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C'Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader

C’LICK ME Edited by Katrien Jacobs, Marije Janssen, Matteo Pasquinelli
Edited by Katrien Jacobs, Marije Janssen, Matteo Pasquinelli
C'Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader is an anthology that
collects the best materials of two years debate: from The Art and
Politics of Netporn conference held in 2005 in Amsterdam to the
2007 C'Lick Me festival. C'Lick Me opens the field of ‘Internet
pornology’. Based on non-conventional approaches, mixing
academics, artists and activists, the C'Lick Me Reader reclaims
a critical post-enthusiastic, post-censorship perspective on
netporn, a dark field that has been dominated thus far by dodgy
commerce and filtering. The C'Lick Me reader covers the rise of
the netporn society from Usenet underground to the blogo-
sphere, analyses economic data and search engines traffic,
compares sex work with the work of fantasy, disability and
accessibility. The C'Lick Me reader also expands the notion of
digital desire, and smashes the predicatable boundaries of porn
debates, depicting a broader libidinal spectrum from fetish
subcultures to digital alienation, from code pornography to war
pornography. The reader concludes by re-contextualising the
queer discourse into a post-porn scenario.
Contributions by: Adam Arvidsson, Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, Manuel
Bonik, Mikita Brottman, Florian Cramer, Samantha Culp, Barbara
DeGenevieve, Mark Dery, Michael Goddard, Stewart Home,
Katrien Jacobs, Marije Janssen, Julie Levin Russo, Regina Lynn,
Sergio Messina, Mireille Miller-Young, Tim Noonan, Francesco
Macarone Palmieri aka Warbear, Matteo Pasquinelli, Audacia Ray,
Andreas Schaale, Nishant Shah, Tim Stüttgen, Matthew Zook.
ISBN: 978-90-78146-03-2
Edited by Katrien Jacobs, Marije Janssen, Matteo Pasquinelli
Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam 2007
Institute of
Network Cultures
Edited by Katrien Jacobs, Marije Janssen, Matteo Pasquinelli
Editors: Katrien Jacobs, Marije Janssen,
Matteo Pasquinelli
Editorial Assistance: Geert Lovink,
Sabine Niederer
Copy Editing: Wietske Maas
Design: Kernow Craig
Printer: Drukkerij Veenman, Amsterdam
Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures
Supported by: Paradiso, Amsterdam
ISBN: 978-90-78146-03-2
The C’Lick Me Reader is the
second in the INC Reader series.
The rst INC Reader was:
Incommunicado Reader (2005)
Editors: Geert Lovink and Soenke Zehle
Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures
Supported by: Hivos
Institute of Network Cultures
phone: +3120 5951863
fax: +3120 5951840
Order a copy of this book by sending an email
A PDF of this publication can be downloaded
freely at
This publication is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution Non
Commercial Non Derivative Works 2.5
Netherlands License
To view a copy of this license, visit:
No article in this reader may be reproduced
in any form by any electronic or mechanical
means without permission in writing from the
We would like to thank all the participants of
the conferences ‘Art and Politics of Netporn’
(2005) and ‘C’Lick Me’ (2007). A special
thanks to our director, Emilie Randoe, School
of Interactive Media, Amsterdam Polytech-
nic, for supporting our netporn research pro-
gramme; to Pierre Ballings and Maarten van
Boven, Paradiso, Amsterdam, for hosting the
C’Lick Me event and supporting the produc-
tion of the reader. Thanks to all the authors
of the book for collaborating with us over the
years, as well as to all the photographers and
image-producers on the web whose works have
been cited in the different articles.
