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January 2, 2008

The Un-Sexiest Generation Ever!

man looking at mannequins in lingerie in a storefront window

Photo Credit: Jessica Antola

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Oh, how dutifully abstinent we were! And just when we thought we couldn't get any more so — with the exception of the child stars of Diff'rent Strokes, who evidently paid little heed to the lessons they acted out — along came the "big disease with a little name," as Prince put it in "Sign 'O' the Times." AIDS was breaking news then, covered on the front page like a war and about as foggily understood. Sex continued to be had — we were in our teens and 20s, how could it not? — but the whole "casual" thing was a nonstarter.

As contrived as MTV's The Real World is, its first seasons, populated with people my age, did a pretty accurate job of capturing the sexual tenor of the early 1990s. The kids were age-appropriately horny but tentative in their advances and schlumpy in their personal presentation. The only compulsive skin-barers were guys: the pectorally magnificent Eric Nies and the devilish provocateur David "Puck" Rainey from, respectively, season one in New York and season three in San Francisco. That third season, taped and aired in 1994, was the program's high point. Its heart and soul was the AIDS-stricken activist Pedro Zamora, eloquent and doe-eyed, who died the day after the season finale was broadcast — a sad epilogue to a noble TV attempt at pop social science. Cut to 2002, when The Real World was set in Las Vegas, and the whole exercise had grown coarse, cynical, and raunchy. This was the season that gave us group Jacuzzi frottage, network-mandated go-go dancing (it was a "task" assigned to the girls), and 21-year-old Trishelle Cannatella, spectacularly buxom and stupid, who, on just her fourth day in town, sheepishly confessed to her sister back home in Looziana that she'd already "hooked up" with two different housemates, and one "wuzn't a guy!"

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