Anyone who grew up in the '90s knows it was a decade of a sexual revolution in the media. Sex was, for the first time, not only splashed across our television screens in groundbreaking shows such as Baywatch and Sex and the City, but was all over the exciting new technology called the internet.
The worldwide web made news more accessible to everyone, which meant that stories grew bigger more quickly than ever before, especially if they involved sex. The sex scandals that went viral on the web, offering people extra details about those involved, effectively meant accessible, daily media went from PG to M15+ overnight as they clambered to keep up with the times.
US President Bill Clinton's affair with an intern
In 1998, the White House was rocked by scandal when it was discovered the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton, had an extra-marital affair with a 22-year-old intern named Monica Lewinsky.
At the time, Clinton faced impeachment on several grounds, and it was in the course of that process that evidence of the affair was revealed. The details, which mainly came from a series of recorded confidential conversations between civil servant Linda Tripp and Lewinsky, were salacious and plentiful – and became iconic '90s moments. There was a semen stain on Lewinsky’s blue dress, an R18+ moment with a cigar and several incidents of fellatio.
Clinton vehemently denied the affair in a press conference, where he said the instantly historic words: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman." The truth came out eventually, while Clinton was acquitted of the charges he faced and remained in office.
The aftermath was significantly different for Lewinsky. She experienced what we would now define as “slut-shaming” by the media, especially online, and bullied into hiding to escape the relentless scrutiny. The cruel description of her as “America’s blow-job queen” was as persistent and common as it was unfair.
A decade later, Lewinsky emerged and wrote a searing piece about her experience for Vanity Fair, identifying the role the internet played in the scandal: “In 1998, when news of my affair with Bill Clinton broke, I was arguably the most humiliated person in the world. I was also possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the internet.”
Heidi Fleiss's Hollywood prostitution ring
Heidi Fleiss was operating a lucrative prostitution ring in Hollywood when she was arrested in 1993 for pandering. It was then discovered that she had a black book with the names and contact details of several high-profile clients, including A-list celebrities. One of her largest clients was Hollywood bad-boy Charlie Sheen, who was the ultimate symbol for '90s hedonism. It was her service to celebrity that gave Fleiss her notoriety – and her power over some very influential people. She proudly told Vanity Fair in 1994, “Leaders of countries called me and asked for sex. You look at any picture of a politician with some girls around him and at least three of them will be mine.”
Woody Allen marries his ex's adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn
From 1980 to 1992, Allen, one of the most prolific filmmakers of our time, was in a relationship with actor Mia Farrow. Farrow then discovered nude photos of her adopted daughter, 21-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, at Allen's apartment. Farrow and Allen split, and the director went on to marry Previn in 1997.
Despite Allen being a presence in Previn’s childhood and their 35-year age gap, Allen said at the time that Previn was “probably more mature than I am”. Allen also explained to Time that their relationship was not a father-daughter one: “I am not Soon-Yi's father or stepfather. I’ve never even lived with Mia. I was not a father to her adopted kids in any sense of the word.”
It was a matter of semantics. The marriage, and its controversial beginning, remain one of the most scandalous celebrity unions today.
Hugh Grant is arrested after engaging the services of a prostitute
In 1995, while in a high-profile relationship with actor Elizabeth Hurley, Grant was caught with sex worker Divine Brown on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. It was a massive fall from grace for Grant, who had been enjoying his new stardom after Four Weddings and a Funeral. Grant publicly apologised and Hurley was humiliated, but Brown maximised the moment by selling her story, and creating a new life for herself and her daughters.
Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex tape
In 1997, Anderson (of Baywatch fame) and Lee (from the band Mötley Crüe) were the stars of the world’s first viral sex video. Privately recorded in 1995, the tape was locked in their safe and later stolen by an electrician working in their home. The world was fascinated because the video was an opportunity to indulge in something it hadn’t been afforded much of at that time – blatant voyeurism in the form of "reality porn" made by a beautiful megastar and her rock star spouse.
The tape made an estimated $77 million in its first year, paving the way for a slew of wannabe celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton to launch their own careers with viral sex videos.
Charles and Camilla
The future king of England and his friend, Camilla Parker Bowles, first met in the 1970s and had a decades-long romantic relationship for the entire duration of their marriages to other people. The affair was largely unknown to the public until the 1992 Camillagate scandal, when intimate telephone conversations between the couple were recorded and published. T
he tapes included an exchange in which Charles expressed his desire to be so intimate with Camilla’s body that he wished he were her tampon. Whilst the sentiment was never printed on Valentine’s Day cards, it did reveal the raunchier side of the heir to the British throne and the woman who would eventually become his second wife.
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