Page tree
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

The Internet is host to so many incredible things, and that sentence in itself is a huge understatement. The Internet holds all published human knowledge and then some. The Internet is like a shopping mall with a keyboard, a book without pages, a friend without a body. The Internet allows us to create new content, challenge our preexisting ideas, and connect us on a global scale never possible 30 years ago.

The Internet also has a lot of porn.

Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, some of the most recognizable URL’s on the Internet. The most expensive domain? As of 2012, sex (dot) com (writing out the URL automatically leaves a link, which I do not care to do).

Watch the following video, 10 Mind Blowing Facts About The Internet:

Let’s break down the most important facts:

  • In 2002, only 600 million people used the Internet. In 2012, that number rose to 2.2 billion. In two years, almost another billion joined according to the LA Times. While this is a staggering number, there is still roughly half the world without Internet. For us Millennials, it’s hard to imagine a world without the Internet (So what you’re telling me is that you used a folding, hold in your hand paper map for directions?). For Diderot, I think the idea, although exciting, would be unfathomable.
  • Facebook gets 500 Terabytes of data per day. I Googled (thanks, Internet) how many bytes of information a brain can hold/process. To be honest, I couldn’t even understand the answer I was given, so I think that’s answer enough.
  • There are 40,000 Google searches per second. 

Based on our readings of Samuel Johnson I think he would’ve been slightly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the Internet. For Johnson "...the English language was constantly and exponentially changing, both in the evolution of already established words and the creation of new words..." and now it is the evolution of new information. The rapid speed at which we try to keep up with it is very much the same as Johnson. It's an impossibly daunting task. How are we ever to make sense of it? Is there ever a chance we can become enlightened when we can't keep up with new information? And yet, with all of this amazing, precious, rich knowledge at our fingertips, 70% of the Internet holds pornography. Oh, how very proud Diderot would be (if he could wrap his mind around the concept of the Internet).

In May of 2013, The Huffington Post published the article, “Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month Than Netflix, Amazon And Twitter Combined.” Pornographic sites receive 450 million visitors per month, only second to YouTube (800 million). And although YouTube is monitored, erotic content can still be found on the site and this isn’t accounted for in the statistics. Of the visitors on porn sites, roughly 70% are men and 30% are women.

There is a huge gap in this percentage. These numbers are fascinating and can really tell us a lot about how men and women relate, or fail to relate, to one another in terms of how sexuality is discussed in a larger dialogue and viewed in society. Why are so many men watching porn than women? The answer for most is simple: porn caters to heterosexual men. Rashida Jones says that women in the media today fill “objectified, sexualized, performative” roles, beyond pornography. Her latest involvement with the documentary Hot Girls Wanted tracks the lives of girls as young as 18 entering the porn industry. You can watch an interview of the clip here and read more about it here.

Rashida comments that 70% of the Internet is used for porn and some disagree with this number, although it is hard to tell specifically without data trackers (a costly endeavor). Some think the number is lower, between 20-40%. Regardless, if 1/3 of the world’s public sphere of “knowledge” is videos of strangers having sex, what does this say about us as a whole? Or can only the 3 billion on the Internet be scrutinized?

More importantly, how did we get here? Many blame television, music, and the Internet for a rise to a hyper sexualized society. Personally, I disagree. Many ancient cultures (and some today) walked around naked on a daily basis. No one calls them “hyper sexualized.” Were people not having sex before the Internet? I don’t think we’d be here to have this discussion if they weren’t.  From the time the first clock was wound, sex has been a part of not just human life, but also culture as many 17th Century literature shows. Contrary to what many argue, sexual content still existed “back then,” but it isn’t perceived as explicit because of how it is presented.

But no Internet, no porn! False. What was once a private idea in the 18th Century suddenly becomes a public idea in the 21st Century. Perhaps we live in a desensitized age but just as young minds are scandalized by sexual content now, so were the minds of those in the 18th Century. There are a number of photos, poems, and other writings about the exploration of the unmentionable, the private, that was “too scandalous” for the time. Even as recently as 2011, Oxford academics uncovered hidden pornographic poems from the 18th Century. English faculty member and founder of the poems Dr. Claudine van Hensbergen describes “a collection of pornographic verse about dildos” as well as a poem about a man hiding in a woman’s bedroom while she is otherwise occupied.

The theme of men sneaking into women's bedrooms seems to be common, and is quite startling. 

