Growing up, Vogue had more naked pictures than Playboy. Or at least they were more appealing to my budding teenage imagination. Maybe they spoke more to my aesthetic, or perhaps they felt illicit because they were so unexpected, but whatever the reason, I used to pour through my mother’s magazines almost as much as my father’s. I remember one ad, a double page spread I believe, of an elegant dinner party where the women were all stark naked while the men wore suits. And that was hotter than any centerfold had ever been.
But to be fair, I also remember flipping through the giant collection of New Yorker cartoons we had sitting on the coffee table in the old farmhouse. It was an oversized paperback of every single cartoon in the magazine over the course of thirty years, and I read it from cover to cover again and again. I have no idea how much my twelve-year-old self understood any of the jokes, but again, there were glimpses of nude bodies, albeit inked with a pen, that while I didn’t lust over, I relished all the same.
What is it about naked bodies that fascinated me? Was it more the dirty magazines or the sex-ed textbooks from my mother’s library? Maybe it was the naked girls and boys in my room as we played doctor, or possibly it was a trip to a nude beach when I was nine, where for the first time in my life I looked up to see a woman, spread eagle on a blanket, less than ten feet away from me. That image has stayed in my mind although it’s more the feeling of watching than it is a photograph. She was an adult, and she had a thick covering of pubic hair between two round thighs, but the rest is a blur as much as everything else. I know I wandered the beach after that, my own naked body irrelevant to my interests. I don’t remember feeling shame, in fact, the only thing I recall firmly is the desperate interest to see new bodies, new shapes, and new people.
But home from the beach I was left with the familiar images in my father’s house. But I had seen the National Geographics, and I had flipped through the one copy of Playboy dad had a photo in. I had explored the old photography magazines until I knew them by heart, and my mother’s sex-ed manuals all knew the shape of my fingers.
Which meant there was only one choice for a pubescent boy in the northern wiles of New Jersey. I had to head to the woods.
When I was maybe twelve or thirteen I spent as much time as I could in the woods not far from the house. Sometimes with a friend or two but often alone, I’d wander through the small nature preserve kicking rocks, climbing over streams, and searching out the hidden grottos where older boys might have hidden the greatest treasure known to man: a truly dirty magazine.
And lo and behold I would find them! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve met other men who also found porn in the woods, and it’s become something of a joke. Kids these days with their internet! When I was young, we used to have to look for porn under a rock or hidden in a hollowed out tree. We didn’t know what it would be. We couldn’t search for “Blonde Teens” or “Big Titty MILFS” like they do these days. No! We’d find something, often half a page, and we loved it for what it was. Most often it was a centerfold from a Playboy, or if we were lucky a few pages of a Hustler where you could not only see some bush but some skin as well! My god, is that girl holding her pussy open? I had no idea what that looked like.
And once, maybe in sixth grade, Matt and I found a whole magazine that must have been European. It was black and white, with photos covering the paper like stamps. And there, on those wrinkled, rain-soaked pages I saw a woman fucking herself with a carrot! My god, I had no idea that’s what women did! Why did I never think of it?
The truth is, the thrill of discovery was always more exciting than the final reveal. The long hours walking through the woods, the digging through our father’s closets or basements, and the channel surfing late-night cable in hopes of seeing some semblance of nudity was all the more exciting because of how rarely they panned out. But the searching got my heart beating, and the hope was a drug. And when the web finally appeared it was still the same. In those early days of surfing, it was a hunt to find good nudity, and sometimes we’d wait for an hour as the file downloaded only to discover a girl in a bikini from a sports illustrated we had already seen a hundred times. Often it was the same model, the same naked girl that popped up on every site, and some of those faces are still familiar even if I don’t know their names.
What I don’t remember is ever getting off to a picture. I don’t remember crawling under the covers with a stolen Playboy or jerking off fantasizing about Miss May. The New Yorker cartoons didn’t get me hard, and even the impossibly beautiful models in Vogue didn’t drive me to self-abuse. The longing was there, the desire for discovery was overpowering, but the sexual release was seemingly disconnected as if my lust for the images was separate from my want for release.
The first pornographic movie I ever saw was on a VHS, and I barely remember a thing about it. I’m sure it was enticing, and I have a strong sense of attachment to it when it somehow ended up in my possession, but as for the scenes? They’re as much a blur as anything. I’m reasonably sure there was a blonde but after that?
None of this is to say that I didn’t like to get off, that I didn’t get turned on, or that my love of dirty pictures was disconnected from my sexuality. But if I was going to touch myself to a magazine, it was going to be a Penthouse, because dammit if those letters didn’t do something for me! There were two magazines in the house that had stories in them, and I don’t know how many times I read them. Strangers fucking on a beach during a summer vacation, a young man picked up by a woman only to discover that her husband liked to watch from the closet and a road trip that ended with a beautiful hitchhiker getting fucked in the backseat of a truck.
I read them over and over again because while the pictures were enticing, the images in my mind were something else. Because when that husband came out of the closet to watch his wife have sex, the story was only beginning! I read it with my cock in my hand, and I’ll never forget my shocked delight when our hero knelt on the floor by the bed and learned how to suck the husband’s cock like a pro! It was a Penthouse, a magazine for straight men, and yet there he was, on the floor with a big dick in his mouth as he struggled not to choke.
