is the web changing how we think about sex?

February 6, 2011 — 1 Comment

One of the great things about writing a blog is that you never know who might just show up and opine on what you wrote. Back in September, I wrote a post about the complexities of human behavior in a post-Singularity scenario in which we’d exist as data on servers, kind of like virtual Sims or avatars in Second Life, using an odd interview from one of Second Life’s famous sexual performers as a starting point. And wouldn’t you know it, months later, the very performer in question dropped by to offer a link to her older talk on how the web and technology in general are changing our sexuality. It was a whirlwind tour of sexual kinks and fetishes on the web today and yes, it has some NSFW images and content so you know when not to check it out for yourself, but when you get the chance, I recommend at least a review of the second half. Basically, it posits that sexual behaviors have made their way to the web and we’re creating new fetishes out of them, and that technology is setting the stage for future cultural and societal changes, making us bolder and more sexually inventive. But it also seems to drastically overstate how much of an impact technology can ultimately have on our sex lives…

Unlike the previous article on sex and the web we reviewed, this one thankfully eschews cheap sexism and personal bitterness, providing a solid overview of the kinks that thrive on the web. However, when told that the technology we use to simplify communication is changing the way we satisfy our biological urges, I tend to be a little skeptical. Sure, there are plenty of red light districts on the web and I’ve written about how and why just about every type of NSFW content will not just survive, but thrive in all iterations of the web, but we need to ask ourselves whether the web is creating new phenomena or if it just gives us an arena to discuss what has been around for a while. As noted by the author, humans have always been trying something new and exciting behind closed doors. And as we know, a lot of fetishes we think are new, have actually been around for a very, very long time. Yes, even furries, which seem a lot like a modern spin on the various sexual imps or demons of the Middle Ages and post-Enlightenment religious communities. The web hasn’t created any of them, it just left a very public and easily accessible record of what was once hidden in rare books and spoken about when no one was listening. Just as much as we are living in an age where instant global communication is the new norm, we’re also living in an age of T.M.I. thanks to social media and Web 2.0.

Of course this is not to say that having more and more people discussing their kinks more openly has no real effect on society in general. We learn that some of the urges we thought were shameful and rare are actually far more frequent and shared by a lot of other people. We learn that gender stereotypes are often quite wrong. We find new communities and explore new things. Above all, discussing what was repressed with shaming by fiery, often hypocritical demagogues who appoint themselves authorities of right and wrong, gives us the chance to deal with these complex and important issues more productively. But that in itself doesn’t change a whole lot about our sexual nature. It just lets us come to terms with what’s already there and gives us an outlet or two for self-discovery. When we get right down to it, sex is a biological issue and it’s the biology that has the ultimate say in what human sexuality will be like until our species either goes extinct, or if transhumanists are to be believed, turns itself into mostly mechanized cyborgs with completely different methods of reproduction. Though, come to think of it, were we to pursue the machine route, sex as we know it could go extinct because the reproduction itself might change beyond recognition. If new humans are assembled or grown without any sexual interaction taking place, all the energy evolution invests in our sex drives may go elsewhere.

All that said, I do have to acknowledge that modern technology has given rise to at least one new fetish known as techno-sexuality, or ASFR. In its simplest form, it’s a sexual attraction to robots because robots could be a perfect companion provided they either mimic humans or human personality enough to elicit some emotional response. However, it’s very doubtful that we’re going to see a huge explosion in ASFR anytime soon because for many, the robots are more of a surrogate for a human object of affection than an entity they completely and totally separate from humans. Why else would ASFR art incorporate so many human elements into it or focus so much on the human form? Of course I could be wrong, but as far as I’m aware of, they haven’t been any in- depth studies of techno-sexuality dealing with the origins and evolution of the fetish. So if you’re a psychology major interested in researching sexuality and looking for an original thesis, here’s one to consider.

[ illustration by Margherita Premuroso ]

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