One of the greatest changes in the lifetimes of the over-50 set is the Internet. We were all adults when it first became available to us. We all spent our childhoods having to look things up in encyclopedias and almanacs. It’s truly been a blessing for the last two decades and I’m sure that few of us would want to go back to a time without it.
But there is one aspect of the instant gratification we now receive daily from the web that I fear may ultimately be unhealthy for us, particularly those of us of the male persuasion. It’s pornography. I am not talking about pornography in the legal sense. I am just using pornography as a shorthand here for pictures of unclothed people.
Men over 50 grew up in a sexually-repressed society where the only place we could regularly see pictures of naked women was in magazines like Playboy and Penthouse. Obtaining these usually involved getting hold of a copy purchased by an adult male because most newsstands would not sell them to minors. So adolescent boys had to work to see pornography. Today, on the Internet, young males have to work to avoid it. (Now I know that there are some women who enjoy viewing pornography as much as men, but that’s the exception rather than the rule in my experience. I think that the limited appeal of magazines like Playgirl among women is evidence of that.)
Back when we over 50s were teens, the most common way for boys to see pornography was if a friend found his father’s stash and invited you over to have a look. It happened rarely. And back then, Playboy showed only (in the words of the song from A Chorus Line) tits and ass. Today, the most graphic pictures are only a few clicks away from any 12-year-old with an Internet connection.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I truly don’t know. There is one school of thought that says viewing porn allows males to vent some sexual energy that might otherwise be visited upon women against their will. And then there are those who say that viewing porn teaches men to see women as sex objects rather than people.
I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle as usual. Like all pleasures, it’s a matter of degree. Where an occasional trip to a porn website can satisfy the curiosity of a young male, constant exposure to exposed bodies is probably not healthy. Nudists will probably disagree. They will argue that constant exposure is just what we need to take the sexuality out of nakedness. But even if that is possible, do we really want to remove sexuality from nudism?
Anyway, like it or not, it is a fact of life in the 21st century that before a boy can hear about the “facts of life” he’s already seen what makes the opposite sex different. The Internet puts it all within reach of everyone. So we all have to deal with it.
We try to deal with it by restricting the access of minors to the Internet. But that is even less successful than the prohibitions of porn magazine sales to minors back when we were kids. The reason is that the Internet is everywhere, not just on computers, but on phones, on tablets, and now even on watches. A child who wants to see what his favorite movie star looks like naked will probably succeed despite his parents’ best efforts. Nude selfies are not going away anytime soon.
So given that our children will be viewing and even creating pornography, I think the best thing we can do is educate them about what they are doing. Parents and grandparents need to do the difficult work of talking about healthy sex. As with curtailing all potential vices, it’s better to work on decreasing demand rather than restricting supply.
At the end of it all, we may end up with a society with a healthier attitude about sex. Or we may witness the fall of the American Empire. I’m not sure which. Life was sure a lot simpler 50 years ago.