It seems like only yesterday (actually 45 years ago) that the Catholic Church in Boston banned the showing of The Moon is Blue because David Niven declared that he liked steak, liquor, and sex.
As a young man, condoms were an under-the-counter commodity, a badge of courage, which left an unmistakable ring in the wallet, a sign one was willing and hopefully able.
Sitcom couples were never shown sharing a bed. Sex education was entirely a parent's prerogative, a responsibility handled by most just as poorly in the 50's and 60's as it is today.
Until the introduction of Playboy magazine, only the National Geographic could show a nude woman without being labeled a purveyor of "filthy pictures." It took many years for even Playboy to attract major advertisers beyond the cigarette and liquor guys, as corporate boards were afraid to offend their God-fearing Moral Majority.
I mention this because last week my wife, our 19-year-old daughter, and I watched, during primetime, on HBO, a year's worth of Sex and the City episodes which frankly jarred my sensibilities by highlighting the extraordinary difference/progress/change in what we today regard as mainstream subject matter in the 21st Century - material that would have been considered 50 years ago, at the least, pornographic - covering topics worthy of excommunication and in some states, even today, incarceration.
Over a pleasant, mid-week family dinner we watched wholesome young women discuss and occasionally engage in oral and anal sex, shave their partners' most private parts, and in one case detail the pros and cons of an artificial testicle. Promiscuity, unwanted pregnancy as routine as a take-out order of egg rolls.
Should anyone reading this column assume that the writer is some kind of prude, please understand that I have been an outspoken fan of X-rated films since I was old enough to figure out what was going on, and have embraced the availability of adult DIRECTV, supplied by none other than AT&T.
Anyone able to access the Internet, virtually all of our kids, has an unlimited opportunity to view all of life's pleasures or perversions depending on one's point of view. There is no way to confuse this "adult" fare with mostly wholesome human interest programming, comedy, drama, and the like.
In fairness to the cable channels, they do begin their shows with multiple coded warnings, to prepare the viewer for nudity, coarse language and adult subject matter, but aggressively market shows like Sex and the City in every mainstream media from major magazines to bus shelters.
The very fine line between an R rating (mature audience) and an X (hardcore) has all but disappeared with the addition of male frontal nudity during primetime. While the networks continue to hold to a higher/different standard, they also concede an ever-larger share of market to the cable and satellite operators.
The effects of this extraordinary change are profound and pervasive. Some could argue Sodom and Gomorrah, others a Brave New World. Would Bob Dole, former majority leader in the Senate and Presidential candidate, have felt comfortable 10 years ago promoting a cure for erectile dysfunction on national TV? Would a sitting President and Rhodes Scholar have been willing to bet the American public would accept his belief that oral sex isn't sex? Would very young women have felt comfortable exposing their navels and in some cases adorning them with jewels, for the first time giving buttocks and breasts some real competition?
It appears that people are much more comfortable with their sexuality and more inclined to discuss behavior that might never have surfaced except in therapy. The flip side of this is the risk of exposing immature minds to concepts they either don't understand or can't rationally handle. I've always felt it was better to know that the strange dog bites, than to take the chance that a friendly voice and gentle pat will be well received. The American way is built upon supplying demand.
No matter how vigorously organized religion and the countless other well intentioned guardians of our morality protest these changes, we are inexorably moving in the direction of an "anything goes" openness when it comes to sex.
The result is that we are giving our children real information earlier and the tools required to prevent unwanted pregnancy and disease. By finally recognizing and accepting homosexuality, millions of our citizens are now able to live more free and productive lives. Neither ignorance nor repression has ever been able for very long to change the natural order of things. The Burkhas came off before the last Taliban leader surrendered.
Institutions move slower than individuals, which explains why there are still laws on the books prohibiting normal sexual behavior. Individuals, however, differ greatly on how they react to a given issue. Both Playboy and Hustler deal with the same subject matter in the same format but most would agree that Playboy's taste level is significantly higher. Sex and the City, while controversial, is skillfully written and genuinely funny. Much of the X-rated fare is crude with poor production values and no discernible story line.
It may be naive, but in my judgment eliminating the line and increasing access will create more opportunities for high quality adult entertainment, and the competition for viewers will all but eliminate over time the low end. By then it may well be a brave new world.