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|Out of the Shadow - Page 2|
A Peephole to Adult Pleasure
It was 1961, and I was 11 years old—the average age of first exposure to pornography—when a neighbor girl showed me some picture cards she'd found in her grandfather's nightstand. They featured pretty women in frilly corsets, posed to reveal breasts spilling out and bottoms exposed. I giggled with my friend, but found them both shocking and stimulating. Several images became locked in my brain, making them easy to recall to this day. Soon after, I discovered a stash of Playboy magazines hidden in a home where I babysat. I enthusiastically perused them from cover to cover, praying that my secret activities would never be discovered. I barely understood the captions, but I liked the colorful cartoons showing shameless, wide-eyed females.
As I grew older, I had only infrequent and experimental contact with pornography, usually when babysitting or at a girlfriend's house when her parents were away. To me, pornography was for adults, definitely a guy thing, not something a "good girl" should pursue. In the East Coast middle-class suburb where I grew up, getting my hands on more pornography would have taken some effort, and even though my parents were more open and communicative about sex than most, I knew they wouldn't approve of my looking at "dirty" magazines or reading steamy novels. Consequently, scarcity, fear, and guilt served as formidable barriers to their use.
Later, in high school, my wrestler boyfriend took me to a party with his teammates where we stood, beers in hand, in a living room and watched grainy black-and-white "stag films" from Europe. This live-action form of pornography was much more exciting than the still shots and written descriptions I'd seen before. Motion pictures made sex real and brought it into the here and now. We stood transfixed by the images, trying to look cool while heating up inside. The images were as disturbing as they were arousing—a young woman slowly stripped and fondled by an older man, and several men being sexual with one woman. It seemed like everything played out in slow motion. Flushed with sexual heat and embarrassment, I looked over at my boyfriend. He seemed uncomfortable and embarrassed, and a little afraid. We left the party early, never discussing what we'd witnessed or felt.
In my early exposures, I saw pornography as a forbidden product, offering a peephole into the off-limits adult world of sexual pleasure. Like smoking cigarettes in back of the schoolyard or taking a shot of alcohol from Dad's liquor cabinet, looking at pornography felt rebellious, but at the same time, a necessary rite of passage. As a way to understand sex, those "dirty" stories, pictures, and films offered a far more compelling view of sexuality than the cryptic and incomplete sex-education materials I was shown in health class. In spite of how the images degraded women and portrayed men in a position of sexual power, pornography gave me a vision of sex that validated sexual passion and pleasure.
Liberating Adult Entertainment
In the early 1970s, I graduated from college and moved to Berkeley, California, to attend social work graduate school and pursue a career as a mental health therapist. The sexual revolution—at least as it was widely portrayed in the media—was in full swing, and had transformed the public perception of sex and its possibilities. Ana•s Nin, David Reuben, Shere Hite, Betty Dodson, Alex Comfort, Judy Chicago, and others were raising my consciousness about the great possibilities inherent in sexual liberation and freedom from ignorance, old hang-ups, and unnecessary taboos. My peers and I thought that almost anybody could become a healthier, happier, more productive human being—and society itself might change for the better—if only people could transcend their parents' puritanical training about sex and overcome unnecessary embarrassments and inhibitions.
It was an exciting time of sexual awakening. Sexual pleasure became a recreational sport and "free love" a spiritual practice. I became involved in a back-to-nature movement that validated the natural beauty of the body. I soaked naked in hot tubs with friends, hiked bare-chested in coastal forests, and skinny-dipped in mountain streams. I volunteered
During this period of expanding sexual awareness, hardcore pornography entered the mainstream marketplace. While capitalizing on the changes in social consciousness, this expansion in commercial pornography seemed to reinforce the new spirit of sexual
Soft and hardcore movies started appearing in adult-only movie theaters in major cities across the country. For the first time, porn titles and stars were showcased on marquees, not hidden away in dark-alley cigar shops. Now the public had easy access to gay porn films (Boys in the Sand and Pink Narcissus), erotic cartoon movies (Fritz the Cat), and full-color features like Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones, and Behind the Green Door. Adult movies emerged as a new and wildly popular form of entertainment. Though Larry, my live-in boyfriend (now my husband), and I were involved in social work, feminist causes, and men's consciousness raising, we'd occasionally slip into a nearby Mitchell Brothers adult movie theater to watch a talked-about release. Any trepidation that these films were inconsistent with our social values was overridden by our curiosity about this exciting new pornography and our desire to feel we were becoming sexually liberated.