The internet’s potential to work as an accelerant is well documented. Whether it’s the instant access to journalism and comment, the hothouse cultural effect of social media, or our own human instinct to cement beliefs by sharing them, the internet… speeds things up. It happens in manners both mundane – a funny picture on a camera phone becomes a meme, becomes a t-shirt, becomes a terrible book you find in your Christmas stocking – and miraculous – a blog post sparks a protest, which becomes a movement, that topples a government.
It’s impossible that this effect wouldn’t extend to sexuality, and here the internet provides another attribute that makes things develop faster still: anonymity.
on the whole, our attitude to sex is messed up
This anonymity is a double-edged sword, and we’ll get back to that in a minute. But first I think I better state a premise on which the rest of this article is based, and one which I think is pretty tough to disagree with. Here goes: on the whole, our attitude to sex is messed up.
That which is permissible to some of us seems morally repugnant to others. What’s desirable to a few might make the rest of us blush. Those of us that revel in open sexuality are still aware that others think the same beliefs condemn us to hellfire. While we have a few generally understood parameters as to what’s cool and what’s not when it comes to sex, everything else is very much a grey area. There’s no ‘Best Practice for Shagging.’
The accelerant effect of the internet is therefore problematic when it comes to the development of sexual culture, because we’ve all got very different ideas of what the f**k it it is we’re accelerating. Sexual development is a big, out-of-control bus, one side of it painted day-glo colour and the other drably clad in 50 shades of grey, packed with porn stars and vicars and Tory politicians and the full staff of Cosmo, all squabbling and fighting as the bus careens downhill. The driver is drunk. Someone’s keyed the word ‘guilt’ onto all the windows. The whole thing is an unwieldy mess, much like this metaphor.
Sex and the City might have made the Rampant Rabbit Vibrator famous, but anonymous online purchasing got it into your mum’s knicker drawer
This is largely down to the internet. The last 20 or so years have given people an environment to share their stories and air their grievances, ask their pertinent questions and withhold their embarrassment. It’s shaping how we develop as a sexual society. Sex and the City might have made the Rampant Rabbit famous, but anonymous online purchasing got it into your mum’s knicker drawer.
So anonymity is a good thing, when it precludes shame (as I’ve stated in previous posts, shame can naff right off). But anonymity – and with it, the lack of consequence – mean that opinions and culture can develop without oversight. I have no problem with porn. But the ‘culture’ that exists on porn sites – even the big streaming giants that are taking up most of the bandwith in your building right now -is not exactly positive.
There’s a great joke, I think it belongs to Dara O’Brien, that runs like this:
25 years from now, a young couple go to their GP because they’re struggling to get pregnant. “We just can’t seem to get pregnant naturally,” says the husband. “We’d like to be considered for IVF.”
“Well,” says the doc, “before we go down that road it’s best we make sure there aren’t any other barriers to you becoming pregnant. How does the normal process of lovemaking go for you?”
“You know, just the normal way,” says the wife. “We’re just doing it the normal way, so I don’t see what’s going wrong.”
“Describe the normal way,” says the doctor.
“Well, you know,” says the husband. “We do five minutes of oral, fifteen minutes of anal, then I jizz all over her face. Just the normal, natural way to have sex.”
This joke works because it replaces what we know of sexual contact with the irregular sexuality familiar to us in porn. And it’s funny because it’s not inconceivable – but why not?
I got a lot of my sexual education from pornography. Then I had a couple of advanced classes in real life, which demonstrated that basically everything porn taught me was bogus. It would have been nice if someone who knew what they were talking about had got in there first, but everyone who knew what they were talking about was mysteriously silent on the subject.
It might seem odd to some of you that you can comment on this blog using Facebook. There’s nothing pressing you to be anonymous in The Vibe or anywhere else on sextoys.co.uk. You can if you want, obviously, but it’s not inconceivable that someone might review their favourite butt plug with their own name and photo and hang the fallout. Ten years ago, that would have been almost unthinkable.
That willing sacrifice of anonymity is a reassuring thing for me. The internet provides an environment for unfettered sexual discussion because of the anonymity it provides. But anonymity avoids responsibility, and for some – including the next generation – responsibility is where we need to be. Your kids won’t be getting their sex ed from pornography if you give it to them first.
the only way to progress is to be able to discuss it without shame or fear
It’s a slow process. I can’t see the commentators at PornHub developing a more progressive attitude any time soon. But the best cultural improvement we could possibly give to sexuality – the thing that might put a steering wheel on the bus – is to make people believe that it was OK to talk about it. Regardless of what you believe, about your own sexuality or another’s, the only way to progress is to be able to discuss it without shame or fear.
There’s risk, naturally. Sacrificing your anonymity leaves you vulnerable to the negative rebuttals that make us averse to discussing sex in the first place. No one wants to be judged. To speak frankly about your sex-life – especially as a woman – exposes you to potentially upsetting retorts. It’s a difficult barrier to progress, but I can’t really see another way than to smash right through it. In an ideal world, those brave enough to speak with honesty and contribute to a debate would be uplifted rather than demonised. In the meantime, we can only support those people as best we can.
We haven’t come very far, but then we’ve essentially started from scratch. It wasn’t so long ago that writing a pornographic book could get you chucked in prison. Now you can read them on the tube and – perhaps falteringly, perhaps drunkenly, but nonetheless – talk about them with your mates.
I’m not asking you to go and comment on a dildo (unless it was a really great dildo, in which case go nuts). But the inability to speak frankly about sex has been holding us back for a very long time. The internet is as good a place to start changing that as any.
In retrospect, this post wasn’t exactly humorous. We will return to amusing peccadillos next time, promise.