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Very Serious Sex

We need to encourage every Internet site, whether or not it has material harmful for young people, to label its own content . . . to help ensure that our children don't end up in the red-light districts of cyberspace.

-President Bill Clinton, summer 1997

Whether Monica S. Lewinsky was making up stories to impress her girlfriends or the United States goes to war over a blowjob, one thing is clear: One of the great ironies of the Clinton era will always be that a government willing to launch a court battle to stifle "obscenity" on the Internet also managed to introduce the words oral sex to the evening news. As it happens, this is more disconcerting for adults than it is for kids, because it puts parents in the position of having to answer all kinds of unsavory questions. A friend of mine tells me her 11-year-old daughter grilled her about why Peter Jennings was sweating, and what he meant by oral sex. Yet if the authors of the Communications Decency Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, had spoken the truth on the Senate floor in the summer of '95 when they claimed that children with access to online services would inevitably unearth grisly pornography, my friend's daughter would certainly have moved beyond oral sex by now. She'd be on to bestiality. She has, after all, been chatting, browsing and surfing since she was 8.

The truth is, without the incentive of filtering software to hack (because nothing in the world is so compelling as information that can't be had), pornography isn't all that interesting to prepubescent kids. Among teenagers, young adults and even self-identified grownups, however, the Lewinsky case has provoked obsessions that can only be cured by a soul-searching afternoon on the Net, where so far a person can still ask without shame all those nagging questions: What motivates extramarital sex? Why do people call Monica a slut and Bill a stud? Is oral sex a crime? In every state? If the administration's proposed ratings system for the Internet (the Online Cooperative Publishing Act) ever goes into effect, the answers will be hard to find, since online sites that address such matters would probably decline to rate their sites, and would therefore find themselves banned from major search engines. Consider this brief guide, then, a hedge against potential censorious legislation.

(Note: Compared to last week's Good Morning America, the following sites are relatively child-safe. Should you need a concise definition of oral sex, presidential stains or polyamory in a hurry, or should you want your children to find the information on their own, rest assured that even if they visit these pages themselves, they'll still need you to decipher the big words. And they'll never go back - serious erotica is even more boring than porn.)

Society for Human Sexuality. Run by an all-volunteer organization "devoted to the understanding and enjoyment of all safe and consensual forms of sexual and sensual expression," the SHS Web site is useful, responsible and thrillingly dull. Recent articles include a guide to swinger culture ("Swingers have traditionally been largely middle-class and tend to blend in quite easily with the general population in terms of appearance and ideology" - in other words, they can run for office undetected) and a seminar on flirting (for the women who wonder how Monica does it - if she did it). Should you still harbor doubts that the page won't be titillating to underagers, consider the disclaimer: "This page contains no erotic fiction and no explicit images, movies or sound files." What could be less arousing?

Bianca's Smut Shack . Because "the Web's first 24-hour online house party" has maintained a consistently activist presence throughout the administration's antics, the Shack gets a lot of media play. But it sounds more fun than it is; every time I go there, I'm never sure I'll get out awake. The Shack has a "Sexual Q&A" where visitors can post questions not answered in "Boner's FAQ Shacklet Forum," but the most educational page isn't about sex at all. It's about food. According to "10 Foods You Should Never Eat," "a single plain cake doughnut winds up with as much cholesterol-raising fat as a McDonald's Big Mac!"

Nerve Magazine: Literate Smut. I suggested to an ex-boyfriend that he send Clinton the alt.polyamory FAQ, but he pulled an even better literary selection for Bill off Nerve: John Perry Barlow's "A Lady's Man and Shameless," the elegant confessions of a man for whom monogamy just doesn't work. The reader who stays with Barlow's plainspoken prose will come away with a candid, sensitive and even heartwarming explanation for why certain people feel the urge to roam. As with so much on Nerve, there's a lot in this story about cultural dynamics, parental duty and love, but precious little lurid sex. Even a book review about menages a trois fails to endorse the practice without a stern advisory. As a "magazine of daring nude photography and brash writing about sex and gender," Nerve does contain some pictures of naked people, but they're all very tasteful. And since Nerve doesn't accept 1-900 and porn ads, there's no danger of linking to harder stuff.

Women Who Pee Standing. Not a sex site per se, but far and away the most practical information regarding female anatomy I've run across in years. Who knew?

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