August 3rd, 2009

Call me spoiled by technology, but I had never thought about what the cybersex enthusiasts of today would have done before the internet. Having recently read Michael Leigh’s The Velvet Underground (I swear this is the last time I’ll post about it… for now), I was intrigued by the sexual subculture of erotic letter writing and amateur porn it describes. Here, in 1967, is an elaborate network of subscription based clubs advertising in adult magazines that will, for a small fee, distribute your name and address to other “open-minded” individuals. This in turn opens a sexually charged dialogue between interested (i.e. horny) parties across the country, even across the world. While some of the exchanges described by Leigh in his exposé culminated in real-life meetings, many authors seemed content with epistolary hard-ons.

As cybersex enthusiasts, this tells us a number of things. First off, we are not so unusual as people think. It is not because we are not cut off from human contact by the ennui of the technological age that causes us to seek emotionally removed forms of sexual interaction. On a personal level, sure, we may have reasons for keeping others at a computer’s distance, but the phenomenon of searching for others in far away places with whom to share pleasures apparently has a history as long as magazine circulations and the United States Postal Service.

Similarly, the internet didn’t turn us into pervs. People have been craving intense sexual experiences — and turning to those outside of their real-life circles to realize them — for longer than the world wide web has existed. The only difference is that back in the day those who felt isolated in their tastes or orientations had to risk breaking the law to correspond so frankly with others who shared their interests.

Lastly, here is further proof that there’s indeed something tantalizing about the written word — whether that word gets drawn out longingly on a page with a decadently dripping fountain pen, or typed across a screen. The act of letter writing, like the act of text-based cybersex or sending erotic emails, becomes sexually charged as sentences are sent back and forth between anxious readers. Not just bibliophiles or social outcasts, the people in Leigh’s book are manly men, well-to-do housewives, “normal” members of society who find themselves aroused by the language at their fingertips. They are our predecessors.

Tags: cybersex, history, language, writing

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