Introduction 1
Regina Lynn
Sex Drive: Where Sex and Tech Come Together 7
Mark Dery
Naked Lunch: Talking Realcore with Sergio Messina 17
Nishant Shah
PlayBlog: Pornography, Performance and Cyberspace 31
Audacia Ray
Sex on the Open Market: Sex Workers Harness the Power of the Internet 45
Adam Arvidsson
Netporn: the Work of Fantasy in the Information Society 69
Manuel Bonik and Andreas Schaale
The Naked Truth: Internet Eroticism and the Search 77
Tim Noonan
Netporn, Sexuality and the Politics of Disability:
A Catalyst for Access, Inclusion and Acceptance? 89
Matthew Zook
Report on the Location of the Internet Adult Industry 103
Mark Dery
Paradise Lust: Pornotopia Meets the Culture Wars 125
Matteo Pasquinelli
Warporn! Warpunk: Autonomous Videopoiesis in Wartime 149
Florian Cramer and Stewart Home
Pornographic Coding 159
Florian Cramer
Sodom Blogging: Alternative Porn and Aesthetic Sensibility 171
Mikita Brottman
Nightmares in Cyberspace:
Urban Legends, Moral Panics and the Dark Side of the Net 177
Michael Goddard
BBW: Techno-archaism, Excessive Corporeality and Network Sexuality 187
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi
The Obsession of the (Vanishing) Body 197
Mireille Miller-Young
Sexy and Smart: Black Women and the Politics of Self-Authorship in Netporn 205
Katrien Jacobs
Porn Arousal and Gender Morphing in the Twilight Zone 217
Barbara DeGenevieve The Hot Bods of Queer Porn 233
Julie Levin Russo
‘The Real Thing’: Reframing Queer Pornography for Virtual Spaces 239
Samantha Culp
First Porn Son: and the Golden Porn Revolution 253
Francesco Macarone Palmieri aka Warbear
21st Century Schizoid Bear: Masculine transitions Through Net Pornography 261
Tim Stüttgen
Ten Fragments on a Cartography of Post-Pornographic Politics 277
The conferences ‘The Art and Politics of Netporn’ (2005) and ‘C’Lick Me’ (2007), are
novel zones for academics, activists and artists to discuss and experience new phenomena
around web-based sex and pornography. We are part of a porn-friendly, yet critical digi-
tal generation, bothered by a cultural climate of narrow-mindedness and porn hysteria.
Critical studies about pornography and queer activism have been carried out in previous
decades, but we are looking to discuss our tactile immersion in pornographic networks.
The Institute of Network Cultures agreed to launch such a space on an international
level, providing an uncensored environment for exhibiting and analysing various kinds of
netporn through conferences, a mailinglist and tagging area, a festival page on Myspace.
com, and now a book publication. There is a sense of intellectual and social urgency
around netporn, a need to awaken media activism and intellectual sharing to process
these pornographic realms. It is indeed difcult to get public funding to support our
events, but it is also a matter of challenging the now palpable mentality of fear of the oth-
er and the stufness that followed supposedly moral conicts and geo-political warfare.
As we have witnessed in recent porn controversies in cultures as diverse as China
and the Netherlands, the authorities are wary of courting pornography research as a valid
contribution to open or activist media culture. It remains a risky endeavour to examine
pornography, even though the last two years have seen a wider range of porn studies initia-
tives. Perhaps our objectives are now able to enter mainstream society and become more
acceptable again, but global anti-porn movements are also on the rise. We can surely keep
developing porn discourses, but what about our initial desire to break open a new kind of
public zone of consumption and debate? We see netporn as a site where all our major po-
litical tensions and gender wars come to light, but our impetus to air tensions and support
a post-utopian quest for pleasure and media awareness will remain controversial.
Our two conferences propose to expand the denition of pornography. A similar re-
vision of the narrow articulation of porn has been carried out by the participants of the
Post-Porn Politics conference in Berlin in October 2006. Our contribution started out
as a similar search for innovative bodily aesthetics and queer or feminist expressions, but
has been mainly centered on an analysis of new technologies. Pornography is not seen
as a fatally beckoning commodity, nor as queer counter-culture, but as accessible elec-
tronic data that can be modied by social actions, communications and relationships.
Netporn’s agency can contain a critique of commercial work ethics and gender roles,
it also actively seeks out circuits of DIY online eroticism. What we emphasise in porn
culture is alternative body type tolerance and amorphous queer sexuality, interesting art
works and the writerly blogosphere, visions of grotesque sex and warpunk activism; all
agencies relying on robust sex energies for their different purposes. These netporn play-
ers also breed abundant or obsessive behaviours lurking, seducing, up/downloading,
chatting, mutual masturbation, dating and orgy-swinging. But the general economy of
their actions only mimics the exchange economy and people get hooked as they engage
in free trading and act out their specic sexual desires. As Bataille said, general econo-
mies are based on the notion of excess where a surplus of data and information can only
be channelled in a performative manner. Hence, we see modes of mimicry and play as a
self-aware and ritualised enactment of a culture’s high point of exuberance, ecstasy and
intensity. Hence we focus on a society of excess and atomised small players rather than
giant industries or singular porn stars.
