I was born and raised in the New York City area, which is one of the most progressive parts of the U.S., or at least it used to be. In the 1970s movie theaters in midtown Manhattan openly advertised real pornographic movies (e.g. “A Hard Man is Good to Find”), with quotes from reviews by the late Al Goldstien, publisher of Screw Magazine, that featured images of one to five erections instead of star ratings.
There were also porn shops which specialized in pornographic films and magazines, despite the condemnation of pornography in traditional, mainstream society. Apparently a similar situation existed in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and probably many other cities. There were also a few magazines about naturism (nudism) openly sold at NYC newsstands that included images of nude families and children in everyday life, but I never saw any child pornography, i.e. images of children intended to sexually arouse viewers.
The Times Square area was also home to the library of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), founded by Dr. Mary S. Calderone, to promote accurate, balanced and comprehensive sex education from the earliest age (1). SIECUS published the Guidelines for Comprehensive Education: Kindergarten – 12th Grade, and eventually opened a public policy office in Washington, D.C. So there was good and bad in the NYC area. Having spent my youth in that relatively free and tolerant atmosphere, I developed an open mind unfettered by the more traditional culture more characteristic of some other places.
The grudging tolerance of real pornography was partly encouraged by the publication of Prof. Alfred Kinsey’s research in 1948 (2). Kinsey surveyed thousands of people throughout the U.S., scientifically, and found that 100-year-old laws and public etiquette were out of touch with what many Americans were actually doing in private. The founder of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner, was apparently inspired by that research. The Kinsey Institute for the Study of Sexuality still exists at Indiana University today.
But even before Kinsey and Hefner, a popular Shirley Temple movie featured the little actress top-free. Although that scene was cut from the final version of the film, the image was used in a poster to promote the movie. In her autobiography “Child Star,” Shirley Temple Black wrote that as a small child she wore nothing at all when sunbathing with her family.
After my divorce in the 1980s I moved to Europe where I discovered that although most Europeans tend to be very conservative in some ways, there are or were pockets of modern attitudes toward sex education and non-sexual naturism (nudism), especially in Scandinavia, France, Germany, Holland, and eastern Slavic countries. On the Black Sea coast there are even (or used to be) nude beaches for local families rather than for international tourists. The only real “child porn” I ever saw in my long life was one magazine openly on sale in a bookshop in Copenhagen.
In Germany there was a good book by a psychiatrist that featured images of nude children touching each other (German title: “Zeig Mal!”), and translated into English as: “Show Me!” (3). The content was not pornographic, but educational and constructive to combat the epidemic of toxic shame and help kids feel secure about their normal curiosity while growing up. A 13-year-old girl who reviewed the book said she’s too old for it.
The book was prosecuted as “pornographic” in a few states, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the publisher’s assertion that the book is not obscene, and the First Amendment protects non-obscene sexual depictions, even of children. The book sold over a million copies and was translated into seven languages, but continuing attacks forced the publisher to discontinue printing it in 1996 because they could not afford the expense of more and more legal challenges.
The German anthropologist Hans Peter Duerr published a series of books on the myth of the civilizing process, in which he offered massive evidence that there was more body shame in the distant past as well as in pre-industrial cultures. In contrast to the idea that traditional body shame proves that people today are more “civilized,” contemporary western countries actually exhibit considerably less body shame than in the primitive past (4). Hundreds of nude family resorts throughout Europe are evidence of that, and although I knew there were a few nude beaches in the U.S., the popularity of nude resorts in Europe was something new to me. Prostitution is currently legal in Germany, and although officially illegal in some other European countries, sex work is widespread and unofficially tolerated in some cities.
I’m not defending pornography or prostitution, but the hysteria against porn is the same hysteria that drives the movement against any and all nudity in childhood – even in art and innocent family naturism. Nor am I defending prostitution, but the hysteria against sex work is the same hysteria that drives the movement against accurate, balanced and comprehensive sex education – which is the best way to prevent disease and early pregnancy.
Even in Catholic Italy where there are many people who are ultra-conservative, I was surprised to see young girls top-free on the beach at Rimini, home of one of the 20th Century’s greatest movie directors, Federico Fellini, whose international masterpiece Amarcord portrays adolescents simulating sexual acts (5). On Palermo’s public beach at Mondello I even saw one local girl about age eight completely nude – something I never saw while growing up in the U.S. The mainstream clothing stores in Italy sell (or used to sell) top-free bathing suits for girls up to size (age) 10. A series of animated cartoons on sex education for children produced in France was dubbed into Italian and published on video cassettes by Italy’s major newspaper La Repubblica as “L’Albero della Vita” (the Tree of Life).
For decades prime-time TV programming in Italy has included reruns of the blockbuster movies (at least in Italy) about the escapades of “Pierino.” Little Peter is actually an adult actor who portrays a comical teenager in sexual situations in school and at home. Although there is no nudity, there are under-the-skirt shots, staring at teachers’ breasts, etc. Such entertainment is not rated X or even PG-13, and might be considered pornographic in some states, but not in Italy since the intention is apparently to make viewers laugh rather than sexually arouse viewers.
