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The Guys Who Gather Online and Fap to Nostalgia

For some, zooming backwards through their own sexual development can be far more titillating than the latest Pornhub query

The Phoebe Cates nude scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of the prized touchstones in the straight male hivemind. It’s practically the foundation of macho smut; Cates emerges from a swimming pool, sashays through the suburban sprinklers and unbuttons her bikini top for an enthusiastically porn-y tracking shot. It’s hard to think of a cultural artifact that’s been prescribed more often by uncles, brothers and older cousins. Personally, I remember the scene being constantly hyped up in frothy Maxim countdowns as an urtext of pop erotica. 

So naturally, a huge number of men have spent their cursory adolescent curiosity with Cates, that red bikini and those few moments of Judge Reinhold’s depraved desperation immortalized in the film. 

Fast Times, however, is amateur stuff — the internet’s masturbators work through all the vintage, well-canonized sex scenes in their halcyon years before graduating to much more sinful content. Eventually, Hollywood softcore just doesn’t hit the right spots. But for a select few men on the r/NostalgiaFapping subreddit, zooming backwards through their own sexual development can be a far more rewarding experience than witnessing whatever awaits behind the next Pornhub query.

In that sense, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a sequential collage of Cates’ world-famous Ridgemont High seduction is among the highest upvoted posts in the community. The men in the comments below it have access to more porn than anyone in recorded history. There are aggregators osmotizing zillions of bawdy productions from across time and space; there’s an endless field of fetish sites tuned to every possible kink and denomination; and an infinite variety of dirty forums and OnlyFans accounts splayed across the web, each dedicated to serving up the latest and greatest craven shit. And yet, in a profound accident of horny horseshoe theory, they’ve circled back around to the place they felt most at home as a teenager: Whacking it to Phoebe Cates. 

“I was blown away the first time I saw this scene. Watched it many times since,” one writes.

“I used to wait until my parents were out of the house and then I just watched this scene on DVD a bunch of times,” another adds.

“Memories, she has aged well too!” a third exclaims.

Every entry on r/NostalgiaFapping has this same tone. The community somehow combines the usual horndog reconnaissance of crowdsourced filth with the sharp pang of generational melancholia. Traditionally, teenaged wistfulness is reserved for mint green iPod Nanos or a misbegotten skater phase, but they’ve managed to translate that same warmth to the skin flicks that kept them up late at night. 

As a whole, the content tends to skew toward the tastes of millennial men in their late 20s and early 30s; popular posts include the hot-tub scene from Eurotrip; Kimberly Page from The 40-Year-Old Virgin; a whole trove of American Pie moments; and Lindsay Lohan’s world-renowned Marilyn Monroe flavored Playboy pictorial. Spend enough time on the forum, and it quickly becomes clear that these men are particularly interested in recalling the subterfuge it took to watch cheeky R-rated comedies long before they were of age to do so legally. (Be that with a fake ID at the local Blockbuster, or more likely, a sleepover at a house known for its lax parents.) 

A moderator of r/NostalgiaFapping agrees with that assessment. To him, sex was at its most interesting when it was a rare commodity. “People like to bond over shared experiences, and before the days of high-speed internet, guys often had to go to great lengths to find material to jerk to,” he says. “Many people in the subreddit have memories of the thrill they felt when they stumbled upon a stash of nudie magazines, or staying up late to watch softcore erotic movies on Cinemax, or even watching scrambled Playboy Channel. It’s kind of amusing the lengths to which we used to go in order to see a pair of boobs.”

Honestly, it can be downright wholesome to read the surprising earnestness of, like, a bunch of men reviving the juvenile crushes they had on Jennifer Love Hewitt, long after they’re grown and supposedly desensitized from decades of angry pornography: 

  • “My cork board was filled with her!” 
  • “She’s beautiful!” 
  • “The girl with the smiling eyes!” 

It’s difficult to call r/NostalgiaFapping a gentle place — male-centric smut arenas rarely are — but there’s something peacefully defanged about the discourse. One of the magical things about memory is that incidents of passion and angst are slowly inoculated by the passage of time. Old friends can laugh about the night their car got towed, or the day they lost their lease, without any lingering grudges. I suppose r/NostalgiaFapping proves the same softening can happen for smut. With a decade-long gap in hand from the point of inception, there’s no motivation to be rude or crass.

“Most of the time I’m like, ‘Wow! I remember this,’ or ‘Holy shit, I didn’t know she did that,’” says one frequent poster to the subreddit. “I think we really enjoy the posts because we grew up on them. It’s just reminiscing about the past.”

Sometimes, says the moderator, r/NostalgiaFapping reveals some buried treasure. Ancient, circa-2002 masturbation material is an overtaxed resource at this point, but every once in a while, the forum can dredge up some forgotten gems, awakening a primordial feeling within him. “Just the other week somebody posted a picture of Sydney Moon,” says the moderator. “She was a pretty popular adult model about 17 years ago, but I hadn’t thought about her in a few years. It was fun seeing her again and remembering that I used to be a fan of her.” 

That is the sensation he chases with every post he adds to the r/NostalgiaFapping mixer. Be it a sex scene from the Tom Green oeuvre, or a resuscitated scan of a 1994 Playboy centerfold, he is at his proudest when he’s able to help connect the dots between each of our millennial adolescences. “Some of the pictures and clips I enjoyed 20 years ago are pretty tough to find these days,” he says. “I’ll usually get replies [to my posts] like, ‘I remember her!’ or ‘I kept this issue hidden under my mattress as a teenager.’”

Of course, there is an important subtext that courses just below the surface of r/NostalgiaFapping. For all of the labor that chroniclers like the moderator put in, the most popular women to feature on the forum, by far, are the likes of Pamela Anderson, Carmen Electra and Keeley Hazell — three Barbie dolls come to life with the requisite mixture of blonde hair and big boobs. (Hot in an early 1990s kind of way, as Tracy Jordan would put it.)

In the years since, we’ve watched the culture evolve into a far more inclusive place for a variety of different body types. One of the most famous porn stars in the world is a curvy Armenian with a YouTube channel. An L.A. Lakers forward is dating a model with the skin condition vitiligo. A 20-year-old South Sudanese woman named Adut Akech is a two-time Model of the Year champion. There is no reason to condemn the women who matched the beauty standards of the 1990s, but it’s inarguable that the slow atrophication of that hegemony — enacted exclusively by those who didn’t fit the mold — hasn’t been a net positive for the culture. 

That’s one of the, um, rubs with r/NostalgiaFapping: The good old days weren’t good for everyone, no matter what they claim. “I tend to like stuff from the 1990s and 2000s. I remember those girls fondly,” the moderator tells me. “I feel that, in most cases, the Instagram and OnlyFans girls of today just don’t measure up to the sex symbols from a couple of decades ago.”

I can’t think of many more fruitless endeavors than comparing and contrasting the qualities of generational smut with an entire subreddit, but what is clear is that r/NostalgiaFapping lives up to its name. Memory lies to us all the time. The universe is smoother and less chaotic in retrospect, and it’s so easy to cloak our messier biases in old-guy sentiment, to pretend that the children are always in the wrong. That’s true for politics, music and art. 

Apparently, it’s also true for nude scenes and porn. By all means, enjoy those bygone hits. Go watch the Jessica Alba scenes from Sin City. Enjoy Lisa Ann’s miraculous 2008 hot streak or Jenny McCarthy in her pre-anti-vax days. All of them are immortalized on the forum. Just make sure to never mistake your own sweaty, filthy glory years for a pornographic ideal. 

The world didn’t end with Pamela Anderson, and neither should you.

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