It is also about the participation of women and feminists and the transformation of
queer identities. Minority groups such as (post) feminists, queers and ethnic minorities
use porn as a contribution to their social networks. By doing so they create a stance against
the industries that have been inuencing the porn experience until now. We investigate
the role of ‘gender uid’ entrepreneurism and web communities, and ask ourselves if
gender queerness represents a new marketing devices or an actual sexual behaviour and
sensibility. The ability of women and sexual minorities to participate in the porn indus-
try without the intervention of a (typically male) third hand has had profound implica-
tions for the industry as a whole. But what is the next step after this kind of liberation?
We have witnessed a transformation of the notion of queer agency, not only because
straight, lesbian and transgendered producers try to cater to the masses, but because
consumerism now involves acts of gender morphing and cross-voyeurism. A cross-voyeur
is a person of a peculiar sexual taste or subculture who is tempted to try out an odd or
incompatible taste or subculture. Why do we see a rise of these kinds of disorderly tastes
and desires? Rather than seeing queer culture as driven by a search for bonding and com-
munity activism, it could also be seen as the continuation of the philosophical traditions
of Bataille and de Sade, both of whom meticulously evoked sex scenes that would have
uneasy effects on potential partners. In Eroticism and Tears of Eros, Bataille shows that
erotic sensibilities have an undercurrent of attraction to scenes and rituals of sacrice and
death. In the writings of de Sade, we witness detailed descriptions of hyperbolic actions
which simply bewilder sex partners, or simply undercut the known positions of fearful
psychology. Alfonso Lingis describes these reactions to seductions as “deadly pleasures”
or voluptuous emotions.1 They are the kind of indescribable convulsive needling that
arguably also underlies adventurous pornographic browsing. For instance, in his essay
“21st Century Schizoid Bear,” Francesco Palmieri depicts a similar voluptuous pleasure
as both a gay man and bear when he is turned on by somebody that he would normally
reject. He describes an encounter with a fat and hairy person who turns him on yet upon
closer investigation, turns out to be a female-born person or trans-bear. He describes this
encounter as a sublime moment in which the trans-bear’s complex appearance lifts him
into a hightened state of terror and pleasure. Palmieri wonders if and how this process of
nding others ever comes to an end? Or how does it reach a limit?
Alongside developments of cross-voyeurism, FTM porn stars such as Buck Angel,
have taken an active part in appropriating porn stardom and making seductive appear-
ances for uninitiated persons Buck’s growing success is not only a new networking of porn
zones, but a call for average straight viewers to question and design their own genders and
sexual tastes. As Barbara DeGenevieve writes in “The Hot Bods of Queer Porn,” these
sex acts engage viewers with performative mutations or multilayered parodies of gender.
These are examples of netporn producers and consumers who trade services while
developing novel chemistries. But one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the new anti-
porn tide that implies a climate of global crime and punishment. Regardless of waves
of democratisation within the Internet porn industry, the porn boom is also causing an
enormous backlash to autonomous sex communities. The Chinese government is setting
an example by actively banning the most fertile web cultures; the youthful sex bloggers
and policiticised admins of bulletin boards, or occasionally shutting down all trafc tak-
ing place in cyber cafés. We should also be critical of the legalese antiporn terms and
conditions underlying the extremely popular western digital networks such as myspace.
com. For instance, for the C’Lick Me conference we opened a page on to
gather online friends and momentum for the event. This turned out to be a success, as
many people linked to our page. However, it also became clear that the legal parameters
of are profoundly anti-porn. Any time one uploads a photo, one receives
the following warning message: “Photos may not contain nudity, violent or offensive ma-
terial, or copyrighted images. If you violate these terms your account will be deleted.”
When uploading a video, the antiporn warning is even more blatant, as the message
reads: “If you upload porn or unauthorized copyrighted material, your
account will be deleted.