The culture shock of Europe inspired me to embark on my ambitious photo-documentary: Girl Becomes Woman, about a young girl going through puberty, to try to understand why there seemed to be less inhibition about child nudity and especially breasts in Europe than in the U.S. I photographed a girl for seven years, from age 8 to 15, in her daily life and even lived with her family during all those summers. There is no genital nudity in any of those images.
I was also inspired by the work of British photographer David Hamilton, whose nude portraits of minors at St. Tropez, France, I discovered in Italian bookshops (6), and American photographer Jock Sturges, who made most of his images of naturist families in Montelivet, France as well as northern California, some of whose books were printed in Italy (7).
Jock was not merely a serious photographer with a master’s degree in art, but a courageous victim who fought back against the federal government when the FBI raided his studio and confiscated his images and equipment. A judge eventually ruled his images of nude children are not “pornographic,” and ordered the FBI to return his property. Jock’s work has been carried on by his former assistant Camille Jackson-Barre.
Another American artist who inspired me was Sally Mann, whose books and public exhibitions feature photographs of her own children completely nude on their family farm in Virginia. I remember seeing one of her books vandalized in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, although she was never officially accused or prosecuted as a “child pornographer.” Her beautiful work was critically praised and her autobiography “Hold Still” is fascinating (8). Sally Mann’s work is being shown to children in Italy as part of photography courses.
There had always been some vicious criticism of David, Jock and Sally’s work, but it failed to get their work censored. Freedom of speech used to be considered more important than the current whims of political correctness. Evidently the atmosphere of public opinion had changed, as indicated by the government’s eventual “clean-up” of Times Square. In part the change in atmosphere was blamed on the discovery of AIDS around 1980 (9).
An indication of the hysterical nature of that change is that the frequency of sex crimes actually decreased significantly during the same period that popular concern has exploded. There is also some evidence that the availability of real porn is associated with a reduction in the frequency of sex crimes (10). Also noteworthy is that the majority of child deaths and serious injuries are due to physical abuse and neglect, but there is little public interest in protecting thousands of kids from being crushed to death in car crashes every year.
Recently the Beautiful Body Project and other groups and individuals have been fighting unreasonable censorship to protect public breastfeeding and nudity in art. Workshops are offered for photographers featuring mothers and children nude as models. But as I expected might happen, my own presence on the web was the eventual victim of American hysteria over child porn and child sex abuse, as described in my previous post, but one European was soon to attack me even more viciously. How is that possible, since my work is considerably less revealing than those who came before me?
Despite the public largely ignoring my photo-documentary, in 2014-2015 I produced another, more humble project: “Buddy Massage,” a video for kids which I likewise published myself and offered openly on my web sites and promoted on YouTube. The health benefits of child massage have been verified by numerous scientific studies, many of which were conducted by the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine. Primary schools in several countries now offer “massage time” in the classroom, and there are at least 30 videos of child massage on YouTube originating from several English-speaking and other (mostly western) nations, so my video should not be viewed as radical in any way. My innocent video portraying normal massage doesn’t contain any genital nudity either.
My video project received little attention from the public as well. The introductory presentation on YT got about 4,000 views in three years, a few positive comments, and mostly Likes, but the full video was recently accused of being “child pornography” by a local prosecutor in Italy of all places, a country that features countless paintings, sculptures and statues of nude children as tourist attractions open to the public of all ages. I won’t post examples of the countless images of nude children on display in Italy today because some web censors are becoming more prudish than traditional museum curators and urban planners.
I had been criticizing the mass hysteria against child nudity in my publications like “Real Child Safety” for several years, ever since I read attorney Lawrence Stanley’s research in the Cardozo Law Review, describing the failure of the FBI, Interpol, and other highly sophisticated police agencies to find evidence of the supposedly “huge” market for kiddie porn, despite years of investigations and millions of dollars of public money wasted in the search.
Even though all of my published work was in English, unbeknownst to me at the time the Italian police had opened a secret investigation of me and my work in 2013. Only later did I discover that the investigation existed and went nowhere for three years due to the lack of concrete evidence. That is until a new prosecutor was hired and suddenly decided that despite no new information to support any suspicion of possible “criminal activity” on my part, conditions were ripe for an immediate witch hunt. That was only the beginning of the nightmare.
- Kinsey, Alfred. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Reprinted by Indiana University Press, 1998.
- Fleischhauer-Hardt, Helga (author), and McBride, Will (photographer). Show Me! A Picture Book of Sex for Children and Parents. St Martin’s Press, 1975.
- Duerr, Hans Peter. Italian translation of Volume One: Nudità e vergogna. Il mito del processo di civilizzazione. Marsilio, 1991.
- Hamilton, David. 25 Years of the Artist. Dorsett, 1992.
- Sturges, Jock. Notes. Aperture Foundation, 2004. Distributed in Europe by Thames and Hudson.
- Mann, Sally. Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. Little, Brown, 2015.
- Roiphe, Katie. Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at Century’s End. Vntage, 1997.
- Chapman, Steve. Is Pornography a Catalyst of Sexual Violence? (Reason.com, November 5, 2007). http://reason.com/archives/2007/11/05/is-pornography-a-catalyst-of-s See also: Diamond M et al (2010). Pornography and sex crimes in the Czech Republic. Archives of Sexual Behavior. DOI 10.1007/s10508-010-9696-y https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-11/s-lcp113010.php