And if they could put that in a Penthouse then where else could it appear? What else had I misunderstood about what was allowed and what was not? It was easy to look at the pictures of the pretty women and the nude models, but the men were something else. And if I was lucky enough to find a magazine with not just a man in it, but a hard cock as well, then my year had been made. Because in those days, men were rare in straight printed smut unless you read the words.
But the more I searched, the more I found them! Hidden in the middle, between articles, nearly every single men’s magazine had a letter about a man discovering a new side to his sexuality. Maybe he was “forced” into it for plausible deniability, but sometimes he jumped into it gleefully, as if to tell me that nothing was as it seemed.
No one is as straight as they look.
And the books were even better because in books anything could happen and often did. There were a few books in particular that worked in the same way, and I vividly remember the scene in Eric Van Lustbader’s classic novel The Ninja about two women in a bathtub fucking a pistol which turned out to be a shower attachment. But lo and behold, there are a man and a boy (can I possibly remember that right?) who fuck as well because nothing was off limits to Mr. Lustbader. I think there was a rape scene and possibly a sexy murder, all of which I slotted into my mind’s rotation or horrible jerk-off material.
Clan of the Cave Bear had a scene which got dog-eared as well as Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose because those were some graphic sex scenes. A girlfriend in high school revealed the secrets of Anne Rice, and at some point, I discovered hidden among my brother’s comic books the filthy ones whose names now escape me. And I’m sure there were others, although those are the only ones I remember this morning.
It would be easy now to jump forward to Literotica, but there’s a middle that’s even harder to ignore.
Because before that, there’s Innocence.
At that point, I had only recently come out. My senior year of high school I wore a skirt to school one day, which prompted a whole lot of questions from other boys and cemented my reputation as the gayest kid in school. We had one gay teacher who was barely out, and he was as close to a community as I had. Because when it came to the students, I was it.
But once I found my way to college, I discovered at least a few other queer men, which meant that thankfully I was no longer the expert. I attended a meeting of the alphabet soup committee and helped organize the Midwestern Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Conference which brought in a hundred queers to our tiny college in Indiana. And one night, I found myself in bed with two men, trying desperately to navigate my desire for one and my fear of the other.
As a newly minted bisexual, I had work to do, and since I only knew those two other gay men and they identified as full-on gay, I was still somewhat adrift. It was better than high school, but the pickings were slim, the community complicated, and room to explore negligible. Because let’s face it, all of us were awkward and confused, and that didn’t make anything easier.
There was one place, however, where I might have better luck. It was new, and it was confusing, but I heard enough rumors to believe something was out there. It wasn’t just a place to form community either; it was a place where stories were told, and sexuality was explored. And I was going to find it no matter how complicated and confusing this new-fangled Internet thingy was.
My first foray online came from an old friend of mine who shared the log-in to a bulletin board system out of the University of Chicago. I had to dial in via Telnet or some other technology I only understood well enough to make my way into the text-based heaven of chat rooms. And there, one afternoon, hidden deep in the basement of the school’s library, sitting in an imaginary hot tub in what was called the Bisexual Cafe, I met Innocence.
I found my way there through dumb luck and sheer force of will, and once I had arrived, I learned how to chat, how to use the basic commands, and how to interact with other perverts halfway around the world. Innocence was the handle of a girl in England who had also managed to Telnet into to the BBS and make her way through the ether to the Bisexual Cafe where she too climbed naked into a “hot tub” to chat with strangers. And my god was she enticing! I pictured her in my mind’s eye that very first day I logged on, and we talked for an hour as I fantasized about all the imaginary sex we would soon be having.
We flirted, her and the others as well, and in that one afternoon, I joined a small community of queer and questioning people desperate to find others like them. When I finally logged off, I felt alive and afraid. I had discovered something new, something foreign, and yet something that I was sure was unstoppable. It was just a taste of the future, a hint at how the world might be, but in my heart, I knew everything was about to change.
I just didn’t realize how quickly.
The next day I found my way back to the computer lab, worked out how to gain access to the BBS once more, navigated my way through the text-based interface, and then once again landed in the Bisexual Cafe, sitting in the hot tub. Which is where I heard the news.
“Hey, where’s Innocence?” I asked someone. There was silence on the board for a few moments until someone sent me a private message.
“Sorry, didn’t you hear? Innocence was hit by a car in London last night and was killed. Sorry to have to tell you.”
And my god, if right then, hidden in the basement with a broken heart, I didn’t realize the truth of it all. I had found the internet. I had discovered a brave new world that would soon change everything. And at that moment, after my initial discovery, right then as it all began, Innocence died.
What a fucked up metaphor, I thought to myself. What a completely messed up, disturbing, and in your face lesson to learn. And my god the poor girl! She was a teenager, maybe a year younger than me, and just as she too found her way into the new digital closet, her life was snatched away seemingly so that I could be hit over the head with a message from the future.
The internet is here. The world is changing. And Innocence is dead.