Metro column 40

Richard Herring: Pornography was an important rite of passage growing up

Richard Herring pieces together some memories from his youthful sex education.

There’s been debate recently about whether the ready availability of hardcore pornography on the Internet is warping teenagers’ attitudes towards sex. It obviously is, but my worry is this ease of access means they’re also missing out on an important rite of passage.

Thirty years ago, when my interest in grotesque images of naked people was first piqued, it was difficult to locate anything at all. I had to make do with pictures of ladies in bras from my mum’s catalogues, a crumpled glamour shot from my brother’s Titbits magazine or a tattered copy of Fiesta found in a bag in the woods, which had practically turned into papier mâché (hopefully due to the rain). I would store every morsel of this mild filth like a priapic squirrel who knew there was a long, porn-free winter ahead of him.

Sex was a jigsaw we had to put together slowly, year after year. We got most of the pieces in the wrong place – but who can blame us? The picture we were constructing was unimaginably ridiculous.

Nowadays, any 14-year-old with a computer can become acquainted with every aspect of human sexuality in about four hours.

When I was 14, we didn’t even have a video player. If we wanted to see nude people moving around, we had to try and sneak into an X-certificate film at the cinema. It was an adventure requiring military-style organisation. We EARNED it!

Firstly, the nearest cinema was ten miles away in Wells, so we needed one of our parents to drive us there. We had to pretend we were going shopping or brass rubbing in the cathedral (which, in a euphemistic sense, perhaps we were).

Phase one of the operation passed without a hitch: whichever gullible adult had brought us to town dropped us off – we now had to get our golden tickets. We were going to have to pretend to be 18. None of us even looked 14.

We assessed who was the most likely to get in. Rather than sending the youngest-looking one in first and then doing something else if he was rumbled, we let him go last, to ensure he wouldn’t spoil it for the rest of us.

I was deemed oldest. I approached the ticket desk and asked for ‘one adult’ (nearly accidentally requesting ‘a half’ through force of habit). The lady at the kiosk didn’t even raise an eyebrow. One by one, my friends followed. However, the last boy – I will not give his name, in case his mum reads this – was challenged.

‘He’s 18,’ we all insisted, before childishly adding, ‘we promise.’ The guardian of this naughty citadel, who clearly didn’t give a flying fig about the cinema rating system, let Phil Fry through (oops, sorry Phil).

The film was The Other Cinderella and it blew our tiny minds. In hindsight, it was a fairly tedious and unsexy combination of slapstick comedy and girls reluctantly touching each other’s breasts. It was so tame that I now wonder if it was created specifically for 14-year-old boys and given a false X-certificate, in order to tempt us away from the real mind-warping stuff.

We loved it.

When one actress took off her top, someone in the darkness shouted in a broad Somersetshire accent: ‘Pert Nipples!’ Everyone sniggered like schoolboys. Because that’s what we were. All sharing this incredible and yet polystyrene milestone.

But if I say ‘pert nipples’ to Phil Fry now, he will still laugh.

You jaded youngsters will never have that joy and I pity you.

See Richard Herring’s reworking of his smash-hit 2002 show, Talking Cock: The Second Coming, on his nationwide tour. Visit for tickets.

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