Again, netporn is cornered by a legalistic paranoiac or reactionary puritanical mind-
set. This threat closes the denition of pornography as if we already exactly understand
the denition of pornography. It is a bit of a contradiction to carry out open porn activism
within these kind of networks. How do we as the “myspace generation” see the exchange
zone between virtual eroticism and a material-public display of porn? Our sense has al-
ways been that we needed to break out of the Internet for reasons that were not always
clear: porn excess, media exhaustion, death of radical media culture. Does myspace an-
nounce the moment where we desire an Internet without porn? Do we need to bring
porn back to the movie theatres so we can start relaxing and masturbating again? What
can we do with netporn in this play zone of our conferences and festivals? The modes of
reply to these questions are further developed by our participants and authors, and have
shown that porn networks do not yet belong to one or two giant corporations.
1 Alfonso Lingis, “Deadly Pleasures”, in Deepak Sawhney (ed.) Must we Burn Sade?
New York, Prometheus Books, p. 32.
Regina Lynn
Every week I expose myself to a hundred thousand people online and invite them to dis-
cuss it in a public forum.
They don’t love me for my body. Hell, some of them don’t love me at all. But they come
back each week because they know they’ll nd a geek’s-eye view of sex. If nothing else,
I give them something to think about over the weekend.
It’s a challenge, and I love it.
I started writing Sex Drive in early 2003 as a companion to TechTV’s documentary se-
ries Wired for Sex. TechTV was reaching out to a more mainstream audience, and the
web team wanted to develop some strong Internet personalities distinct from the on-air
talent. The producer of knew me well I had hired him into a good job,
once upon a time and what’s more, he knew about my explorations into areas of the
Internet that everyone visits but no one talks about in polite company.
Our initial conversation went something like this:
Producer: So we’re doing this doc series about sex and technology, and we need some
web content to go with it.
Me: You need me to write a weekly sex-tech column!
Producer: Can you start Monday?
When I tell people I write about sex and technology, they often look puzzled, cock their
heads to one side, furrow their brows and say something like, “Sex and tech? You mean
like … online dating?”
Except in place of “online dating,” some people say “Internet porn.” And some say “cy-
bersex.” And some say “sex toys.” Less common are “virtual reality” and “webcams.”
Given a moment to think about it, most people come up with an example of how tech-
nology infuses their own sex lives. Some send steamy text messages throughout the day,
while others compose romantic emails that would do Cyrano de Bergerac proud. Sex
toys are coming out of the closet, thanks to their relatively new accessibility. Now ev-
eryone in the world can visit women-friendly sexuality boutiques like Good Vibrations,
Toys in Babeland or Grand Opening. (Unfortunately, not everyone can have their pur-
chases shipped to them it depends on local laws. But we’ll get there.)
Through chat rooms, email forums, online personals, and role-playing games, we’re
nding kindred spirits, and building relationships without regard to geographical or po-
litical boundaries.
And, of course, we have an abundance of porn. Porn on the web, porn on DVD, porn
on your PDA, porn on your cell phone. Technology is enabling a barrage of sexual
content unlike anything the world has ever seen. It’s a crusader’s wet dream to have so
much to wage moral war against.
After TechTV’s demise and a three-month hiatus, I pitched Sex Drive to Wired News. I
sent the senior editor several sample columns and described my mission: to chronicle,
and to help drive the sexual revolution 2.0. We agreed to a four-week pilot, and if the
column succeeded, I would sign an ongoing contract. I was stoked.
Prior to this moment I had only written about porn peripherally. Sex Drive is about sex,
I thought, and not about porn. Only when Wired for Sex produced an episode about
online pornography did I devote any serious column space to it. I had no objection to
porn. It was just that I don’t watch much porn and I had so many other topics to cover.
But during those rst four weeks at Wired News, porn dominated mainstream media
headlines. Congress had invited four prohibitionists to testify in a hearing about wheth-
er we need more studies about pornography’s effect on society and perhaps a public
awareness campaign, much like the ones warning us not to smoke or drink to excess.
Porn is heroin! the headlines proclaimed. Porn is crack! Porn compels people to commit
rape, to succumb to addiction, to become pedophiles!
My new editor all but demanded I write about this.
In researching that column (“Porn Prohibitionists Miss Point,” Wired News, 11/27/04), I
had to examine my own feelings about porn. Was I offended? Did I fear it? Did my sexu-
al self-image change because of it? When I did view porn, what did I do with it?
