For those of you who found this page through Google, sorry to disappoint. No man love here. And if you’re a regular of the site … well, you should know better. But as long as I have your attention, let’s talk about what’s on everybody’s mind: sex. Specifically, what sex is going to become.
Sex has remained generally unchanged since cavemen were humping in, well, caves. (They apparently enjoyed it.) Up until about 20 years ago, sexual encounters were generally between two (or more) people in a private setting. Then the internet came, and the floodgates opened. With the wide availability of advice, diagrams, cell phones and instant messenger programs, our ideas about sex have become more fluid than ever. We no longer need to suppress our passions, fetishes or dirty thoughts; we now have plenty of outlets to nurture and share them with others.
Before the internet, the closest we had to dirty communication was phone sex. While still practiced today, it’s quickly being supplanted by IM chatting and roleplaying. And this digital foreplay isn’t just a pastime for adults, either: Teenagers are using technology to experiment with their sexuality, perhaps not in the ways we would expect.
In the last few years, the practice of “sexting,” where girls or boys takes nude photos of themselves and text them to their significant others, has become more prevalent. Many times these photos find their way onto the web, where the genie can’t be forced back into the bottle. Vanessa Hudgens, teen star of High School Musical, discovered this unfortunate fact when photos of her in lingerie and in the nude appeared all over the internet, enveloping her in a scandal. While it’s unknown whether she was “sexting” anyone, she certainly didn’t keep them to herself.
Celebrities aren’t the only ones who can find themselves subject to unwanted attention, Last year, a single photo transformed high school pole vaulter Allison Stokke into an internet sensation, causing no amount of consternation and stress for the young athlete. Stokke shrank from the attention, garnering a great deal of sympathy from everyone who thought the drooling, anonymous male masses were more than a little creepy.
Whereas the stupid crap we all did when we were kids was previously the quiet shame of a hangover, ubiquitous camera phones have made stupidity a spectator sport. Embarrassing and/or revealing photos from MySpace, Bebo and Facebook now make their rounds from friend to friend and blog to blog almost instantaneously. I personally have about a dozen video clips of friends and acquaintances doing things that are not only stupid, but illegal. Lucky for them I’m not a giggling teenager; but it only takes one indiscretion for private mistakes to become public ones.
One could argue that much of this could be alleviated by more tech-savvy parents, or by more parental involvement in general, but we shouldn’t be so dismissive. A recent Rasmussen poll showed that 49 percent of Americans are in favor of a government body like the FCC regulating the internet. (Somewhat schizophrenically, another recent poll showed that 70 percent of Americans are “concerned about providers blocking or impairing their access to internet services or sites.”) While any such attempt to regulate the internet would be futile – and almost certainly unconstitutional – it’s troubling that such a high number of people are willing to bow to governmental censorship.
Of course, what happens to the internet – and, by extension, online gaming – happens to gaming at large as well. With the game industry’s already tempestuous relationship with politicians, adding in the number one American hang-up – sex – could cause the Capitol Building to implode like a collapsing star. One need only look back to the explosive fallout from Rockstar Games‘ “Hot Coffee” scandal to see the reaction that sex in games can provoke.
But ultimately, legalistic questions should be set aside for a far more important question: Whither will interaction go? There’s already a great number of people who say the internet is undermining meaningful social interactions – everyone and no one is a “friend.” One of the first studies on the impact of the internet on interpersonal relationships was in 1998, concluding that “greater use of the internet was associated with declines in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness.”
However, a Carnegie Mellon meta-analysis of these kinds of studies from 1995 to 2003 “suggest[ed] that more internet use leads to a slight increase in interactions with friends.” The researchers explain this by saying that “the internet might reduce the costs and increase the convenience of communicating with friends, and in doing so, make other types of social interaction, such as phone calls or spontaneous outings, more likely.”
Indeed, perhaps the increasing use of the internet and more progressive attitudes about sex (likely prompted in part by the wide availability of online information on sexuality) are allowing people to be more comfortable with their own desires – or at least more willing to explore them. In 2005, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that more women are experimenting with bisexuality, with 11.5 percent reporting “at least one sexual experience with another women” compared to only 4 percent a decade prior.
While dire news for any organization with the word “family” in its title (see: Family Research Council, American Family Association, Focus on the Family, etc.), I feel this is a positive development in our society. Americans are often so wound up about sex that they can’t see the forest for the trees. Several countries are still in the habit of torturing and killing women for daring to express their sexuality (or, even worse, for being raped). And next to those of some Middle Eastern countries, American attitudes about homosexuality are enlightened by comparison.
I’m not here to stand on a soapbox, but the issue of sexuality and how we connect with each other in this increasingly wired world is important, and it’s not going away. Best to be thinking about it now.
In the meantime, I’m going on ALT.com to see exactly what “fire play” is and if I wouldn’t mind experiencing that type of burning sensation.
Tom Rhodes is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Ohio. He reminds you to always be safe and use a condom, and can be reached through Tom [dot] Rhod [at] gmail [dot] com