I once saw a movie in which Mary Astor promised her daughter a rich, full life. She did not give a list of ingredients. I would say they were innocence, wonder, romance, debauchery, indiscretion, and death, but in that order.
It used to be said of America that she had passed from barbarism to decadence without ever becoming civilized. I would say that modern adolescents went from innocence to debauchery without ever knowing romance, but while inveighing against the permissive society I would not wish to be thought mingling my squeaks with those of Mrs. Mary White Mouse, England’s local arbiter of television morality. I differ from her in that I do not think there is a pin to choose between innocence and debauchery. I complain merely because I feel that everyone, like a passenger on a luxury liner, should be allowed to work his way through the whole menu even if it makes him sick. The young are debarred from doing this. After decadence there can be no civilization; after debauchery, no romance.
To replace romance we are now offered every possible kind of kinkiness. It is not a satisfactory substitute. What is wrong with pornography is that it is a successful attempt to sell sex for more than it is worth. To give a peripheral example, let me ask how it is that those Swedish girls who, with their golden muscles rippling and their finespun hair afloat, are forever running naked through the woods never happen to tread on a thistle – or worse. If we go deeper into the subject, we find that if ever we compare with those of other readers our impressions of a pornographic book, someone always remarks of the hero, “He must have been inexhaustible.”
But most real live men are not inexhaustible. The price that may have to be paid for sexual activity on a massive scale includes nervous prostration, syphilis, unwanted pregnancy, social, emotional, and financial entanglement. None of these items is listed in the catalogue.
Photo by W. Eugene Smith: A Walk to the Paradise Garden (1946)