, well, look around you. We scrabble around looking for answers because humans look for meaning and construct narratives, and we love easy answers and simple stories much more than complexity. When we complain that it wasn’t like that in our day, that’s the truth, it wasn’t; ‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’

    So here we are, in the future, where everything’s strange and different. Some of us respond with half-baked pronouncements on why things went wrong. We know that won’t change anything, it’s just a howl of confusion and loss – there’s no need to respond, except possibly sympathetically. Others, like me, give up on our years of activism and protest, realise we can’t do anything more, will never understand how we got to where we are even though we watched it happen and tried to stop it. For us it’s a descent into boardgames and model railways.

    So, when old people tell you that it isn’t what it used to be, it isn’t. And when the try to explain why things aren’t how they used to be, don’t try to correct then, just give them a reassuring hug. But never forget that, just sometimes, they’re right ;o)

    1. I’ve been turning over this comment in my head for a few hours. You and I share a unique kinship, but I have to say I really think you’re playing the victim of society that the people in the article I read also did. I know TV and society promised you all those things, but were those things promised on the back of my generation or yours? I know you’re not individually responsible for the lack of flying cars, but we’re still not colonizing the moon as I was promised as a 10-year-old, and I’m OK with it.

      I, too, have very much detached from popular culture. I learned the new, popular social media app is called Tik-Tok the other day. My daughter thought I was out of touch since it’s been a big deal since summertime. That’s how fast her world works. I don’t recognize 95% of the artists on the “new hits” radio station, I watch exactly one current TV show and I haven’t touched Netflix in years. My engagement in popular culture is fading, but I remember when this happened to my parents. It’s just the natural order of things. The older generation seemed to never connect this and it’s hard to tell if it’s just a lamenting that things have changed, or an outright resentment.

      I guess the biggest piece of the problem for me, which you touch upon, is that anything strange or different is bad. I don’t think responding sympathetically is the answer. Believing things are strange or different is bad is how you get racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, etc. Why was the priority flying cars and not figuring out how to get along with each other?

      I’m not saying things aren’t different…they are. Constant change is actually a good thing as I believe we are progressing forward as a society, but then again, maybe I’m just an optimist who believe things work out. It’s just faith in the overall good of future generations. I’m saddened that older generations have to tell themselves stories that their generations were somehow superior. The enlightened older people seem to be the ones who spend the most time with younger people. I think there’s a real connection there.

  4. Of course you are right, Josh – I guess I was being flippant and over-generalising. But I would take issue with the idea that old people think the past was better – it was just better for /them/, they felt more comfortable there because they understood it. Ask them (me!) if they really want to go back to polio, rationing (a UK perspective – it ended in 1956), only 2 TV channels, no central heating, cleaning out the grate every morning to light the fire, killer smog etc. and you’d find that we’re all quite happy (or as happy as we ever get) in the 21st century :o)

    1. I think you’re right about that. I think that a lot of this “the past is better” is really a way of saying “the present is scary” which is sad.

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