20 Years Later, My Question is Answered

In February 2000, I left the world of daily newspaper after about six years, recognizing that the most I could ever hope for where I had been working was to be a staff writer. I began there the summer before my senior year of high school, but despite the fact I could go drinking with management, I knew they were never going to see me as anything other than a teenage kid who was a decent writer and had a good work ethic.

I found a job less than a mile from where I lived in downtown Portland, Maine, for a trade publication company that had just spun its feature-heavy magazine into a monthly newspaper to cover the hard news of the burgeoning tech sector in Northern New England. I got to cover the end of the dot-com boom and its bust. Looking back, people were throwing around terms like “angel investors,” “The New Economy” and “comprehensive high-tech solutions” without knowing what they were really talking about or how things would turn out. Many of those people were ahead of their time, but that was exactly their fatal flaw: they were too far ahead of the curve. I don’t think until 10 years later, when everybody was getting comfortable with social media, could most of those ideas worked. The theory of “If you build it, they will come” was flawed. People had no idea what they were supposed to arrive at, so they didn’t come. John Q. Public needed to get comfortable with the Internet and find a daily use for it before he could buy into more complex concepts, like streaming video. There were plenty of companies that should have been Netflix years before Netflix…they just weren’t at the right place at the right time.

Anyway, enough of a history lesson. I got the job as staff writer for their newspaper, which was essentially a four-person operation on the content creation side of things. There was the editor, John; a freelance writer who did a ton of work I never met, Patty; and a designer who worked for the owner’s marketing company business, Steve. When it became clear Steve had no idea what he was doing when it came to newspaper design, which was one of my skills, I was promoted to Assistant Editor, or Associate Editor, or something like that. Titles have never meant too much to me.

Essentially, it was just John and I in close quarters, tucked into one section of this very hip looking building the owner had that must have been worth millions. He was a lawyer, but also made a killing in real estate, has owned some restaurants, a marketing/PR firm, the publishing company and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out 100 other things. He pretty much left us alone as long as the sales guys turned a profit selling ads. Nobody bothered us and we were both good workers who knew what had to be done and to get it done, in a high-quality fashion, on deadline. We also knew how to work the angles with super-long lunches, covering for each other taking paid days off and understanding when happy hour was needed. That job really became a lifestyle and John was one of my closest friends for about five years.

He moved on from the company when the tech bust was so bad that it was impossible to keep the publication afloat. I had moved on to become editor of two of their other publications. Less than a year after he left, I moved out of Portland, got married and was starting a family. We drifted apart and probably exchanged emails four or five times in the last 15 years. I intentionally avoided him, like so many people, when I was publicly outed as a pornography addict and went into hiding for a long time.

I actually wrote about reconnect with John for the first time about seven months ago HERE. For some reason I called him Joe, but if you want deeper background, it’s there for you.

We got together for the first time since restaurants reopened this past weekend. I told him about my new book and he told me about trying to re-establish himself as a freelance writer. One of the things he reminded me of was a conversation that we had 20 years earlier that he said he’d had with a handful of people since where I asked aloud what the Internet was going to do to the next generation when it came to their standards of acceptable, normal sexuality. Keep in mind, in 2000, high speed Internet wasn’t everywhere yet, and if you needed to use the Internet, you went to an Internet cafe. It wasn’t like everywhere had wifi, because nobody had wifi yet.

Still, as somebody who was making the transition from more traditional mediums of pornography like magazines and videos to the computer, I recognized that this new ease of access for pornography was unlike anything I’d ever had growing up. You know how your grandfather walked to school uphill both ways in three feet of snow? Well I literally would ride my bike in the middle of a snowstorm as a 14-year-old to the video store that would rent porn to me. Would having had the kind of access to porn kids now have made me less of an addict, more, or the same? I’ll never be able to know that answer with 100% certainty, but based on the myriad of statistics, the question I posed to John 20 years ago has been answered: When you provided complete ease of access to something that society largely considers taboo, two things happen:

  1. More people than ever will access pornography with many developing problems in numbers that didn’t happen before that ease-of-access was available and,
  2. While it still will maintain a certain air of a taboo, attitudes toward pornography are far more liberal and far less stigmatizing than before.

I’ve talked a lot of about #1 on here and in my books, but I just scratched the surface of #2 and I think it’s a worthwhile topic to discuss. When societal norms change, for right or wrong, it’s really hard to go back. Just ask anybody who is a conservative and prefers “the good old days.” The reality of the world is, progress always wins the war, even when it may lose a battle now and then. But progress is not a objective concept and one person’s positive progress is another’s negative.

I feel like I explain OnlyFans to anybody I talk to about pornography who is over the age of 30, and there is no need to tell anybody about it who is under 30…they all know. Youth culture is always ahead of the rest of us, and now that’s true for pornography.

After this long discussion with John, I came home to find my 21-year-old daughter was spending the night because of electricity issues at her boyfriend’s house. We have a pretty wide open relationship and so I asked her how much she knew about OnlyFans. She laughed, like I’d just landed here in my time machine.

