Sex Tape! How celebrity coitus went from controversial to commercial gold

One needs only to examine the etymology to know the concept has been around a while --whether it actually exists or not, it's guaranteed nobody will be watching Heidi Montag's now-infamous but as yet unverified "sex tape" on VHS. Even so, since its inception in the camcorder age of the late '80s, the sex tape has gone through a giant change in public perception in a fairly small window of time, from ruinous to something approaching respectable. Now, as Colorado's own Montag dangles the spectacle of her mammoth post-op tits in front of the media like a cat with a mouse toy, we're reexamining the sex tape, how it began and how we've come so far.

Even as late as 1994, the sex tape was so controversial that even Tonya Harding -- who's never exactly been a paragon of classy -- tried to distance herself from the "Wedding Night" tape made by then-husband Jeff (get ready for the best meathead last name ever) Gillooly. But let's go back even further, to possibly the first sex tape ever to attain widespread distribution: that of Rob Lowe, who, in the midst of campaigning for disastrous presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, filmed himself having sex with two girls -- one of whom turned out to be 16. It was bad publicity for obvious reasons (although the footage did have the upside of revealing that Lowe was not in fact a closet android with its plasticene skin stretched too tight), and it lent the whole concept some negative connotations. As it later turned out though, it wasn't the sex tape itself that was bad for Lowe; rather, it was the statutory rape.

Though a few smaller sex tape scandals came and went during the burgeoning Internet age of the '90s, it wasn't until 1998 that a leaked tape of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee really showed the world what a sex tape could do. The circumstances had changed: It was an act between two members of an established couple, nobody was underage and the members of the couple in question had never been known to put on airs of respectability in the first place. And though the tape wasn't released intentionally, per se, they made the best of it, reaching a hefty settlement with the distribution company and in the process relaunching, if only briefly, their garish careers.

And if the Anderson-Lees or whatever made out like bandits, Fred Durst took the crown when a sex tape of his was leaked to the internet by his computer repairman; he sued a consortium of websites for a cool $70 million, which works out to roughly $1 million for everybody who gave a shit.

Because by that point, in 2005, the sex tape was becoming a proven commodity. In fact, it was widely speculated that Durst's tape was a publicity stunt designed to ride the heels of Paris Hilton's far more famous tape, and though Durst's follow-up failed to inspire anything but mild antipathy, Hilton's turned the sex-tape biz into a veritable cottage industry by being the first of its kind to actually launch a career -- and not only a career, but perhaps the most boring career ever, based entirely on said sex tape's having been made and a surprising degree of personal vapidity. In the time since, Hilton's proven herself to be utterly tedious when not engaged in sexual acts in front of the camera -- and it just makes it that much more impressive that she's still around.

Fast-forward (yuks!) to 2010, and Montag's rumored tape - of which Montag denies the existence and which estranged husband Spencer Pratt has been relentlessly hawking -- ups the ante by reportedly featuring Montag pre- and post-op out of plastic surgery. Want to see her before she got her boobs inflated like balloons made of taffy? Want to see her after? Apparently, that dream may come true.

Like Paris Hilton, Montag is a wearisome, talentless celebrity who's got very little going for her besides a penchant for tabloid-attracting behavior and the saline cantaloupes on her chest, and though the video would no doubt be embarrassing for her, as a born-again Christian or whatever, to see released, if she had a modicum of business savvy, she be in negotiations. Then again, it's entirely possible that her denial of the tape is all part of a clever hype-generating ruse.

Think about it: When a celebrity releases a sex tape intentionally (think Dustin Diamond), who cares? That's the true beauty of the sex tape: We like to see our celebrities having sex, but perhaps even more, we like to think they're being humiliated for it. Turns out -- if the likes of Hilton and Kim Kardashian are any indication -- the joke's on us.