Monday, 29 August 2011

The New Prudery

The other day, I was sitting in the sauna in the gym, surveying the showers in front of me – a row of four open showers and six cubicles with curtains, where once the whole shower area was open. Oddly enough, in a time of greater sexual freedom, most guys these days opt for the cubicles. Mine is a predominantly gay gym, and I have no doubt that most of its members, have photos all over various websites proudly showing off their own members (as long as you can’t see their faces of course), but when it comes to a public changing room, they undress with a towel wrapped tightly round their waists and shower in the privacy of a closed cubicle. This is particularly evident in young men, so, I ask, when did this new prudery start?

Did you know that up until the 1960s, when women were first allowed into the YMCA, bathing costumes were actually banned from the swimming pools? Boys’ swimming classes in schools often carried the same rule, the reason being the impracticality of providing and maintaining sanitary swimming gear and clogging swimming pools' filtration systems with lint fibers from the swimsuits. In those more innocent days, nobody thought there was anything sexual in men being naked together. 

Nowadays, however,  we seem to see sexual danger lurking everywhere. Only two years ago speedos, or tight mens’swimwear,  were banned at  Alton Towers Theme park. The management’s statement at the time needs to be quoted in full as it wouldn’t be out of place in a comedy sketch show.
"To prevent embarrassment among fellow members of the public and to maintain the family friendly atmosphere at the resort, bosses have taken the extreme measure of banning these tight trunks from their popular waterpark located within the Splash Landings Hotel.
"While women may hail the return of the skimpy bathers, the style itself is not deemed public or family friendly, and therefore we are requesting that male swimmers wear more appropriate styles such as boardshorts. The resort is also considering introducing mandatory bikini waxing for men, in a bid to prevent unsightly hair from being on display."
Alton Towers Resort sales and marking director Morwenna Angove added "We feel this small brief style is not appropriate for a family venue so we are advising male bathers to wear more protective swimwear such as shorts."
"We are also looking into offering complimentary male waxing, which will ensure we preserve the dignity of all our guests."
Not allowed at Alton Towers
Note that the ban only refers to men. Women can wear the skimpiest of bikinis and get away with it. I understand that the practice of banning speedo style swimwear is not uncommon, particularly in the US, where an ad such as the David Beckham Armani ad would never even be allowed on a billboard. We in Europe are a little less prudish than that, thank heavens.

However examples of this American prudery are now creeping into every part of our lives. There can be very few gay men out there who have not heard of Grindr or what it is for (to find the nearest shag in as short a time as possible), but to read the rules governing profile pics, you’d think it was for exchanging knitting patterns and cookery tips. These are just some of the funnier ones.

No bare skin one inch above the pubic area. 
No pubic hair can be visible
No underwear can be visible, including the underwear waistband showing above pants.
Appropriate public swimwear is allowed. No pubic hair, no outline of the genitals and no portion of the butt can be shown.
Pants and shorts must be worn normally, buttoned and not pulled or hanging down.
No images of hands or fingers pushed in pants or pulling underwear outwards.
No photo that is sexually explicit or suggestive. 
Nudity (particularly the genitals) covered up by a towel, hat or other means is not allowed.
No grabbing/holding or touching genitals or genital area.
No crotch area only photos, neither back nor front.
No images that show suggestive or overly sexual poses.
No photos that contain sex props or toys. including the use of fruit/vegetables.

One might ask, why Apple gets so hot under the collar about such things. It’s only sex after all. Of course we will be told that it’s to protect our children, but I don’t really buy that, nor am I absolutely sure children need protecting in quite the way we go about it. When I was in Sitges, in Spain last year, I spent most of my time on Balmins beach, a thoroughly democratic nudist beach, where nudists and clothed bathers, gay people, straight people and families with young children mix quite freely, and with due respect for each other. Naked people flirted with each other, with occasionally inevitable consequences for the men. I saw none of the parents of small children screaming at them not to look or rushing them away. They just ignored it, and so did the children. I am in no doubt that those children will grow up with a much more relaxed and balanced attitude to sex than those that are over protected and who somehow grow up thinking that sex is something shameful.

Having enjoyed the freedom of this beach, I was sharply brought back to earth by Facebook when I returned to London. Wanting to share my holiday snaps with my friends, I carefully went through them, cropping them to make sure there were no offending willies to be seen. Unfortunately I was concentrating so hard on the people in the foreground, I had failed to notice that in the far distance you could make out fully naked men, and, if you blew up the photo large enough, you could just make out a penis. The photos were deleted as was my profile was for a time, though it was reinstated on appeal. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have someone on penis watch. 

This is only one example of Facebook’s crazy attitude to what they consider sexual or inappropriate. Only last year, they pulled a Toronto Public Health ad, warning of the dangers of testicular cancer. When health officials attempted to place the ad on the website urging men to “check (their) package” for signs of the disease, Facebook officials took exception. The advertisement, which features a male midsection alongside text urging men aged 18 to 35 to do monthly self exams, was deemed distasteful and “threatening” by Facebook officials. According to them, the image “must not focus on a specific body part, particularly a man’s crotch” and the “Check Your Package” headline was “unacceptable.” Facebook also objected to the words “Men 18-35 are at risk” as being “threatening to the user and we don’t allow age callouts under any circumstance.” Are they for real? One wonders if they would have similar objections to an ad advising women to check their breast for signs of breast cancer.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that this new prudery is even beginning get to gay men in an all male changing room, and they too now equate nudity with sex. Is the reason for their modesty the fact that sex is not allowed in the gym changing rooms? Has innocence disappeared from our new sexual world?

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