Since When Does ‘Adult’ Mean Dirty?

Vibrating Underpants, Busty Cops, and Vaginal Rejuvenation at Adultcon 2010

Growing up is no rare achievement, but we did work hard to get here. Stumbling around the house in our parents’ shoes, calculating our ages in cheeky increments of halves and quarters, scrutinizing that slow-growing height chart etched onto our bedroom doorframes in ballpoint pen.

In fact, you could argue that our entire childhoods were devoted to prepping and plotting for adulthood. In my own eager little mind, being “big” meant freedom. It meant confidence. It mean respect.

Starshine Roshell

Imagine my shock to discover that adulthood actually means shopping for vibrating underpants and schmoozing the stars of Busty Cops and Naked Heroines Bound for Trouble!

This weekend, porn stars and erotic toy peddlers will gather at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the annual naughtyfest known as Adultcon. Open to the public, the expo invites guests to meet “over 69 adult entertainers,” purchase “male sexual enhancement products,” and learn about “vaginal rejuvenation centers.”

All of which sound diverting indeed. Stimulating? Maybe. Amusing? Undoubtedly. But … adult?

Let’s ignore the fact that the girls in Adultcon ads appear to challenge even the legal definition of “adult.” And let’s disregard my own clearly twisted associations of “adult sex” with responsible considerations like love, birth control, and (yawn, I know) STD-prevention.

Putting all that aside, you still have to wonder about the pretense — the feigned delicacy — in the event’s name. Why can’t they just call it Raunch-Con and be done with it? It’s absurd for an industry whose money shot leaves zilch to the imagination to suddenly, um, beat around the bush.

Of course, porn isn’t the only industry to co-opt the word. Anyone care for an adult beverage? Wanna catch an R-rated movie with a juvenile plot and “adult language”? Adult is now a euphemism for smut, booze, and profanity — and while I’m actually fond of all three, I’d rather they didn’t define the very developmental stage at which I’ll spend most of my life. It’s just too sad. This is what we rushed to grow up for? The reward at the end of youth’s tribulations is … an invitation to be crocked, crude, and first in line to get Ron Jeremy’s autograph?

Call me naive but I was hoping for more.

I admit that adulthood isn’t everything I thought it would be. Turns out confidence isn’t automatic when you come of age. I was way off on that whole “freedom” thing. And while I no longer yearn to sprout taller, I spend too much time hoping I won’t sprout wider.

But being a grown-up is satisfying in other, unexpected ways: I like contributing to society in my own old-enough-to-have-some-heft way. And I like having enough life experience to appreciate smart humor, and complex issues, and thoughtful discussions.

Which is what adult entertainment really ought to be, right? Smart, complex, thoughtful. It should be the kind of stuff — Bill Maher monologues and Merchant Ivory films, say — that makes kids shuffle out of the room bored and confused, rather than run screaming, “Eww! What WAS that? Make it stop!”

Thankfully, there are still a few bastions of modern life where “adult” means nothing more than, “Honestly? Your kids won’t find this interesting.” But it’s getting harder and harder for us to recognize them when we see them. A librarian I know says customers get embarrassed and defensive when a catalog search identifies their request as “adult fiction” until she explains that it merely distinguishes the tome from young-adult novels or, you know, pop-up books.

And another friend had a brief moment of panic when I brought up the subject recently. “What about Adult Education?” he said. “I’d better go double check the class I signed up for….”

Starshine Roshell is the author of “Keep Your Skirt On.”

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