I was on FetLife last night for the first time in a couple of months. It’s like being trapped in a cave with a bunch of trolls. Social media has given us new ways to interact with each other, but many of the underlying cultural practices have stayed the same, especially around sex. Is it possible to keep all of the sex, and teach the trolls better ways to get what they want?
I like to maintain my profile on FetLife, even though I find the site unpleasant. I have friends that I only contact through FetLife. It’s also fun to see how my friends present themselves in a strictly sexual way. For a while, I spent a lot of time on the groups, but I got discouraged by how awful they were. A few were well managed and positive, but the bulk made me feel angry, discouraged, and marginalized. I even got kicked off of a needle play group for talking about piercing testicles. That’s right, I was too extreme for the needle-play people. Anyone can start a group on FetLife, on almost any topic. Quality is spotty.
I do make an effort to respond to all of my FetLife mail. I know that reaching out to someone, especially someone you don’t know, is difficult. Also, I want to help people to actualize their sexuality fully. If they were drawn to my profile, maybe there is something I can do for them. Unfortunately, what most of the people messaging me want is sex, and I’m not dating right now. I’m pretty clear about my limitations, but maybe they think that they are different, that I will fall for them. And that’s always a possibility, but pretty unlikely based on the type of messages I generally get.
This is where I think that our cultural training gets in the way. Girls have traditionally been taught to sit at home and wait for a boy to call. This puts boys in the position of being sexually assertive in order to get girls. If she says no, just keep asking until she says yes. I had one guy last night continuously message me in order to state, in different ways, that he thinks I’m pretty. I know that what he’s really saying is, I want to fuck you. I would prefer the straight-ahead offer to fuck. Then I can say yes or no. Years of being told that I’m pretty when what the guy really means is he wants to fuck me, have made me hate being called pretty. It’s as though being pretty obligates me to fuck you. Dude, I don’t owe you anything.
Putting myself out there as a sexually open person means that I just have to cope with a number of socially inept, sexually aggressive people, but should that be true? Shouldn’t I be able to safely enjoy my sexuality on the internet? With everyone’s boundaries in a different place, how do you know what might be offensive?
I think the answer is in teaching everyone good consent skills – ask for what you want, say no to anything you don’t want, be open to suggesting something you want instead, and be clear that it’s okay to change your mind at any time. I’m thinking a lot about how to do this.
It’s not just FetLife. I spend way too much time on social media sites. I understand the difficulties of interacting online. I get in a place where I am kind of depressed and compulsive if I spend too much time on social media. I develop relationships with people where I know all about their dreams, relationships, and children, but I’ve never met them in person. 90% of this relationship exists in my head – there is no interaction. If I suddenly acted on this false intimacy it would be inappropriate and inaccurate. Real relationships require actual interaction.
Social media also tends to be somewhat rewards driven. I’m hoping I will be friended, retweeted, liked, and favorited. It’s like crack. I find myself straying from being creative and genuine about myself in order to present in a way that will elicit the biggest response. That might be good marketing, but it can warp my self-respect. If I let myself, I can get my whole sense of worth wrapped up in the online feedback I get or don’t get. A lot can be riding on those social interactions.
Put these two things together – a drive for social rewards and a false sense of intimacy – and I totally see why I get people stalking me to say that I’m pretty. It’s a new set of problems for a new era, but it has roots in how the last generation was raised. I’m working on creative solutions for WholeSexLife. Let me know your thoughts on social media and sex and, oh – make sure to like this post!