When the web rst began to boom in the mid-1990s, I bought an electronic pass-key
of some kind that let me into any porn site that used the service. The idea was to keep
minors out without putting too much of a burden on subscribers you entered your
pass-key, rather than your credit card number, to verify your age at each site. It was cool
to be able to look at as much porn as I wanted, of any avor, without having to leave
the house.
That, and I thought it was cool to be a girl looking at porn. Not that my parents ever
mentioned porn, but somehow I learned early on that it wasn’t for girls. (Ha!)
I caught myself clicking through to a gallery, taking in the contents with a glance, and
backing out to click through to the next gallery. I didn’t need to spend much time with
the pictures to feel the titillation of porn.
That’s what gives me a hint about how it must feel to be obsessed with online porn that
the search, as much as (or more than) the pictures, is really what turns you on. No in-
dividual picture or video can be as novel or exciting as you hope it will be, so you keep
searching and looking, looking and searching. You’re never satiated because if you just
masturbated to any particular picture or video, you’d miss out on all those other ones.
Never mind that they, and thousands like them, will still be there for you tomorrow.
I browsed through a lot of genres just because I could, but what appealed to me most
were group scenes and triple penetration. Fantasies I had not tried, but that could be
possible (although not probable) in real life. I learned that romantic, softly lit scenes of
heterosexual couples did absolutely nothing for me. Neither did naked girls. But one
woman with multiple men? Yes, please.
The novelty wore off and I did not renew my pass-key when it expired. Yet I was aware
that I had taken advantage of an opportunity not available to women until recently.
Even among the Internet generation, men far outnumbered the women working the
newsgroups for porn. It took the world wide web to bring us equal access.
I liked seeing women in sexual situations who enjoyed what they were doing, and wished
I could nd more of it. I came to terms with my own preference for being submissive
in bed (although not anywhere else). I learned that being the sub meant being in con-
trol and that being sexual meant so much more than I had heretofore experienced.
I rarely saw anything I would call degrading or damaging to women. I’m not saying it’s
not out there, only that I could usually avoid it. The actresses and models on the sites I
chose to patronize were paid to be there, and they knew what they were getting into.
Hell, I have a fantasy of lying across a coffee table on my back, my hands wrapped
around two different men’s cocks, my lips sealed around a third, while another man
knelt between my thighs and yet another masturbated above my belly and breasts. If an
actress in a similar scene is degraded, and represents the humiliation of all women by all
men, what did it say about me that the image made me wet and achy?
Within months, I learned that most porn is boring. It’s churned out without regard for
quality and certainly with no thought to portraying female enjoyment. But when porn
is good, it has a powerful effect on the senses. And when it’s likely to appeal to women
(which doesn’t mean it’s not explicit or “dirty”), it is often referred to as “erotica” instead.
While women like Danni Ashe and Tristan Taormino began to turn the porn world up-
side down, I looked elsewhere for sex.
In my teens and early-twenties, my sexual actions did not live up to my sexual imagina-
tion. I was shy, inhibited, fearful and had almost no libido. I’d nd any excuse not to
have sex, and I deliberately gained weight to keep myself “protected” from sexual be-
Like most American women, I had experienced inappropriate childhood sexual inci-
dents, although I hesitate to label them as “abuse” because on the scale of things it
truly wasn’t that bad. I could trace my negative responses to sex directly back to being
six years old when I knew something was wrong and that I had absolutely no control or
power over what was happening.
As an adult, my libido was drowned in shame and I managed to dissociate from any-
thing more involved than a kiss. Two years of therapy during college helped me nd
peace and forgiveness, but I couldn’t translate that mental state into a healthy and ac-
tive sex life.
Enter cybersex.
One night, when porn wasn’t doing it for me, I decided to try something different, some-
thing more interactive: adult chat. I picked the rst HTML chat room that came up in
a Yahoo search, called myself Aphrodite, and plunged in. I spent six hours in that chat
room the rst night, so involved in conversation and irting that I didn’t mind the clunky
technology. But when another member told me about Internet Relay Chat (IRC), I
dumped the HTML chat in favor of text-based mIRC (a sort of “back door” to the same
chat community). Then I went back the next day, and the next, and the next….
It was transcendent. I had written sex scenes before, but never real-time, never with a
man writing back to tell me how aroused he was, or continuing the fantasy with words
of his own. The immediate response to my words turned me on like nothing else.
