F. Birchman / MSNBC.com
By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/30/2005 1:55:41 PM ET 2005-03-30T18:55:41

A brief and highly suspect history of porn: In the beginning there was Adam and Eve and they were naked and Adam drew a picture of Eve in the sand and lo, Eve, seeing the drawing of herself, knelt under a palm tree and began to draw Adam, who, seeing Eve bent down over the drawing, did feel the lust of man and achieved his first erection, which Eve included in her drawing and thus was pornography born.     

Verily did porn quickly become a profession. Greeks, Hindus, Romans, Japanese, all the Babel of the earth hired painters and carvers to make images. And this begat the Renaissance nude, which begat Victorian boudoir photography, which begat the pin-up, which begat Playboy which begat the professional model who does not look like anybody you actually know, ever will know, or who would want to know you.

But as Paris Hilton can testify, it’s a brand new mega pixel world we’re living in now and erotic imagery has gone democratic once again. There were an estimated 53 million digital cameras sold in 2004 and I’d be willing to wager that at least 52.5 million of them have been used to take a nude photograph of somebody. (Admit it. The first thing you did with that new camera was sneak into the bathroom while your significant other was showering, wasn’t it?)

Now, there is no need to take that film of you in your man-thong to some guy sitting in a photo shop. Liberated by the instantaneous, self-contained production of photographs, people are feeling free to become their own porn producers and, increasingly, to share that output with others via the Internet.

An exhibitionist species
Just how popular this trend is and what it means is hard to gauge, but it has been growing for “at least a decade,” says Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist and sexologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

It really started with the birth of the portable video camera, when couples began making porn tapes at home. But most of them had to be their own audience because showing it to anybody else gave away their identities. Not so with digital imaging.

In some ways, Schwartz says, the digital revolution has simply placed another tool in the hands of human beings who are, by nature, an exhibitionist species. Everybody from the ancient Greeks and Romans through 18th Century French courtiers exhibited their bodies in some way or other, and now digital technology has allowed everyone to do an end run around societal proscriptions against showing off.

“I think to some extent people feel underappreciated, especially in more a urban society,” she explains. “It’s hard to feel sexually special, and so I think a lot more people want to be ogled whether they are handsome or beautiful or not … they get people to be flirty with them.”

What’s more, people are rejecting the idea that porn and erotica can only come from the pros. “I think there are a lot of people who are tired of seeing scripted, plastic bodies.”

The girl-next-door factor
This is certainly the case for "Trent," a contributor to and frequent visitor of Voyeurweb.com, a site for those who want to show off and those who like to look at them doing it. “Digital cameras and scanning technology have given access to many,” says Trent, a married man in his mid-30s. He has come to “enjoy viewing those erotic photos better than watching professional pornography” because of what he calls “the girl-next-door factor.”

Indeed, most of the images are far from professional-looking. “Lovin It At 50+” wears a red thong and black hose and heels while doing a spread eagle in her Barcalounger. “Hot MILF” (for the uninitiated, MILF stands for Mother I’d Like to ...) bends over in front of her fireplace, presumably after the kids have gone to bed. “Sexy Wife” is in a recliner, too, cupping her breasts in her hands as the vacuum cleaner sits parked in the background. “Norma” is cooking, apparently unable to keep her breasts from falling out of her top and coming alarmingly close to the boiling pasta on the stove.

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Such images prove that people of all makes and models think they can be just as sexy and arousing as Jenna Jameson. “Our sex life has been enriched because of my contributing; taking photos is very much like foreplay for us,” “Michelle,” a frequent contributor, told the Voyeurweb owner “Igor” in an interview for the site.

And for the viewer there is something erotically compelling in the thought that your neighbor is taking a break from vacuuming to make porn in her living room. You could do it, too, and wouldn’t it be fun?

Blogs are also coming out with homemade porn. Bloggers all over the world are uploading pictures of themselves in various states of undress or engaged in sex acts, proving the theory that one image of a woman performing fellatio looks pretty much like every other one. These sites say, “Here I am, aren’t I sexy? Aren’t I a wild force of nature?” They serve to remind us that sexual desire and desirability can be — should be — a part of all our lives.

Still selling sex
But it’s hard to come away from visiting the realm of everyman porn without getting the sense that the new free exhibitionism is following the same old trajectory after all, and that it could have the same fallout.

For example, a few bloggers are turning pro. “Hotwife Allie,” who displays pictures of herself engaged in sex as well as portraits like the one of her bending over a coffee table in her living room while wearing a football jersey, sells her own line of “Hotwife” apparel.

A few call it art. "Tassy," a “29-year-old life artist, adventurer and exhibitionist” and "Halcyon," a 33-year-old “digital explorer” are pleased to display their pink-haired selves on their Pinkgasm web site. “Some have told us that sex is sacred … and therefore should be private,” they argue in their “manifesto.” (Artists have manifestos, you see.) “If that is the case, then what is a church? Isn’t a church a place where the sacred is explored publicly? And through that sharing, faith is strengthened and a community is formed? We consider Pinkgasm to be our church. We consider you to be a part of that congregation. We consider this divine journey to be an adventure in miracles.”

You can be a full-fledged member of the church for $19.95.

Voyeurweb has developed the neat trick of exploiting the urge to display ourselves for profit. While the site gets its content for free, it charges a fee to see the more explicit images.

And Trent sees a potential pitfall in his own viewing habits. On one hand, “it keeps me wanting to be active with my wife,” he says, but on the other, influenced by the photo competitions Voyeurweb operates, it “also makes me unfairly want to hold her to a higher standard.”

And so we beget Jenna Jameson all over again.

Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books).

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