She has three friends, two of whom I remember from her high school days, now in the make-amateur-porn-in-your-spare-time-for-money game. Thankfully, my run-in with the law has made her (a very pretty young woman) adverse to trying anything like that — see, good things can come out of bad situations.

However, I like to think of myself as on top of things and she explained it more in-depth to me than I’ve ever been able to learn through any Internet research before, and this is just based on talking to a few of her friends, including those who dabbled and decided it wasn’t for them. But of those friends doing well, they’re making anywhere from $750 to $3,500 per month, depending on how much work they want to put into it.

She said one girl is very classy and shows next to nothing you wouldn’t see on the beach (she’s the one making good money) and the girl who does the dirtiest stuff makes the least. The psychology behind all of that is fascinating, but for a different time.

With the discussion John and I had, I mentioned how I had heard through my kids about a couple different “scandals” at their high school over the last six or seven years of guys and girls trading nude pictures of each other and then those pictures falling into the wrong hands…and then falling into everybody’s hands.

We talked about when he was in high school in the late 80s, or I was in high school in the mid-90s, simply having a picture of one of the pretty girls in a bikini would have been a big deal, but now, because of Instagram, every damn girl and guy in class can be seen half naked (or more) by the waves or poolside. It’s almost like there is something wrong with you if your body isn’t on display in the least amount of clothes allowed in public — and this is before you get the ones who may take it even a step further with some of their bedroom mirror selfies.

Now, it’s more of a rarity if you don’t know what a handful of people in your high school class look like because of leaked photos…but it’s also not all that shocking anymore.

No, a picture of a high school girl in a bikini is not porn. Technically, neither is a photo a boyfriend took of his genitals meant only for his girlfriend’s eyes that ends up in front of plenty of other eyes. But I also don’t know where the lines of pornography begin and end anymore, especially with the younger culture. They grew up on the Internet. They’ve seen graphic things that would have shocked me as a porn addict when I was 16, that are now just funny or weird.

We’re never going back to those days before the Internet was the center of most young people’s lives. I have my answer from 20 years ago. Now, what happens in the next 20 years, when these people start to have kids, as taboos continually fade…but as education about pornography addition starts to become slightly more mainstream?

I guess John and I will have to have lunch in 2040, and at that point. I’ll let you know.

16 thoughts on “20 Years Later, My Question is Answered

    1. But…and here’s something I didn’t talk about because it was already getting too long…will it actually matter? You’re not the town whore anymore for someone having a picture of your breasts. You’re more like one of the girls who did something dumb, oh well, life goes on. Does that eventually become as normal as a selfie with clothes? It’s sounds silly, but could society reach a point that we don’t really care and it doesn’t really have any collateral damage?

      1. But if it got to that stage, there wouldn’t be any reason to spread them. Maybe it’s kind of like revenge porn. Porn may be pretty mainstream, but no one wants an angry ex posting it online.

      2. I agree on that count with the revenge stuff, but from what I can tell, it’s not like old-school revenge. It’s more like just being an asshole revenge. With things like OnlyFans or just casual nude pics, I don’t think a lot of men and women really care if it’s out there, and I think less are caring as time rolls on. Nudity and sex are becoming less taboo in general, which I think pushes the definition of porn further to the edges.

      3. With sites like OnlyFans, though, it’s voluntary. If a teenage guy is spreading sexted pics from an ex without her consent, that will still be a problem no matter how normal nudity becomes.

      4. I don’t disagree. I’m saying that I wonder if society will view it as still a horrible reaction. Think of the movie trope of the spurned lover tossing someone’s clothes out a second story window or burning them. That’s a reaction we’ve seen so many times, but would have seemed insane 50 years ago. Could revenge porn go the same way? Could relationships and societal standards erode to the point it would bd expected if such pictures existed? And even beyond that, what changes in a world where so many mothers or grandmothers did make-it-yourself porn like OnlyFans? We’re going to find out and I don’t think it’s positive.

  1. There’s nothing beneficial about pornography whatsoever. And the psychological harm to society it’s causing by becoming so “acceptable” probably won’t be assessed in clinical terms for decades to come. I’m thankful there’s people like you who aren’t afraid to tell the truth about the damage it can cause in a person’s life and vital relationships. The danger is real.

  2. Definitely a thought-provoking post. A lot to unpack.

    I also read through your comment section. RE: what you and ashley were discussing – to me, it seems like even revenge porn matters less than it did 10 years ago. Back then, the girl would end up humiliated. Now, the girl just “owns” it and takes it as an opportunity to get more confident about their body. Maybe even launch some sort of a career.

    Doesn’t it also make you worried about sexual harassment? There are already people debating it if she “wanted it” when she dressed “like a slut.” Well, if nudes/near nudes will become the norm, then the line will blur even more. I think it will make things easier for predators, too.

    1. I think you’re right about revenge porn 100%. Obviously it’s still a big deal to some, but I don’t think the stigma is there that would have been in 1995.

      It seems like we are diverting in many ways. Sex harassment is worse than ever from an ethical and legal standpoint, but somebody owning their sexuality is empowering and to be admired. There is the danger of some people receiving mixed messages with society moving both ways at once.

      As for predators, they’ll just adapt. Through history, they always have.

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