And the challenge of keeping it interesting, unique and hot engaged my brain in ways
real sex had not. It’s hard to make love to a mind that’s completely dissociated from the
proceedings. But good cyber is all in the mind, even if you are also using your hands,
cucumbers or other convenient household objects for physical stimulation.
In training my brain to love sex, I found myself craving it outside the computer. I over-
came my fears about oral sex and developed a newfound appreciation for penetration. I
was in my late-twenties, I had been in my relationship for twelve years, and for the rst
time I truly felt myself to be a sexual creature.
One of my childhood experiences involved being trapped against a wall while a neigh-
borhood boy shoved a porn magazine in my face. I clearly remember a picture of two
women extending their tongues on either side of a penis. “Just like licking an ice cream
cone!” the boy said, and I could feel a heat radiating from him that had nothing to do
with the weather.
I didn’t give much thought to the picture, even though it was my rst exposure to what
adult males look like naked. (This was in the 1970s, when men in porn didn’t look like
they do now. Alas.)
But I instinctively knew I was trapped, vulnerable to whatever the big kid had in mind,
and that I had to handle the situation very carefully if I were to escape unscathed. At this
point, I didn’t have any specic knowledge of what might happen, but I did know that
it would be bad.
That incident, and others more serious, imprinted on my brain one thing: penises are
predators. It wasn’t the pictures that taught me this, it was the way I was exposed to
them. Never a secret, private perusal of the adult world; always an image thrust in my
face, and yanked away again before I had a chance to process what I was seeing.
And yet, when I hit my teens I always got along well with boys, and I could irt with the
best. Only when it came time to put all that energy into practice did I freeze. My mental
warehouse door rolled down with the reverberant clang of metal on cement and that was
it. My mind was safe on one side, no matter what was done to my body on the other.
Cybersex blew that door to pieces. The computer provided two things that no amount
of real-world behavior modication could. I was safe, because no penises were in the
room with me. And I was intimate, because co-writing sex does not leave much room
for dissociation.
If you’ve done it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I probably can’t explain it well
enough for you to understand just how powerful it is. It’s something that has to be felt
to be believed.
My relationship was in trouble when I discovered cybersex, and spending all that time
on the computer did not help. We eventually parted ways. (At least he beneted from
my newfound sexual enthusiasm before we split up!) I found myself single for the rst
time in my adult life.
That year is still hazy in my memory. Too much happened in a short time. I changed
jobs, moved to a new city, got a puppy. My mom was devastated about my break-up and
we could hardly talk without one of us crying.
I traveled across the country to meet one of my cybersex partners in real life and we had
earth-moving sex. I traveled up the coast to meet another one, and we had tide-chang-
ing sex. I met a guy at a country bar, and we had sex.
Suddenly, I was Aphrodite Ofine. I kept condoms in my purse and a twinkle in my eye,
and I invited a few of my male friends to have sex with me. (Individually, over time, not
one big orgy.) This was not “casual sex” per se, because I don’t believe sex can ever be
casual, but I made it clear that it was sex without a romantic relationship to frame it. Sex
based on mutual affection and chemistry.
Eventually, I knew I needed to try dating formally, not just slutting around with my
friends. It’s too easy for boundaries to get blurred if you let those ings go on too long.
(Not all of my sexual education was fun.)
I realized I had never actually dated. I met my ex when I was fteen, and was dating him
by the time I was seventeen. Here I was almost thirty and, while I had slept with more
than one person (nally!), I had never actually been on a rst date. So I went after one,
the only way I knew how. I created an online personal ad and dated by the database.
Perhaps because my most powerful positive sexual experiences involved technology, I
have incorporated tech into my sex life on a permanent basis. Or maybe it’s just that I’m
already a geek, with technology infusing every aspect of my life, including sex.
That’s probably why my favorite sexual imagery involves tech.
and the sci-/fantasy sex at consistently stoke my re.
The intersection of sex and tech happens in the communication side of things. Sure, we
have all kinds of gadgets and doohickeys to use during intercourse, but it’s the mental
intercourse that best benets from technology. You can have sex without any man-made
tools at all; you can’t whisper sweet nothings to a lover hundred miles away without
some sort of technology.