In Jonathan Swift’s The Lady’s Dressing Room, he clearly satirizes the grotesque filth Strephon sees in Celia’s dressing room. Swift writes, “I pity wretched Strephon, blind/To all the charms of womankind” as Strephon’s once perfect image of Celia is shattered (2349). When taking a step back, Strephon gained perspective on a situation he once had been too close to. This idea applies to many facets of life; it’s hard to see the full picture when you are deeply involved, physically, mentally, or emotionally. While the poem is satirical and focuses on Swift’s obsession with the body (also seen in Gulliver’s Travels), the premise is very applicable to porn. For some, porn has the illusion of authenticity but a behind the scenes look, such as in the documentary Hot Girls Wanted, shows just how far from reality things can really be.

Of course, Lady Mary Wortly Montagu crafted a response to Swift’s writing. Her response, also satirical, criticizes Swift directly. As we’ve read previously with Montagu, she has no issue talking about sexuality so it seems fitting that she would write a response to Swift’s sexist remarks. Montague humorously attacks Swift and in doing so, defends females of the type from male criticism. Both genders are guilty of putting forward a façade and want nothing more than approval.

This series of poems is directly linked to porn and the Internet. Viewing the intimate inside of the dressing room illuminated what had once been hidden. The private made public. The Internet does just this. The Internet is an avenue to make the private public, for good or for bad. The intimacy of a private dressing room, let alone what happens inside, is suddenly thrust into the spotlight and Montagu criticizes this invasion of privacy as disgusting while diminishing Swift's manhood as a way to put him in his place. 

Samuel Pepys gives us the perfect example as to how sexual content is very much present in the 17th century but may not be considered as overtly sexual because of how it is presented. Pepys is a man who has fallen out of love with his wife as he explains “…just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife” (2032). As a result of this, Pepys turns to another woman for companionship but his wife catches him in the act. Here,  Pepys uses his own terminology to refer to the woman’s body and the footnotes explain, “Pepys reports his illicit sexual activites in a “secret” language compounded of Latin, French, Spanish, and English” (2033). For some, Pepys’ word choice is less offensive rather than had he used the anatomically correct term, “vagina.”  The counter argument is that this cheeky terminology lacks a level of respect. For Kate Hudson, giving a man’s penis a nickname in How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days did not work out too well as you can see.

The point: it’s easier to distance feelings and emotions with vague terminology. It's always important to note not just the content of a writer but the language they use. Pepys secret language takes away a concrete aspect behind his subject, making her more objective. Pepys "molds" the language to fit in with how he wants to discuss the subject. Distancing himself, perhaps for out of his own guilt (as you'll see below). Porn follows this same idea, echoing Pepys’ writing. Plus, it might be easy to argue that Pepys would have turned to porn rather than another woman if it had been available, eliminating the risk of getting caught cheating with another woman by his wife (Scarlett Johansson in Don Jon would say that porn = cheating). 

The idea that these 18th Century artists and writers were trying to understand is still trying to be understood today. Sexuality is still not fully understood. Is it biological or psychological? What is it that drives us to another person? For these artists, there work may have been satirical and even silly, but it is an integral piece of humanity that literally, keeps us moving forward. Perhaps the artists of this time are describing something that science cannot: “The drive to discover the passions inside of us all is not something that a person must inspire within themselves, but it is rather something that seems to develop naturally inside of everyone, much like passion itself.” In his diary, Samuel Pepys discusses this sort of understanding when talking about his own reading:

"We sang until almost night, and drank mighty good store of wine, and then

they parted, and I to my chamber, where I did read through "L'escholle des

filles," a lewd book, but what do no wrong once to read for information

sake .  .  .  .  And after I had done it I burned it, that it might not be

among my books to my shame, and so at night to supper and to bed."

While Pepys says that his reading is for "information sake," he still feels compelled to burn it, guilty for reading, or owning, such content. This shame and stigma still surrounds such content today. It's an idea that has persisted throughout time. What has changed is how we are exposed to it.

Somewhere between the 17th century and the present, the way in which sexuality was described turned from coded language and witty poetry to graphic language, images, and videos. However, the discussion has always been around. At a time when printing and circulation was in full force, people were finally learning more about gender relations in other countries and continents and were genuinely interested. Now when it’s easier than ever to learn about others, interest seems to decrease and issues regarding gender equality and productive conversations about sexuality take a back seat in social and political conversations; an influx in information but not in interest. But in the land of the Internet, porn continues to hold the interest of 1.5 million people per day.