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What my young Dialups taught me about sex and the Internet


On the other hand, my college sex education class offered a complete lack of information. I’ve heard of the literal ins and outs of sex – here is the urethra, here is the cervix, this is how babies are made. The main educational objective is to avoid the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Likewise, parents’ discussions on the internet have focused on the danger of strangers and how I might unwittingly stumble upon “disturbing videos” (i.e. porn). What we never talked about in class, and what I never heard about at home, was sexual hunger, curiosity, and exploration. In 2013, a to study published in the International Journal of Sexual Health found that “teens want to know more about sexual experiences, not just about sexual health”, and that “the internet may better serve teens’ interests in sex education.”

This concerns what researchers have called for many decades the “Missing speech on desire” in sex education, in which girls are presented as potential victims rather than desirable subjects. Of course, the same thing happens with internet narratives, which often emphasize threats while ignoring the possibility of positive girls’ experiences with virtual sexual experimentation. The authors of this Finnish study found that ‘survey respondents fondly recounted peer-to-peer online sex play, generally detach it from notions of prejudice, and described it as fun flirting – like’harmless exploration of sexuality and release in writing. ”

Online, my young self found, there was no missing desire speech. It was alive and wild – sometimes surprising, revolting, thrilling, hilarious and thrilling. Which version was a truer representation, a better education? The Internet seemed to me to be the most honest teacher there is.

Around the same time, I created a website and daily newsletter for fans of Leonardo DiCaprio, who had just played in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I collected Leo’s gossip, observations, and fanfiction for the newsletter, which gained tens, hundreds, and then over 1,000 subscribers. It was a world of my own making, of my own desire. I even downloaded audio clips from the Romeo + Juliet website so that every time an error on my computer happened Leo would shout, “I’m crazy with fortune!” In this context of obsessive romanticism, I accelerated cybersex. It was the paradox of my coming of age in the 90s: quoting Shakespeare by day, faking virtual orgasms at night.

It pains me to think how quickly my sexuality merged around pleasure – even on the internet, where you could, ostensibly, be whoever you wanted to be. At the same time, I was significantly trying out different sex roles while beginning to observe my own bodily responses. This pubescent girl banging on the keyboard slowly and indirectly found the way to her own desires. It would take me decades to get there in any meaningful sense, but “the net,” as I casually called it, opened the back door. It was there that I saw the interior for the first time.

Now I am a mother of a toddler. My child’s Internet will be very different from the one that took me to puberty. Social networks, tube sites, virtual reality! About all of this, I could easily wring my hands or complain, “Back in my day…” It all makes AOL discussion forums look quaint. One thing always remains true, however: adults lose all credibility when they start from a point where they ignore young people’s desire for sexual information and exploration. This fact applies equally to the days of connection Only fans time. Fortunately, this internet has resources that I could not have dreamed of: robust educational websites like Scarleteen and AMAZING, virtual sex education classes with gender-sensitive educators who are tech-savvy and online communities for LGBTQ teens, to name a few.



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