Mobile phones with their video cameras and hands-free headsets are essentials for any
couple who spends time apart. Webcams and instant messaging enable long-distance
sex, and show us that most sex really happens in the mind. Women often tell me they
had their rst good orgasms in cyberspace.
Remote sex is getting closer to the real thing with products like the Sinulator. The Sinu-
lator is a combination of hardware and software that connects your sex toy to the Internet
for someone else to control. The control panel works with any browser, and it looks like a
game console, so if you’re in the airport, no one can tell at a glance what you’re doing.
The system even translates between a sleeve-style vibrator for men and a rabbit-pearl
vibrator for women. If he thrusts hard and fast, her toy vibrates hard and fast. If he goes
slow and gentle, hers goes slow and gentle. If he gets up and walks away, her toy goes
dormant. You can be thousands of miles away or in the same room, as long as both toys
are connected.
Through it all, communication technologies keep you in tune. Cell phones and Inter-
net telephony take the expense out of long distance, as does instant messaging and a
The web also offers a wealth of sexual education, and I don’t just mean porn. You can
read up on sexual technique, sexual health and sexual fantasy without having to hide
a stack of books away every time your parents come to visit. Never before have we had
access to this much information with this much privacy. It may not be as sexy to think
about, but it’s one of the great benets that technology brings to our relationships and
our sex lives.
And the anonymity conferred by a chat room handle gives you a comfortable arena in
which to ask questions, practice irting, and even have sex in ways you have not or will
not except in a fantasy setting.
When Carly asked me to contribute to Naked Ambition, my rst thought was: “Wait,
I’m not in the adult industry.” Then I thought: “If I’m associated with adult content, will
my column be taken less seriously?”
That’s when I realized I held prejudices about porn that I didn’t know I had. I always
said I had no problem with porn, regardless of whether I chose to bring it into my life.
Yet by not wanting to be associated with it, wasn’t I perpetuating the stereotype that Porn
Is Bad, and particularly that Porn Is Bad For Women?
“Adult” encompasses so much more than porn. And porn itself is hard to classify. I love
Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels, but each one has more sex
and less serious plot than the last. Each novel puts Anita in more situations in which she
must have sex with one or more of the several males in her adventurous life. Hamilton
writes great sex, if you like metaphysical fantasy, which I do. It’s explicit and raw and
beautiful all at once. Is it porn?
On the literary side, Jane Smiley has a beautiful lovemaking scene in her novel Horse
Heaven. I’ve given it to several friends as an example of a beautiful piece of writing,
whether about sex or anything else. It too is graphic and powerful. Is it porn? Is it adult
entertainment? Or, because it is literary, is it erotica, and is that less smutty than porn,
and therefore more respectable to be seen reading it?
Sex Drive is not explicit, neither pornographically nor erotically. But I don’t hold back
either. If I think readers need to know where I’m coming from, why I know what I know
or feel what I feel, I tell them. It’s not about exhibitionism, it’s about credibility. And I
take a “we’re all adults here” stance, even though I know not everyone who reads Wired
News is 18.
I concluded that “adult” is merely a code word for “sex,” and in that case, yes, Sex Drive
very much falls into the adult realm. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
We don’t diss food writers for writing about food, and we don’t diss fashion writers for
writing about fashion. (Well, okay, sometimes we do, but not with the same scorn re-
served for porn.) If food and clothing are two biological needs and I would defend
clothing as a biological, not just a social, human need why wouldn’t we afford the
same respect to sex?
I think our perception of porn and adult entertainment is built on notions about the
business and its players that may not always be true, especially now that woman have
moved up and revolutionized parts of the industry that used to belong solely to men.
The only way that perception will change is if the realities behind it change and we
let people know about it. That’s part of what Sex Drive can do, and it’s part of what every
woman in this anthology is doing.
We’re rewriting “adult” into more mature content and business models, and I don’t
mean as in “for mature audiences only.” I mean in terms of how we approach sexual
content, whether in writing, in performing, in distributing, in experiencing, or in any
other capacity.
I don’t know why more people aren’t writing about technology and sex together in a
positive light. I know of only a handful. Annalee Newitz has a wonderful column, Tech-
sploitation, syndicated through Jonno and the team look at
porn through geek eyes. And sometimes you’ll run across an essay by a counselor talking
about how cybersex has helped clients heal sexual problems.
