Accessing porn when the internet was in its fledgling first stages was…complicated. These were the days of AOL’s “You’ve got mail,” obnoxious email addresses that namechecked your favorite band, ~TyPinG LiKe THiS iN YoUr aWaY mEsSage~, waiting for your crush to instant message you and ripping Dave Matthews Band’s Everyday off Napster.
When it comes to sex, the internet created new taboos and changed the landscape in a way not seen since the invention of the pill. Online dating in its earliest form was considered unsafe and for the desparate; more importantly, the ability to watch porn for free gave more people access to sex and depcitions of it than ever before. In fact, the advent of the dial-up connection was perhaps the first time porn became free to the masses, and the adult film industry has yet to recover from the seismic shift.
When I recently asked peers whether they had specific memories about watching online porn as teenagers, I was flooded with stories. “Oh man, the number of viruses I downloaded back in the day,” remembers Cordelia, 29. “I would sneakily read erotica on LiveJournal.com on the family computer and hope no one would catch me,” says Maisie, 27. “I accidentally downloaded a virus that ended up calling the country of Romania long-distance,“ says Marie, 34. "Our phone bill was hundreds of dollars; my parents assumed it was my brother so he got blamed.”
Today’s youth doesn’t know just how intense and stressful watching porn used to be in the early days of the internet. So in honor of Pornhub’s 10th anniversary, we thought it’d be fun to reminisce about what getting off at home used to be like. Because as well all know, it was a process. And for younger millennials, trust you me: every damn word of this is 100 percent true.
First, there was always only one desktop computer in the house. Usually, parents set up these chunky machines in common areas like a living room or den. iPhones, tablets and Wi-Fi didn’t exist yet—only one hunk of metal and plastic with myriad cords coming out of it and one telephone line snaking toward a wall outlet. Life sucked for those young people whose parents denied them from their own Yahoo, AOL or Netscape accounts. “I started looking at porn when I was 16 years old on my family’s shared computer,“ says Thomas, 35. "If you logged into AOL under the same username, it’d save your browser history, so you needed to look up things under your own to not get caught. My overprotective mother, however, wouldn’t give me my own AOL username, so I had a friend create one using his account.”
The first step of porn-viewing was always figuring out how to time it. If you had siblings close to your age, god bless you, because finding a time to sit with your pants around your ankles in the open without getting caught was one lesson they didn’t teach in sex ed. Most often you had to wait until mom went to the grocery store or after everyone fell asleep; sometimes you’d even set an alarm in case you drifted off before 3 a.m. Yes, this is why high school students were always so damn tired at 7 a.m. in homeroom back then; it wasn’t Catch 22 keeping them up all night, but Catch 22 Dicks.
Once you did find privacy, you had to find a reputable site next. You’d type boobs or vagina or penis.com into AskJeeves.com, which was the only search engine we knew about back then because it was advertised on TV every week during Friends. Jeeves had parental controls though, so you’d keep clicking until you stumbled upon some secret keyboard formula that landed you on a slow-loading web page full of links.
You’d scroll through them, not knowing which were viruses and which ones weren’t. It was a digital minefield. Once you found a reputable site—and Jesus, who were you, Carmen Sandiago?—a single dirty picture would take about seven minutes to load. Hope you brought your copy of Catch 22 downstairs with you, because those seven minutes felt like seven hours. And videos? Forget it. You’d scroll over links boasting videos and just keep moving, dreaming, because you knew those would take even longer to load, buffering every four seconds, or potentially never load at all.
By the time you found solitary time and a reputable site and got an image to load completely, you couldn’t really enjoy it because you, like a Doberman, were on high alert for footsteps coming down the stairs or Mom’s minivan pulling into the driveway. The idea of getting caught or forgetting to clear the browser history afterward kept you in a perpetual state of fear. “My best friend’s mom grounded us from hanging out together because I once printed a black-and-white photo of some naked hunk when we were in middle school,” relates Jagger, 29.
The only thing worse than getting caught was clicking on a virus. May god have mercy on your soul if you happened to click on the kind of virus that opened new window after new window after new window of explicit porn. Your mouse could never keep up. It was like a pornographic Hydra: 70 windows of tan, hairless creatures coming at you from every direction. Carpal tunnel would set in in your wrist. It was a goddamn workout, and afterward, you’d vow never to watch porn again, knowing that clicking on a truly evil link just once would straight-up kill your computer. Like, your family would no longer have a computer unless your parents could afford $600 for a new one. And you had to lie to your parents, your siblings and maybe even grandma about how you had no idea how it happened.
So be thankful for Pornhub, YouPorn, XTube or whatever you use nowadays to get your kicks. Also remember the people making the porn, and spring to throw a few dollars their way once in a while with a membership. Respect their work, because many, many have suffered before you so you can do it at whim—freely and quickly.