I've heard a lot of tsk-tsking lately about pornography going mainstream, that our kids are growing up all confused and twisted in this hyper-sexualized environment we've created. They say we've reached a cultural tipping point, where everyday porn has seeped so deeply into the fabric of mainstream culture that it's no longer seen as a stain.First, there was Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner and his three bunnies swinging (albeit limply) on TV with The Girls Next Door. Then came Judd Apatow's buddy flicks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), with their references to porn star Stormy Daniels. (This summer, it's Humpday and Zack and Miri Make a Porno as the latest examples of porn in the multiplex.) Earlier this year, there was Bud Light's racy Web ad in which a guy tries to buy a six-pack along with his porno mag. It's pretty funny. (Go ahead, I'll wait while you watch it, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BayeiME1Fs.)
The porn-goes-public phenomenon, dubbed "porn creep," is most evident in ads from companies such as American Apparel. AA's ads often feature homemade-porn-quality photos of coy, barely-dressed women. Last year, one of the ads even featured porn star Sasha Grey or, more accurately, Grey's pubic hairs, along with a pair of inconsequential yellow and white striped leg warmers. (You be the judge: There's a handy collection of "The 30 Porniest American Apparel Ads" at http://www.bestweekever.tv/2008-8-28/the-30-porniest-american-apparel-ads/. Sorry dads, the Web page apparently was made before Sasha's ad.)
Even Quiznos can't keep itself from using sex to sell subs. In a joint Web promotion with Playboy, titled "2 Girls 1 Sub," a video ad shows two women (one is Playboy Playmate Hiromi Oshima) sharing and scarfing down a sandwich while sitting on a park bench in their bikinis. There's a lot of moaning in the background, which ends with "Mmm … toasty."
Of course, those are all things that, theoretically, parents can simply turn off, turn the page or turn to a software filter to keep their kids from viewing. But sometimes it's no so easy. From Hooters girls to the neon stripper gyrating on the pole in the kids' video game Guitar Hero to Bratz dolls in their spike heels and fishnets, sometimes it seems that I'm in a death match with the XXX culture for my daughters' souls.
It's hard to have a healthy talk about the Birds & the Bees when there's a girl in my kid's fourth-grade class wearing a thong and my 9-year-old daughter is skipping around the house humming "Don't trust a ho, never trust a ho," the lyrics from one of this summer's top pop songs, "Don't Trust Me," by 30H!3.
"The line has gotten really blurred," anti-porn activist Donna Rice Hughes told newspapers in response to the Bud Light Web video. "There's a whole generation that has been pornified."
A brief footnote: Yes, that's the same Donna Rice snapped in 1987 sitting on the lap of married presidential candidate Gary Hart. Now she's crusading against online porn as VP of Enough is Enough, an anti-obscenity organization in Virginia. (I'd like to spend more time making jokes about this, but my online porn searches for this blog have set off so many warning bells and filters at my office's Help Desk two floors below that they're probably sprinting upstairs right now to unplug me, so I've got to hurry.)
Hughes and other media watchdogs are concerned that marketers and the media are increasingly referencing porn. And, certainly, as a culture, we are much more openly sexual than we were 50 years ago. But is it porn? Or are we just more comfortable and playful with sex than our grandparents were in the button-down 1950s?I don't believe it's so easy anymore to use the "I know it when I see it" yardstick that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart whipped out in 1964. Today, with sex videos only a click away, one man's porn is another man's 90-second morning ritual.
Lately, the courts have been using "community standards" as the measuring tool for whether sexually explicit materials are obscene or not. Last year, a Florida defense attorney argued in an obscenity trial that porn has become so commonplace – evidenced by the fact that a Google search for "orgy" is twice as common as one for "apple pie" – that his client, a Panhandle-based porn-site operator, could not be considered as behaving outside the societal norm. (The obscenity charges were dropped, though the defendant was found guilty of money laundering.)
In other words, your neighbors may espouse one thing publicly, but in private … look out for the leather corsets. In Miami, home to the wildly successful porn website BangBus.com and little girls wearing "Juicy" on their butts, the line hasn't blurred. It vanished a long time ago.
So what's a mom to do? My guess is it's much better to talk about porn, or whatever you want to call it, rather than banish it to the back alley. And, as today's parents, we've got lots more 'splaining to do – about sexual liberation, male-female relationships, domination, and the difference between sex as a commodity and sex with someone you love.
Today's atmosphere, for better or worse, only makes it that much more important to get to your kids first when it comes to sex ed. Because chances are your kid will come across IT at some point, no matter how many controls you put in place. (A 2007 study from the University of Alberta found that as many as 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls ages 13 to 14 have accessed sexually explicit content at least once.)And who would you rather have teach your son or daughter about sex – you or Sasha Grey in a pair of thigh-highs? (Dads, don't answer that question.)