In the outpouring of obituaries following Larry Flynt’s death, one point has not been made: Flynt was once far ahead of the country. And then the country outraced him.
Hustler’s Working-Class Origins
Flynt grew up in dirt-poor Kentucky and, after years in the Navy and at factory jobs, he carried within him the sentiments of a working-class male culture. Sex was about penetration, and the most erotic sex object of all was the female pudenda. Photos of vaginas were called “pink shots.” And with some refinements, that was the orientation that Hustler featured for the five decades of its existence.
Middle-class sexual imagery, by contrast, offers other areas as the most-worshiped body part. And a riot of “whole-body” sexual activities that were not necessarily focused on vaginal penetration, such as golden showers, bdsm-fetish, multiple-partner “blow bangs” and gang bangs (for details on these, see my book, Stormy’s World: Inside Porn), detracted from vagina-worship. An interest in nipple play was definitely not a part of farm-boy sexuality.
Sex Culture Reflects Social Complexities
So sex can be socially-layered. The sex culture of working-class males involves the least complex of the layers. When asked if he feared competition from Playboy, Flynt responded, “My only competitor is Gynecological Monthly.”
Pink shots were thus the layer that drew the mass market: When Hustler started appearing in 1974, it drew gasps of astonishment because of its frank cultivation of the penetration market; there, in the magazine, you have her naked body in front of you, her legs spread apart, just inviting penetration. And then it’s “wham bam, thank you ma’am.” Quick and dirty. There were no fantasies about communication. No dominant-submissive relationships. Then you’re back to the tool bench.
Hustler debuted Barely Legal in 1999, and the teen images featured there would be, for sexually sophisticated men, among the least interesting of all possible images. Older males don’t want to be reminded of sex with their daughters.
Racing Beyond Larry Flynt and Hustler
But in the last few decades, the United States’s sexuality acquired a “middle class” sensibility. The country raced beyond Larry Flynt and Hustler. Many new forms of sexual activity involve some kind of communication, or at least some interest in scenarios that went beyond immediate vaginal penetration: anal, oral, and the whole band of bdsm that turned out to be overwhelmingly popular among women (for example, Fifty Shades of Grey). This was unfamiliar territory for Larry Flynt. And Hustler’s circulation fell from around 3 million at its peak in the mid-1980s to around 500,000 today.
Instead, middle-class sexuality drew from such high-tech venues as DVDs and streaming, where sexual behaviour not yet dreamed of in the mid-1970s could be streamed for free.
It was not a weakened heart that doomed Larry Flynt and his sexual concepts. It was, in a sense, Pornhub.