Today at SXSW I attended a panel discussion called “Old Tech, New Tech, Same Old Sex?” (hashtag #techsex) and, even though the word sex was right there in the title, it wasn’t very well attended. Which is too bad, because it was fantastic. Essentially, the panel discussed how “a mix of old and new technologies lead us to ever-increasing ways to connect, share, learn, enjoy” our sexualities online. There was a lot covered, but a few bits have stuck with me as I went about my day.
The first was the double-edgeness of how the internet allows us to see the entirely of possible human sex and sexuality for perhaps the first time in history. Every kind of permutation, from the most straightforward and mundane and obvious to the most convoluted and extreme and nuanced, are laid out for anyone with a smartphone to consume. If you’re like me, this can mean a dramatic expansion of your sexual horizons. Providing form to the amorphous urges and desires I’ve had for as long as my little gonads produced hormones. This is, undeniably I think, a Good Thing. I mean, were I to have been born 30 or 40 years earlier, I’m not sure how I’d have ever found out as much about myself as the web showed me was possible. I am not alone.
Of course, the opposite side of that is young people can find all the same stuff I can. Kids, I’m talking about. And depending on what part of the internet’s sex district they find themselves, they can get a very skewed perception of what sex between adults is like. Since our culture’s so fucked uptight about sex, this may be the only significant sexual education a lot of kids get. This resonates with me especially since I have a fourteen-year-old son who I know for a fact has set out on his own nascent relationship with porn. And now I’m in the position of being the sex blogger who can wax poetically (or, at least, at length) on every kind of thing in his own head but can’t figure out the best vector to take in explaining to his kid what porn is and is not. And then to redirect him towards real resources (like Scarlet Teen or maybe even Dan Savage).
The second thing that’s stuck with me is an extension of the above, I guess. How by putting our sex lives and sexuality out into the world (like I do here) helps destigmatize and perhaps even legitimize alternative deviations from the norm. Think of all the hundreds of thousands (millions, even – tens of millions?) of sex blogs out there now. Think about how the better ones (those who are more than just a thin shell of titillation and provide some insight into their author’s lives) can put a real faces on what could otherwise be stereotyped as prurient deviance. One of the tweeters in the session audience went to far as to say all this helps advance revolution. I’m not sure I’m personally interested in revolution (at least, not yet), but I get his point.
I suppose we lesser mortals separate ourselves from us the revolutionaries by the use of our pseudonymous identities. Real revolutionaries use their names. I’m a cowardly little rabbit. No, really. Another person in the audience, seeing me tweet about the session, recognized me though the blog. She readily identified herself in a friendly way and I…did nothing but compliment her backpack (which was, admittedly, pretty cool). I should have at least said hi when it was over, but passing through the membrane of this world and the one I walk around in is harder than perhaps it should be (overly-often shared pictures of my junk aside). After the fact, one of the panelists also reached out via the Twitter to say hey and let me know she’s read the blog.
It’s very, very weird to be known in such a public place (if even to a handful of people) for such a public display of anonymity. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced and it leaves me somewhat uncomfortable. Not that these nice people have made contact, but that it’s so unexpectedly left me nervous and weirded out. And for what? I’m not ashamed of how I live or what I’ve shared here. Not in the slightest. But I am, ultimately, deeply introverted. And that’s not something I can just skip over lightly. So, in the end, it wasn’t the confidently sexy young woman saying she liked this blog that was surprising, I guess, but me walking up to her and saying hi back would have been significantly surprising. At least for rabbit like me.
That’s quite enough of that. Suffice it to say, the panel was fantastic and my only regret was they couldn’t keep talking for another hour.