The Time I Found Porn at Sleepaway Camp
I think it goes without saying that for the majority of Jewish American youth, time spent at sleepaway camp is among the most, if not singularly the most formative experience when it comes to social and sexual maturation. Pretty much everything I know, and everything I’ve experienced, has one way or another come out of sleepaway camp experiences.
My first real intimate experiences with girls, my first ironically humorous (yet undeniably and unspokenly slightly sincere) homosexual experiences, my first real discussions and sightings of sexual activity have all come out of Jewish summer camp, and I am positive that had it not been for Camp (insert name here), I and the thousands of young Jews who had similar experiences would not have the sexual appetite, knowledge, or acceptance that we do now. That being said, one of the most important and formative sexual experiences of my life happened right there at camp, yet it didn’t involve any personal physical sexual experience, nor did it involve the sexual experiences of any of my friends or bunkmates. To put it bluntly, my life was changed by a simple magazine found in the dumpster by my bunk.
It was the summer when (before?) I was going into ninth grade – one of those harsh, slightly-miserable summers when the more outgoing, physically mature kids were experimenting with making out with as many people as possible and fingering their ways to social acceptance, and the rest of us guys were left to simply talk about how much we enjoyed those forbidden isolated parts of the female body that eighth and ninth graders recognize most.
There was nothing especially different or exciting about that day, and I don’t remember anything else that was really going on, but do I remember that right as we were leaving our bunk for lunch, a friend of mine, one of the endless Noahs or Bens that seem to populate most Jewish summer camps, pointed our direction to something far more interesting than the gloppy and soggy macaroni and cheese we were about to eat: sitting in the dumpster conveniently located next to our bunk, a beacon of light and glory amongst the recycled cardboard and empty Utz potato chip bags, was a used, slightly tattered Penthouse magazine. The allure of its pages was intoxicating, teasing us with the promise of easily obtainable sexual gratification, something that none of us – being of the generation that was riding out the final wave of scrambled cable porn while also attempting to unlock the bank vault of pornography that is the Internet (at age 14 none of us knew about the Internet Explorer “delete history” option, an Achilles’ Heel if there ever was one) – had ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
It physically drew us in. We needed it. The mere fact that it was lying in garbage and nobody was reading it, enjoying the transcendent beauty of fake breasts and explicit stories, was enough to drive us insane with rage. How dare you, whoever you are, discard something as beautiful and pure as this?
This was a sacred text, in that very moment more important than any Torah scroll or Tanach available to us, and some jerk had the audacity to throw it away like it was nothing. We had to have it. One of the now-increasing group of boys surrounding the dumpster was finally courageous, or maybe desperate enough to reach his entire arm in, risking contact with unidentifiable liquids, smells, and pieces of garbage to receive even a glimpse at this holy piece of art, and when he removed his hand, clutching the folds of the magazine, from that dirty blue dumpster, we knew something special had just occurred. The game now was simply to hide it under a pillow or in a duffel bag and make it through lunch without the temptation to go back and look through its pages.
When it finally came time to open the magazine, our expectations and hormones were running wild, completely unable as we were to contain or even minimally subdue them. As we leafed through the content of our recently acquired treasure, worlds that for the majority of us were up until then unobtainable, were finally exposed to us – whether we wanted them to be or not.
Lying flat on our table in our bunk, around which we had all congregated night in and night out to play poker and discuss how badly we wanted to have sex with all of the girls in our age group with whom we would never be able to have sex, was all the sexual gratification anyone could ever need: we had lesbian pictures, masturbation pictures, group sex pictures, which at least for myself was an unexplored phenomenon back then, all neatly laid out and waiting for our vicious, hungry gaze.
Greedily, like starving men who hadn’t eaten for days, we devoured that magazine and all of its unsavory contents, regardless of whether or not the content actually aroused any feeling in our pubescent loins.
As somebody who up until then had never kissed nor made any real physical contact with someone of the opposite sex, and whose pornographic habits had until then consisted of a myriad of softcore pictures and videos that simulated, yet never truly showed sexual stimulation and pleasure, these pictures elicited a response of arousal for maybe a second and then managed to speed past that straight into the zone of intimidation and, dare I say it, disgust.
I don’t know if it was because we still had a sliver of fear of the seeming-omnipotence of camp counselors, or if we truly experienced a troubling and challenging ethical Judaic moment, or maybe because we stumbled upon an artifact that needed to be discarded to be fully appreciated, but after a couple days of nervous reading and knowing glances when walking into the bathroom stalls of the bunk, we unanimously felt the need to send what had at first seemed like a gift from God back to where it came, to see it taken away and sent to the dump days after.
Why were we unable to enjoy it? As a sexually confused and frustrated fourteen year old, the chance to ogle over page upon page of prohibited pleasure seemed like the greatest chance I would ever have in my lifetime, yet I feel that this instance of actually coming face to face (no pun intended) with what I thought I really wanted and needed essentially broke down my naïve sexual idealism and exposed myself and my brave companions to images and concepts we didn’t even know existed and I think didn’t want to know existed. I think for us at that point in time and experience, not having our magazine but knowing the illicit secrets it held might have been more important than actually having it and cowering in fear at its frankness and unabashed dirtiness. We found out over the course of the magazine’s residency in our lives that what we really desired was not the practical sexual gratification that at that time seemed unattainable, but the sexual education and rhetoric offered within its pages. More than anything, it taught us just how unprepared for sexual activity we truly were, and through that we realized why not being ready wasn’t such a terrible thing after all.
In the time since we stumbled upon our holy text of sexual expression and exploration, my former bunkmates (some of whom still remain friends and colleagues) and I experienced a considerable amount in the ways of pornography, as most members of the internet generation will have experienced, and more importantly actual sexual experience. Yet as one member of the original group of pioneers, brave enough to cross over to the other side and stray from the path of righteousness just enough to enjoy the forbidden fruit bestowed upon us, I honestly don’t know if any experience can ever truly replicate the mix of exhilaration and suppressed terror that came about while harboring our shameful, beautiful fugitive for one week in 2005.
- Male, 21, Buffalo (NY)