What Trying To See Nudity Was Like Before The Internet: An Explainer

Allow an "old" guy (in his 30s) to detail the...thrills?

These days, if you want to see naked people, all you have to do is type a few words into Google on any of your devices, wherever you happen to be. Back in the Stone Age-like days before the internet, however, it was a lot more difficult. And, in many ways, those simpler times were simply more exciting. Here's the ordeal that older millennials will be the last to remember...

You depended on your scheming friends

No tablets, no smartphones, not even dial-up. (Besides, your family desktop's graphics peaked with "The Oregon Trail.") Unless your parents had premium cable -- we'll get to that in a minute -- you needed a paper publication purchased at a brick-and-mortar store. Which meant, if you were too young to buy nudie mags, you needed a strategy.

Specifically, you needed the kind of friend whom parents love to call a "bad influence."

See, I was a "good kid." It was, of course, my sleazy buddy who had the courage to ask some old creep outside the 7-11 to purchase a Playboy for us. An even more enterprising sleazy buddy of mine figured out how to trick Penthouse’s subscription department into mailing issues to a random mailbox in front of an abandoned house that he monitored daily.

Related: What Dating Was Like Before Cell Phones: An Explainer

The time and effort put into acquiring these few magazines made them seem so significant. We felt like Indiana Jones, tracking down a lost treasure. And that first time we all gathered together and busted open a Hustler -- why, that was the most magical thing in the world.

You had to watch scrambled channels

But eventually, those few magazines we possessed got boring and beat to hell. And, we realized, moving images actually existed! Moving images of naked people!

We were too young to rent R-rated movies from the local video stores, let alone enter the backroom where they kept the really dirty stuff. So, we had to rely on TV. Unfortunately, all of our parents were too cheap to pay for HBO. At first, we were all too dumb to realize that the regular channels would never show nudity. (We'd watch garbage B-movies on USA's "Up All Night" and other networks for hours on end, praying the steamy kissing scenes would lead to something.)

Eventually, we caught on to FCC broadcasting standards, and were forced to watch the scrambled cable channels our parents didn't pay for -- here's what that looked like (SFW):

Yeah, seriously. And for those rare seconds when "Skinemax" magically unscrambled and -- look! a boob! a butt! -- it was like a like a light was shining down on us all.

You realized dads had their own stashes

One incredible day, either you or one of your friends would accidentally open the wrong drawer (well, the right drawer) and discover your old man's fapping inventory. It might've just been a stack of magazines...or it might've been a glorious, well-worn VHS tape.

When I was in sixth grade, a group of us gathered 'round the tiny tube TV at some latchkey kid's apartment while his mom was still at work. The movie was called "Insatiable," a word that I didn't even know at the time. We watched people -- people from the 1970s, it appeared -- actually having sex with each other. We couldn't believe such a thing existed, and it was thrilling.

You appreciated it more

I entered college in 1997 and used the internet for the first time. My freshman year roommate, who'd clearly been dealing with computers for a few years already, showed me the ropes of checking my email via the school's Telnet servers and entering website addresses into the URL bar, even how to download things.

"And, uh, where do you, like, type in something you want to...see?" I sheepishly asked.

I didn't have to explain any more specifically. He pulled up what was the search engine of the day -- Lycos, maybe? -- and I typed in (what else?) "Carmen Electra naked."

Sure, it was cool -- so much nudity suddenly at my fingertips -- but it was never quite the same as those pre-technology days, when we were truly thankful for the scarce nudity we could find, never quite sure when (or if) we would get our hands on more of it. Now the supply is endless, and anything with great supply is innately less valuable.

In retrospect, maybe the thrill of the chase was the most fun part. You guys today don't know how unexciting you have it.