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The New Face of Amateur Porn

August 9, 2008
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" A surfer seeking legal, amateur erotica could unintentionally download illegal content "

Of all the genres that form the wide and wonderful world of adult entertainment, few of them have shown as much persistence, profitability and longevity as has the amateur porn marketplace — but this market has changed dramatically over the past few years and now contains a serious, hidden danger that could spell trouble for all of us — whether you're into amateur porn or not.

While amateur porn can trace its roots back to the first Neanderthal to pose naked for a cave painting, it wasn't until the home-video revolution of the 1980s that amateur porn really took off in popularity; as countless people the world over turned on their new camcorders — and themselves — and then recorded their personal sex lives.

No longer was the only option for would-be porn stars to make short home movies using Super 8 film, often daringly sent for processing to strangers that could just as likely have phoned the police or told your pastor about what kind of movies you were filming as properly develop them. Now consumers could videotape and play back whatever type of material they wanted — including homemade erotica.

Home-video technologies, which also were credited with the explosion of the adult movie industry in the 1980s, allowed users to play back their creations later for the enjoyment of everyone with whom they wished to share their images, and sharing is what they did — first for fun, then for profit — turning some amateurs into professionals and making millions of dollars in the process.

This evolution escalated with the introduction of the Internet and the development of the digital cameras we now take for granted — both of which, like home video before them, allowed for a great degree of "privacy" for the performers and an unprecedented level of low-cost, widespread distribution.

All these factors combined to usher in an era of easily accessible and infinitely varied homemade erotica — with the quantity and quality of this material expanding daily.

But while performers and fans rejoiced in this golden age of true amateur erotica, a shift in the public consciousness, largely driven by news coverage and entertainment media, also occurred — making it seem more "acceptable" to produce and view homemade adult materials without fear of public scorn.

Evidence of this shift in perception could be seen in the number of "porn star" bumper stickers and T-shirts being paraded about by an increasingly younger group of consumers, as well as the very public and in-your-face "Girls Gone Wild" ads and their associated marketing efforts across college campuses and party towns.

Suddenly, being "a porn chick" was cool.

While some folks might find this increased level of public acceptance of adult material to be a good thing, it planted the seeds for what this observer sees as potentially being the worst thing to hit adult entertainment since the Meese Commission.

But it would take an entirely new technology to unleash the hidden danger: enter the camera phone — that ubiquitous piece of communications equipment that is as common to today's teens as bubble gum was to their predecessors.

What camera phones enabled was the taking, storing and sharing of "private" images, videos and audio and text messages — without limits and with a child's naïve perception of invulnerability to consequences.

Sure, earlier generations had the venerable Polaroid camera that allowed young lovers to exchange images of each other, but these were individual, physical images with a limited potential for distribution. In the worst-case scenario, a young lady that gave her beau a photo of herself in the bathtub might expect it to make the rounds in the schoolyard, but it certainly wouldn't be spread all around the world, available to everyone for all time.

Nowadays, the same naïve expectations may still be there, but once these intimate images are shared, electronically at the mere push of a button, the genie is out of the bottle.

The result of all this is that the Internet is being flooded with a new wave of sexually explicit imagery that depicts underage models.

That's right — there's an explosion of online child pornography, and its source may be quite surprising to activists, parents and law enforcement alike: The kids that are being depicted are producing and distributing this material themselves — and the underage set seems to think that doing so is cool.

Indeed, there have been recent high-profile cases where parents and students alike openly dismissed the seriousness of such activities. In contrast, the controversy over the photos of teen sensation Miley Cyrus that were taken for Vanity Fair by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz illustrate the differences of opinions that the public holds in regard to seeing young girls in various states of undress — sexualized or not.

While the scope and severity of the problem is as difficult to grasp as the motivations of those involved in this new age of exhibitionism, one thing remains perfectly clear: When these images depict children under 18 — as they often do — it is illegal child pornography.

Does this mean that we'll be seeing federal felony charges filed against a 17-year-old cheerleader for sending an explicit up-skirt shot to her boyfriend using her cell phone?

Although such a case would be prosecutable, I doubt it would be winnable for the state in front of a jury in most jurisdictions. I also feel that such a case would send the wrong message about the seriousness of the child pornography epidemic — trivializing it in the minds of some to the extent it becomes all about kids "just having fun."

A far more serious problem may be facing the collectors of legitimate online adult entertainment who may rely on free sites such as TGPs and pic-posts for their porn fix — they may be inadvertently downloading illicit materials in the process.

While I personally believe that the bulk of explicit user-generated content depicts models that are over 18, many of these folks look younger, further complicating what is already a delicate issue, especially when dealing with unknown content sources.

And there's the rub: A surfer seeking legal, amateur erotica could easily download illegal content without ever intending to seek out or download child pornography, but it could be up to a jury decide his intentions — and all after a life-destroying arrest and expensive trial.

It would only take a few, well-publicized cases in that vein to strike fear into consumers and further damage the industry's perception amongst the public — and its bottom line.

I'm a big fan of real amateur porn, and feel it's everyone's right to create their own vision of erotic expression — as long as they're adults — and it would be a real shame to see something that has gone on since the dawn of time be destroyed by a bunch of naughty children with cell phones — but the genie is already out of the bottle.

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