Online communities invite discussion about neglected sexual topics
Despite the mainstream media’s reputation for controversial, sexual content, it usually only offers a limited representation of sex as a complex and diverse human action. The media’s typically heteronormative representation of sex and relationships means that many important conversations about sex are almost entirely missing. Online communities are tackling this problem by having conversations about sex that serve as an alternative to the messages portrayed by many mainstream outlets.
While the media may be slowly portraying more diverse people in regards to gender and sex (see Orange is the New Black) and allowing media users to embrace more diverse ideas (Facebook’s new 50+ gender options), it is often forgotten that mainstream messages control as much as they supposedly innovate. People don’t discuss the overly cinematic quality of sex scenes or biased representations of preferences, attitudes and actions. Online communities are trying to change that by becoming support systems for honest sexual conversation.
Cindy Gallop, founder of the business Make Love Not Porn, hopes to directly address these oversights in the hopes of innovating both society’s views of sex and sex as a model of business. “I have to emphasize to people that Make Love Not Porn is not anti-porn. The issue we’re tackling isn’t porn. We’re tackling the complete absence in our society of an open, healthy, truthful conversation around sex in the real world. Which if we had it would, amongst many other things, would also mean that people would bring in a real-world mindset when they essentially view what is our official entertainment. So our tagline is ‘Pro-Sex, Pro-Porn, and Pro-Knowing-The-Difference. And our message is simply: talk about it. Talk about sex in the public domain and talk about it openly and honestly, privately in your intimate relationships.”
Make Love Not Porn started as a website Gallop created with no start-up money that discussed the differences between porn and “real world sex”.
“So, a little over a year ago, my team launched in public beta MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, which is a user-generated, crowd-sourced, video sharing site that celebrates real world sex… Anybody from anywhere in the world can submit videos of themselves having real world sex. To explain what we mean by that, it’s not performative. It’s not performing for the camera, it’s about capturing what happens in the real world in all its funny, glorious, messy, silly, wonderful humanness. I and my team curate. We watch every video to make sure it’s real, and we have a revenue-sharing business model. You pay to rent real world sex videos and 50% of that income goes to [contributors].”
The business encounters prejudice and censorship both in and out of the media industries because of its sexual nature. “It took me two years to get MakeLoveNotPorn.tv funded, which is very ironic because I should have been the Silicon Valley triple whammy of fundability. I have an idea enabled by technology and decided to disrupt a sector worth billions of dollars in a way that is both socially beneficial and potentially very lucrative. But because that sector is porn and the social benefit is sexuality, no venture capitalist would come near me…I could not find a single bank in America that would allow me to open a business bank account for this because it has the word ‘porn’ in its name.”
Gallop presents an interesting reality within the industry regarding sex. Even though it is believed that the media is opening up to diverse and more “real” views on sex, the reality is that the media, banks, investors, watchdog groups, and other organizations often find the idea of relating their business to sex problematic.
Tackling the media’s portrayal of sex is the key to Gallop’s business model for MakeLoveNotPorn.tv. “My two startups are both manifestations of my own personal and business philosophies. If we ran the world as my attempt to redesign the future of business, and Make Love Not Porn is my attempt to redesign the future of sex, which is that I believe in using technology to make things happen in the real world.”
The idea of creating a new business model that makes sex real and subject to the interests of the community involved with it is great—but then the view falls to members within the community and whether or not they benefit from it in the first place.
According Jane*, romance novel author and sexual role-player, these groups often form and act together based on different needs. “In these groups there is set rules that people are supposed to follow to make the group function but in general they tend to run the course of a small society. Slow growth, then build up then decline where the members disband and start their own groups and follow their own rules.”
Groups that role-play online are often based on sexual role-play scenarios. Frequently these scenarios fall out of the perceived sexual norms in society, as in the case of Jane’s experience. “The communities that I’ve been involved with have been BDSM-centered in that the first was centered around dominants and their submissives. The second was the same, with the focus on one group of characters. What causes it to deviate from sexual norms is the fluid view of sexuality…I tend to find these communities to be more welcoming of deviations from the standard norm based on this. I do believe it’s purposeful.”
Many of these communities are based off of different media outlets such as favorite books, television shows, and films. “I’ve been involved in several [of these communities] and for the first I volunteered after finishing a book series that pulled me in. The second I helped create after reading another book series. People seem to be more open to playing characters from the books they love.”
The real question is, how is it beneficial? “It’s changed my perception of sex as it’s not black and white, more like one of those Jackson Pollack paintings with splatters creating all kinds of colors. Pleasure is not something to be ashamed of and it’s natural. It’s changed the perception of sex within the people around me as it’s made them open-minded to thinking outside the box so to speak. Sex isn’t a man and a woman, it can be two men, two women, multiple partners, etc.”
The inclusion of these online communities has created a scenario where people such as anonymous can become exposed to sex in different ways interactively. While the role-playing community and the basis of communities such as Make Love Not Porn are different in their makeup and construction, there is a sense of similarity in how both communities come out of a desire to go beyond social norms in order to achieve a better understanding of sex and a specific type of sexual fulfillment that is natural but shamed in modern society.
Lauren Marie Fleming, blogger at Queerie Bradshaw, also involves herself within an online community based around the idea of discussing sex. “I’m queer, I’m kinky and I’m non-monogamous, three things that were never included in the extremely limited sex ed I got in my rural hometown. I focus on those topics because those are the things I study for myself, making them the topics I know most about. I try to only speak about things I know, so if I don’t have firsthand knowledge and experience in a subject matter, I get it or find someone who has it already.”
Fleming has her eye on various internet social movements because of her position as a blogger and a teacher, especially recent movements on social media. “I think the #GirlsLikeUs movement, led by Janet Mock, is a great example of how online communities can change the face of a larger media landscape. Mock and her fans have given a face to trans women, brought about awareness of the discrimination they face on a daily basis, and changed the way media talks about trans* people. I also think there are some amazing players in the world of pornography who are changing the way we see sex.”
Whether it’s in creating a community, participating in one, or being an educational voice, there are small groups out there creating a revolution. Not everyone is a part of these communities, but the discussions they are having are enlightening in a world dominated by mainstream media. In Fleming’s words about the effect of her discussions of sex online, “I think that the best way to elicit radical change is to tell your story honestly and unabashedly, so that’s what I’m trying to do, and that’s what I encourage others to do as well.”
*Name changed to protect privacy
John Jacobson is a freshman Integrated Marketing Communications major who could teach you a thing or two about the birds and the bees. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.