Sex and the Internet, forever inextricably linked

Who says that the Internet necessarily means sex, or pornography. It’s impossible to think of the web without thinking of brimstone exchanges in chat software, bold low-quality images collected from dark corners, or even, to evoke a more recent example, OnlyFans. And in his essay How sex changed the internet (and the internet changed sex)journalist Samantha Cole portrays two inseparable social phenomena.

“I have been covering the technology sector as a journalist for five years, and more specifically the intersection of technology and sexuality”, the author first launched during an interview conducted at the beginning of the week.

“A lot of my work is about sexuality, gender issues… And this book is kind of a broad look at how those things have developed with the web. We start with the beginnings of the web and follow the evolution to what we see today. »

A good part of the book is really devoted to a return to the past, first with the first Internet exchange systems, those community bulletin board systems where you could find people who wanted to discuss the same topics. And among these topics, of course, was the issue of sexuality.

Not just the idea of ​​meeting people and having sex – although that has occupied (and still occupies) a very large space on the Internet – but also the desire to find people who look like us. The LGBTQ+ community quickly returned to the web, especially because there it was possible to be anonymous, at a time when being attracted to people of the same sex was especially bad, seen, even illegal.

On the Internet, even in its infancy, it is also possible to explore issues of identity and gender.

An incomplete story

But these breakthroughs and these advancements, whether it’s the exploration of gender issues, or even the first amateur porn sites, or even the first site where a webcam shot, at a certain time, a picture of an individual, even even during intimate moments. , have largely disappeared into the digital ether. Sites shut down, servers go down, companies go bankrupt or are taken over… the history of the internet, and more so the history of sex on the web, has been preserved little or not at all.

“It was difficult” to find traces of this past, knows Mrs. Kol. “Some archives were maintained by people who managed these pages and sites at the time, but I had to act as an archivist myself, save websites, notes, take screenshots when I could. You never know when a site might close or disappear. »

Despite the difficulty of finding some pages of this story from the adult network, Ms Cole says those who were involved in this kind of clearing of an as-yet-undefined border were happy to talk about their contribution. “I don’t think we call them every day to ask them to talk about the website created in 1996 with the somewhat outdated gifs, javascript artifacts… It was an important aspect of their lives at the time. , develop websites and express themselves; So these people were happy to relive the memories. »

Talking about the evolution of sexuality online also boils down to talking about control; because in the face of every advance in freedom to express or explore a hitherto oppressed world, there are also institutions which, for one reason or another, have tried to prevent this distribution of points of different views.

In her book, Mrs. Cole specifically discusses how the erotic software and video game industry was banned from the Consumer Electronics Show during the 1990s, for example. But it’s also easy to think of Tumblr, which a few years ago banned adult content… and almost disappeared because of it.

“You have more and more access to different and different experiences online, for example trans people, who now have places to gather, to exchange. I believe this has been one of the most positive aspects of the internet in general. But at the same time there is censorship, people who are afraid of all this, who do not want this freedom of expression to exist. If we take Tumblr as an example, the company effectively banned NSFW content a few years ago, and that pretty much wiped out their audience; a lot of people just left because they were there to talk about their sexuality, their experience…”

And as Ms. Cole mentions, Tumblr backed off a bit recently, announcing that nudity would be allowed, but not erotic content. “It’s an interesting distinction! “The author judges.

Through this technological maelstrom, sexuality is ever-present, whether it’s issues of protection against exploitation, with PornHub, or even the dating sites (and apps) that are now an integral part of life, culturally and socially. And with all due respect to those who wish to completely sanitize the web—advertisers are still very vulnerable to sexual content, after all—sexuality is an essential aspect of humanity, and Samantha Cole’s essay proves that it always has been. … And this phenomenon must continue.

How sex changed the internet (and the internet changed sex), by Samantha Cole; published by Workman publications, 259 pages

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