SXSWi talks about sex

“Everybody take out your genitalia, take a photo and put it on the internet!”

No zippers were undone or pants kicked off. The thought experiment was that if everyone posted nude or sexual pictures of themself online, there would be less stigma surrounding those photos.

That’s what the panel on Sex in the Digital Age at SXSWi were after: the end of sex scandals. The normalization of sex online so that it is no longer worth paying attention to, no longer a scandal.

The panelists, blogger Lena Chen, Gawker‘s Maureen O’Connor, Fleshbot‘s Lux Alptraum, and Ashley Madison’s Mike Dacks, say they are two types of sex scandal, the Anthony Weiners and the Karen Owenses.

Weiner was a congressman who was caught sexting photos of himself and eventually resigned as a result. Owens was a Duke University student who kept a explicit diary of her sexual exploits, the “Fuck List”.

Both became huge media scandals, but as the panel agreed, neither were a big deal.

Weiner, had he not initially lied about it, could’ve simply said they were his private matters and butt out, as Newt Gingrich famously did at a recent GOP debate, said Alptraum and Dacks. And Owens was making a joke that just got too popular, and it should’ve stayed as just a joke, said O’Connor.

The interesting dynamic here, however, is each member of the panel, particularly Gawker’s O’Connor, has had a direct hand in making these scandals into what they currently are.

For each of the subjects discussed, O’Connor had an accompanying post on Gawker or elsewhere about them.

Another point of interest: O’Connor had posted about fellow panelist Chen’s own sex photos, which had been leaked by an angry ex-boyfriend. (Things are “all good” between them now.)

Writing stories online about sex scandals helps the major media outlets pick them up (Owens’ Fuck List was the lead item on the Today Show two days in a row). Then there becomes a record, a readily accessible archive of that person’s sex history that is impossible to escape. And things spiral down from there.

It can have horrific results, as Chen attested. She eventually had to switch careers (she was a sex writer) and had a slew of other privacy-related problems. (Not to mention effects on her future employment prospects, and so on.)

So either we normalize sex online so much so that, at some point in the future, these are not news stories.

Alptraum also suggested creating protection for online sex. In-real-life sex has tools to be safe – condoms, birth control, abuse support. Digital sex, as they were calling it, doesn’t. What if there were warnings about not showing your face whenever you upload a sex photo, or a kill switch on emails with nude pics? Or just a forum to talk about it all.

It feels like both solutions are already in motion.

Right now, there are celebrity sex photos leaked with more frequency than ever before. I’ve lost count – to the point where I don’t know which celebrities have nude leaks and which don’t. Many of them that emerge are questionable anyway, as most nude celebrities are aware enough to hide their faces, from what I can tell anyway.

So I think we are in reality getting used to sex online already. I think the real question is, after we’ve seen so many twitpics of penises and the like, what’s next? (Not anatomically speaking, but the next online sexual taboo.)

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