I’ll admit it, I’m not a huge porn buff. On average, I watch maybe half an hour a week and generally feel guilty after doing so.
Naw, I'm totally kidding, I love porn. I love it so much. I lurve it. I proudly watch at least an hour of the good stuff every single day—probably enough to start a war in some countries—and would shrivel up and die without it. While my pornography intake is constant, I’ve come to realize that there’s a level of homogeneity with the content I view. This is a problem (in my editor's creepy view).
For the sake of science (???) I embarked upon a historic journey through time and spent a month watching only porn from times past. The '60s, the '70s, and beyond. This is everything I learned from my month of getting paid to watch vintage erotica.
Early porn is a far cry from the smut we see nowadays. For a short time, thirsty Americans had to rely on Grindhouse sexploitation films to get their rocks off or “educational” movies, i.e. films about childbirth, nudist colonies, or “savage” cultures. These were not particularly erotic for me personally, as compared to the kind of stuff you see on the pop-up ads from Pornhub. There was the hardcore imported stuff from Denmark, but that's another story.
"Early porn is a far cry from the smut we see nowadays."
So, I decided to watch the 1964 skin-flick Dr. Sex, a delightful romp about three sex researchers who discuss their finest (and most sexually-explicit) work. Side-note: One of the screenwriters, Wayne Rogers, suggested that the crew use Italian names to give the project a more exotic feel. The biggest thing you’ll notice right off the bat is the ridiculous amount of dialogue throughout the movie.
At just over an hour long, it’s almost laughable to think about people sitting through a “porno” that’s really just only talking. There’s no sex, just naked women doing little more than removing their clothing and, in some cases, standing perfectly still.
From there, I hit the good stuff from the self-proclaimed "King of the Nudies," Russ Meyer. Meyer was the pioneer of smut, and his 1968 soft-core film, Vixen! proves it. Like Dr. Sex, I found the scenes of eroticism underwhelming, a testament to the kind of content anyone can see on the big screen these days. The dialogue, music, and acting is just completely over-the-top and ridiculous, but in a very charming way—plus, I'm almost positive one of the dudes in this played Quint from Jaws.
It was during the swangin' 1970s that porn in America really picked up. In 1968, a new ratings system was established with four uniform categories:
G (General Audiences, including children)
M (Mature Audiences)
R (Restricted, Children under 16 not admitted without parent or 'guardian')
X (no one under 16 admitted)
X is where I wanted to go, so I settled on the 1972 classic, Deep Throat, a movie that everybody and their mother (gasp!) is familiar with. Deep Throat launched the porno chic trend in America, regardless of the fact that it was banned in some places, and even Roger Ebert deemed it as “...the first stag film to see with a date.”
"Deep Throat was the first stag film to see with a date." —Roger Ebert
For those unaware, this movie is about a sexually frustrated woman who finds out that her clitoris is located in the back of her throat. So, we can all surmise how that ends up. Deep Throat launched the Golden Age of Pornography, in which erotic films were major box office successes. Along with Deep Throat, there was The Devil in Miss Jones and Behind the Green Door that got the ball rolling.
It was interesting to learn about the venues that showed this kind of movies—small "storefront" theaters with a few dozen seats—the kind of scene New York in the 70s was all about.
I had watched this movie before and enjoyed it, but it was the second time around that really made this movie pop for me. I think this film stands the test of time, still proving to be ruthlessly sexy...even compared with today’s standards. Perhaps it’s all the hardcore scenes of penetration, but that could just be personal preference. I don't know, I really liked it, and I really like '70s porn in general—maybe it's because everyone looks real. The actresses all looked so real: without airbrushed boobs or "perfect" slim bodies. That's a turn on.
With 35-millimeter film being replaced by the cheaper option of video, the 1980s was the death of big budget porn, however it was a time when dirty movies became incredibly accessible. There was the VCR player, which allowed people (like your dad, for instance) to rent and buy XXX movies to watch while you were in bed.
Finding '80s porn to watch was way easier than the prior two decades, as there was just so much out there. When I talked to '80s porn alumni, Christy Canyon, she had only good things to say about shooting in the era: “The '80s was so much fun, because there weren’t many people in it—you knew everybody. It was like one giant family. Everyone got along, everyone knew everybody. There was so much work, it was unbelievable...you never had a day off; you had to ask for time off. If you wanted to work a lot, the '80s was great. There wasn’t much pay, but it was fun.”
Production of pornographic movies went from hundreds per year to thousands. My first critique had to do with the quality of the movies themselves; because these guys didn’t shoot on 35-millimeter film or high-definition cameras, the movies just looked blurry. It just wasn’t enough for my millennial eyes. I was left high and dry, so to speak.
"It’s worth mentioning all the pubic hair."
However, I realize now that this was the porn that all porn movie tropes were based on—the cheesy saxophone music, the big hair, the bad dialogue, it all started in the '80s!
However, you also got a real sense of freedom with the way the performers acted in their scenes—as if they were getting off on escaping the conservative shackles and pressures to provide good dialogue, compelling story, and strong acting of decades prior.
The '70s gave birth to big-budget porn, but the '80s was the truly decade of the porn star: Ron Jeremy, Christy Canyon, Nina Hartley, Ginger Lynn, and so much more.
It’s worth mentioning all the pubic hair—not just in the '80s, but in every decade prior. Tons of pubic hair. Mt. Fuji-sized mountains worth of it—not that I have a problem with it, I think it’s just worth mentioning. When Salon interviewed porn star Kelly Nichols, she summed up the industry’s evolved stance on pubes: “I was a Penthouse model in the early 1980s and I posed with a full bush. No one in adult entertainment shaved back then. Now everyone does.”
As a child of the 1980s, '90s porn was the crème de la crème. It was everything the hard-working porn stars of the '80s worked for. The quality was better, the dialogue was as trimmed as the bushes, and videographers really figured out how to perfect the kind of close-up shots that abruptly ended viewing sessions.
'90s porn sends me back way far to those rainy days after school when I got home before anyone else. The house was empty, the doors were shut, and KaZaA was crankin’ out the good stuff.
"Videographers really figured out how to perfect the kind of close-up shots that abruptly ended viewing sessions."
This stuff had a lot in common with the type of smut we now watch every day. It’s the kind of porn that gets to the point and gives the audience what they want. Sure, the quality wasn’t all there back then, but that didn’t make it any less exciting or sexy.
I love '90s porn because these people cared about their audience. There was still the concept of a plot in these old movies. I'm not saying I enjoy a porn movie plot—in fact, it doesn't usually do much for me—but it's proof that the director really wants to deliver to the audience. It's harder and more costly to shoot than a single scene, but it's worth it in the end because you feel doted on.
Of all the notable movies that I’ve watched, 1998’s Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson tape comes to mind as the, uh, climax of this decade. It’s a masterpiece in amateur video that still stands as the most famous celebrity sex tape out there. Hear that, Farrah Abraham?! It speaks to the era’s balls-out enthusiasm and unrelenting sexual appetite—everyone wanted to be steering that private yacht, racing towards the open sea, as your babe wildly masturbated at the stern of the boat.