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SPEAKING OF EARLY PORN

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I know it's going to be hard for some of you younger guys to believe this, but as late as the 1960s you couldn't show dick at all in porn magazines.
In today's enlightened times, when explicit images of the kinkiest shit imaginable are instantly accessible on the Web, it's worth remembering that our sexual liberties are fairly recent, incomplete, and always in jeopardy.

Back in the early days of photography, shots of male nudes were an "artistic" endeavour. Though connoisseurs like Baron Von Gloeden were creating classic images that still look hot today, gay male erotica was surreptitiously handed around, and utterly inaccessible to most queer guys. If you didn't have access to the gay grapevine, you basically had to settle for mass-marketed images of strongmen in "physique magazines."



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Pictures courtesy PosingStrap.com a website devoted entirely to vintage gay erotica.
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Lust will find a way, though, and by mid-century, a number of magazines aimed at "artists" were displaying images of near-naked guys. The "art" angle often as not provided a handy cover story - mail order forms for "male physique studies" required that customers certify they were professional artists or anatomy students.

The magazines and photos often had a conscious artistry (think Tom Bianchi or Bruce Weber) absent from the hardcore porn of today. When they weren't harking back to the ancient Greeks, with faux discus throwers and bits of old statuary and columns, the photos of the time often displayed a variety of queer archetypes: gladiators, cowboys, sailors, American Indians... you know, the Village People shtick. Today, some of the stuff - like naked guys wearing sombreros, maracas in hand - looks a more than a little campy. And the leather-clad biker hadn't reached the erotic ubiquity he enjoys today. Those were chaste times. When two men touched, it wasn't overtly sexual, though neoclassical "wrestling" poses took up some of the slack.

And dicks were verboten. The guys wore "posing straps," those flimsy pouches that revealed even as they concealed. Meanwhile, in the classic beefcake magazines like Demigods, pornboys were clad in strategically placed towels and gauzy G-strings. Hard-ons, when they were present at all, were carefully semi-concealed.

Perhaps the primo provider of stroke material back then was Bob Mizer, whose story has been told in the recent film Beefcake. He founded the Athletic Model Guild in the late '40s, intending to provide L.A. casting directors with their choice of young flesh, and ended up overseeing a softcore empire which mailed material out across the world. Beyond the magazines he published, you could mail-order "photo sets" from Mizer (and a dozen others like him). But even he only provided full-frontal nudes to a small circle of loyal customers.

It wasn't until the liberalizing court decisions of the mid-'60s that porn started to come out of the closet. It's only in the last year or so that here in the UK, it's become legal to sell hardcore gay videos which have been on sale across the in Europe and the US for years. But in short order, explicit nudity and sex has become the order of the day, and now, queer guys in most towns have no trouble finding anatomically-detailed buttfucking pics in dirty bookstores in most major cities.

It's worth noting, though, that self-censorship is far from extinct. Certain activities, like fistfucking, are largely absent from over-the-counter porn And, not too long ago, a Southern California distributor of Drummer magazine wouldn't carry an issue that included a drawing of watersports. Hell, even erotic stories, with no visuals involved, are still subject to censorship if they're to be published by mainstream publishers.

In the Web-based rush to erotic globalization, all this censorship may seem quaintly beside the point. Why worry about a magazine or two when the push of a button can bring up endless scenes of just about any fetish you can imagine on your computer screen? But the freedom to see the unspeakable may have sacrificed a thing or two, as well. If desire rests partly on that which has yet to be possessed, then those marvellous old images of oiled-up, pouch-clad gladiators chained to Corinthian columns may be more "erotic" than all the extreme-close-up clusterfucks that flood our voyeuristic lives.

The DVD of Beefcake(18) is available from Amazon. The book Beefcake is also available from Amazon.

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Simon Sheppard

Meet the man behind this column. Click here for an interview with Simon and news about his newest collection of gay erotic stories

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Simon is the co-editor of Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex, and Power (Alyson Books) available from Amazon at 7.99. His latest collection of gay erotica Hotter Than Hell is available now from Amazon at 9.16. You can e-mail him here at OutUK or direct.

 

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