Sexting: In the Future Everyone Will Be Naked for 15 MinutesBy Matt P.
One of my college sociology professors argued that gay men significantly expanded the sexual options for straight people. Not in the way you might be thinking; he wasn’t talking about straight guys going trade in bathroom stalls in urban areas. In this case he was talking about the world of socially-accepted ideas about sex.
Basically, he argued, gay men pioneered oral and anal sex. With the rise of mainstream awareness of gay lives in the 1970s came the popularization of necessary improvisations for penetrative intercourse, which in turn gave straight people ideas for having fun without getting pregnant.
It is poignant to the case that gay people started coming out in the public realm at the tail end of the sexual revolution, almost exactly when non-vaginal sex among heterosexuals became something safe to talk about publicly. Today, straight porn has it, straight teenagers talk about it, network sitcoms make jokes about it and before you know it straight President Clinton gets the most famous blow job in human history.
I’m not sure I completely buy my professor’s argument, though.
It was interesting to watch the straight college frat boys in class grapple with their new-found deference for gay men, many of them terrified of being associated with homosexuality even though they were clearly open to non-vaginal sex with girls. But I don’t know if its accurate to say gay men of the 1970s are really the reason why straight people have oral and anal sex.
My thinking is that I’ve heard of the Kama Sutra and Greek Love, and I’m pretty sure that even ancient heterosexual people were self-aware enough to find all the pleasure centers on their body, even if the Victorian era pushed those things under the radar.
But I couldn’t help but think of that Sociology class when I saw this story, about “sexting,” or sexually explicit images sent by cell phone, among teenagers, explained as a new American crisis.
“Weren’t we doing this shit a long time ago?” was my first thought. There’s a reason why we just sort of assume that a disproportionate number of men on Guyswithiphones or pictured on Lurid Digs are gay. Because when it comes to electronic communication, especially sex-positive electronic communication, gay people really are the trendsetters.
One example is our openness to the Internet in general. Finding dates has always been a little more difficult for same-gender-loving folks in isolated areas. The gay population is smaller than the straight population, and it’s generally not considered a good idea for a gay man to shoulder-tap the dude in line in front of him at the gas station to ask if he’s interested.
The Internet is one way to solve those problems, especially for those who are still in the closet. When I was growing up, spending inordinate amounts of time online was still a rare and geeky thing to do. Like most of my gay peers, I was clicking away at our computers on personal profile sites, trying to find out who the gay folks in the neighborhood were.
Meanwhile the idea of me hooking up with someone from the Internet was shocking to most of my straight friends, who thought it was an excellent way for me to get myself raped or murdered.
But they don’t think that way anymore.
Myspace was the first profile site I knew of that significant numbers of straight people joined, and Facebook, a fairly recent invention in the lineage of online profile sites, blew it up to over 350 million people. Now almost everybody I know, including teachers and older family members, has a profile there. Barack Obama has a Facebook page, as does John McCain, Pat Robertson and Sarah Palin. Send those folks an email and say “you’re welcome!” We made that socially acceptable.
Thus it should be no surprise that we also had a leg-up when it came to sexting, and all other kinds of electronic exhibition. And after my initial thought about “sexting” being a gay-pioneered activity, my second thought was “why the hell do straight people get so bunched-up over this?” Kids are kids. I was one of the “good” kids when it comes to grades and ambition, but I still sent off revealing photos of myself when I was sixteen. And I like to think I turned out fine.
But the world that most LGBT people of all ages live in is a bit different from the worlds of most heterosexual young people. I’m not saying there aren’t gay people, closeted our out, in every nook and cranny of the country — but in general there are big cultural differences that make “sexting” different for us than it was for them.
Our community has long shunned the modest, religion-influenced morality that opposes same-sex relationships and sexual openness alike. We’ve been forced by the rejection we face in that culture to ground our morals instead on a more organic, rational foundation: does it really hurt anyone?
In a concrete, definable way? If the answer is no, it’s not immoral. Amidst all the diversity and individual differences and opinions that no doubt vary in the LGBT community, this has been the general rationale of our sexual ethic. It is a system that is distinctly more positive towards human bodies and their drives, comfortable with casual sex and a more willing to discuss “personal” sexual matters openly with friends and other public realms, in our humor or anything else. Even in the presence of (gasp!) members of the opposite gender, and coworkers, and the risk of exposure to the whole world if it somehow went viral.
Maybe more and more young people are adopting similar ethical systems now, but not quite as quickly. So the problem with “sexting” is not so much that we think it’s impure or immoral, but that the images can get in the wrong hands and get people in trouble in a conservative society.
Teenagers have been humiliated to have their confidentiality breached by ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends who forwarded the pictures to the whole football team, and teenagers face stinging reprimands at school or with their parents when they get caught. It’s easy to imagine how this exposure could create problems with employment when the teens and 20-somethings of today become the senators and school superintendents of tomorrow.
Gay people who have come out of the closet aren’t as bothered by those problems, because it’s not like we stood much chance of running for statewide office anyway. And if we do, the state we do it in will be liberal enough that people won’t mind having a governor they can find naked online.
As we’ve pointed out here on Nightcharm in the past, this stuff is getting more and more common. So maybe the answer to concerned parents and cultural police about what will happen to young people when their pics go viral is that someday, it won’t even matter. Yes, your kids are doing it. No, you shouldn’t care. Everyone will have a nudie photo out there, embarrassed perhaps when it pops up in the workplace, but it won’t be something to get fired over.
Imagine how human we’ll all be in that age. As human as the fallen politician whose campaign machine imagery has been shattered, and his tawdry extramarital affair is discussed in painful detail for the microphones and cameras. Police chiefs and school principals who sneer and judge will have not skeletons in their closet but skeletons in their bay windows, and a simple Google search will find that yes, Virginia, the nice lady on the cooking show gets horny and has a vagina too!
One can only hope. In the mean time, we can be glad that the world of gays and 20-somethings is already tangibly more open than generations passed.
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