With websites like exRATED (http://exrated.com) popping up, allowing people to review their exes and aiming to be the ultimate Yelp for those looking for insights on potential romantic partners, and Facebook algorithms that can determine your sexual orientation without you indicating what it is, and increasingly more of our personal and private information being posted online, leading to sometimes embarrassing, if not life-altering consequences, a historically behind-closed-doors activity is now evolving to a more “out there” experience and forever changing how we view and approach sex.
I caught up with my friend Stef Woods, attorney, sex and relationships blogger, and professor of ‘Activism and Social Media‘ at American University to discuss the topic.
When I asked her what trends she’s noticing online with regard to sex and sexuality, here’s what she had to say:
Interesting question. The huge growth in social media has led to a new sexual revolution of sorts. People now obtain much of their sex education from the Internet. The majority of sexual health and entertainment purchases are done online. And, the more that women and men write about sexuality, sexual health and sex toys online, the more that sex is normalized. Women can learn about sex during menopause or how to achieve their first vaginal orgasm. A gay teen can see a video, encouraging him to stay strong because it does get better. A couple can shop for their first toy together. Planned Parenthood has even implemented pilot programs that allow people to text and IM staff for answers regarding STIs, pregnancy, contraception and AIDS.
However, the combination of social media and sex can also lead to public scandal and private crisis. Would Weiner have lost his position without Twitter? Would the world have known the extent of Tiger Woods‘ indiscretions without social media? Would Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi still be alive if they hadn’t been subjected to cyber-bullying? Has social media increased the opportunities for people to engage in emotional and sexual affairs?
I personally believe that “sex in the cloud” is forcing us to deal and address sex in a more open and transparent manner, and that this can only be a good thing. I don’t believe AIDS would have declined as sharply as it did in the United States without the education and awareness the internet and email provides.
On the flip side, change can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, especially around a topic as sensitive as sex. I can’t even tweet about tampons without eliciting vehement commentary from a handful of men.
Which is why people like Stef, who is trailblazing a path to a more accepting, compassionate and informed sexual society, are so necessary — and impressive. It’s tough enough to talk about and sometimes even have sex in the comfort of your own home. But doing it for all the world to hear and see, and having it captured in the cloud indefinitely — it’s a whole new ballgame.
*Stef Woods is a professor at American University, attorney, sexuality educator, writer, and women’s health advocate. She writes about relationships, sexual health, breast cancer, and dating on her blog, City Girl’s Blog. Next semester she will be teaching ‘Sexuality and Social Media.’