By Larry Magid
Special to the San Jose Mercury News

There's something I've wanted to say ever since I started writing this column a couple of years ago. Frankly, I wasn't sure exactly how to phrase it without upsetting some people but, what the heck, I might as well say it.

What the Web needs is more soft-core eroticism and less hard-core pornography.

Some of you may be thinking: How dare a "family technology" columnist encourage the spread of sexually stimulating material that will undoubtedly be looked at by teenagers and even pre-teens? Yes, it's true, such material would be viewed by young people.

If your goal is to completely shield our youth from sexuality, my proposal has absolutely no merit. But if that's your belief, you had better ban them completely from the Internet and, while you're at it, keep them away from TV, the movies, magazines, the beach and even school. We're raising a generation of kids in a highly sexually charged environment.

When I was a kid, topless photos in Playboy were considered pretty hard core. We didn't have Victoria's Secret back then but, if we did, you can bet that their advertisements would have been banned from the mainstream publications that are only too happy to print their ads today.

Curiosity about sex is natural and interest in looking at sexual material didn't start with the Internet. I'm quite sure that Johannes Guttenberg, who invented the printing press to print Bibles, had no idea it would be used for the likes of Hustler magazine. Pictures of naked bodies go back to antiquity. Visit a European art museum or even a cathedral and you'll see plenty of images that must have been shocking at the time. To some they are still shocking.

I admit I'm not an expert when it comes to eroticism, but I do know that what is widely available today is far more explicit than what kids could get their hands on when I was a teenager. I don't know whether pictures like the 1953 Playboy topless photos of Marilyn Monroe would even get a second look from today's kids, but I do know one thing, what is widely available on the Net today goes way beyond what I -- as a very liberal minded adult -- consider acceptable for kids to look at.

As I've pointed out in earlier columns, it's actually easier to find hard core porn than it is to find the softer stuff so, anyone looking for any type of sexual material, is bound to wind up looking at material that could be problematic. And I'm not just talking about degrees of nudity or sexuality. I'm referring to sites that promote activities that, if carried out, would be unhealthy, illegal, dangerous and disgusting.

The ease to which kids can land on such sites is infuriating, but just because we can point to such extreme sites doesn't mean that we should go out of our way to block them from everything that could be considered sexually stimulating.

I don't know what the answer is. The federal government is not about to fund an erotic Internet zone for teenagers and I'm not suggesting that it should. But I also believe it's counter productive to deny young people the opportunity to explore their sexuality on the Internet and I'm not sure that sites that are tasteful, yet provocative should necessarily be off limits to teens who are bound and determined to look at whatever material they can get their hands on.

Trouble is, such sites are very hard to find and anyone looking for them is likely to be sidetracked by the very type of material we ought be worried about.

It boils down to this: Assuming you have little or no choice as to whether your kids are going to look at sexual material, what type of material would you rather they look at? I know the answer for my kids. I would feel OK about them looking at tasteful nudity and not OK about them looking at sites that are demeaning or violent.

Larry Magid is a technology journalist and commentator based in Palo Alto. After seeing our club's web site here is what he had to say....

I have just finished looking over your Diablo Sun Devils Naturist Club's Web site and I must say I am impressed. You seem to have a very classy nudist club and I commend you on your goals of helping women overcome their fears by introducing them to the joy of naturism.  Your photographs portraying nudity are tastefully done and it is refreshing to see the beauty of nude women in a positive manner and without the inclusion of any pornography.  Please feel free to reprint the article I wrote for the San Jose Mercury News about Soft-Core Eroticism on your club's site.  Contact him at

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