But when you consider just how much technology we have that centers around sex from
Viagra to Internet-enabled sex toys to portable porn for your mobile device it’s amaz-
ing to me that sex-tech is not a common phrase, or that women’s magazines rarely stray
beyond the safe, ubiquitous vibrator when offering advice about sexual aids.
The mainstream media seems to focus on the fear. I’ve seen so much written about In-
ternet indelity, pedophiles using chat rooms to lure kids out to piers, CEOs, and priests
with porn on their hard drives. I don’t ignore this, nor do I pretend it’s not happening.
People do bad stuff with sex-tech.
Yet we have so many ways in which technology enhances our relationships. That’s
where I go with Sex Drive. I like to focus on the individual even if I’m writing about so-
ciety-wide implications. Here’s how I use a particular technology, or here’s how so-and-
so uses it. And here’s how you can use it too.
I like making associations that I don’t see other writers making. All my life I have been
told that I see things from an unusual angle, and I try to let that perspective guide me. I
also feel tremendous pressure to be brilliant every single time, even though I know that’s
not possible. Sometimes being informative has to be enough: informative, funny, and
I am not an advice columnist. I just want to get people thinking, paying attention, talk-
ing about these things. My role is to make the connections, to start the conversation and
to provide a safe community where we can have that conversation.
I don’t have all the answers. But I sure as hell can raise the questions.
Mark Dery
Sergio Messina has seen the future, and it’s sticky.
Messina, 47, is the Margaret Mead of on the Internet. Imagine Mead as a shav-
en-headed intellectual with a drawing by Michelangelo tattooed on her back and Ital-
ian street cool to burn, and you’ve got an inkling of why this open-source anthropologist
rocked the 2005 Netporn conference in Amsterdam with his lecture more of a dance
remix, really, with freestyle rifng and mind-curdling slides on the online amateur
porn he calls “Realcore.”
Born in Rome (“where we hate the Catholic church with great vigor”) and now
based in Milan, Messina is a pirate radio DJ-turned-anti-copyright activist, electronica
musician, and freelance journalist (his technology column has appeared in the Italian
Rolling Stone since 2003). He’s at work on a heavily illustrated book about his investiga-
tions of amateur sexual subcultures on the net, titled Realcore: The Digital Porno Revo-
lution, which he describes as “a brief history of Realcore,” dening Realcore as “a new
brand of sexual images that appeared in the late 1990s thanks to the then-new digital
tools.” Realcore, says Messina, is pornography that’s grittier than traditional hardcore,
even, “striving to portray the reality of the (amateur) scene and the true desires of the
participants.” To him, Realcore and the community of le-swappers that has congealed
around it, is about “new and interactive sexual practices, extreme digital lifestyles, a true
gift economy, web personalities.” Says Messina, “The future is here…and it’s sweaty, it’s
sticky, and it swallows.
His live multimedia presentation of his travels among Realcore enthusiasts is a heads-
pinning fusillade of unforgettable images and hilarious one-liners. Messina’s delivery has
as much in common with the staid lectures at a typical academic sexology conference as
Norwegian death metal does with American Idol. “Realcore isn’t exactly a lecture, nor is
it just a presentation of a book,” he notes. “It’s the main ‘product’: a stand-up anthropol-
ogy show. The book will be like the live album of a rock band: useful to repeat the expe-
rience, to digest the songs, but nothing like the original.
(NOTE: I conducted the following interview with Messina via e-mail, in July 2006.
With his permission, I’ve debugged his English: correcting, compressing, and in a few
instances rephrasing his responses for clarity and concision. He has approved every edit,
and has carefully vetted this transcript for factual accuracy. MD.)
Mark Dery: Give me the historical backstory of Realcore. When and how did you rst
encounter it?
Sergio Messina: I got online in early 1996 and Realcore was starting to happen. Web
porno was already huge; “amateurs” (regular looking folks) and “fetish” were two thriv-
ing genres. Back then, “fetish” meant anything from femdom to watersports.
The amateur fetish boom hit in 1997–98, as digital photography became widespread.
(The rst digital camera for the consumer market that worked with a home computer via
a serial cable was the Apple QuickTake 100 camera, which came out in 1994). Also, free
Internet space became available and easy to use. Yahoo/Geocities, MSN, and so on all
tolerated porno. And, obviously, so did the Usenet newsgroups. The hierarchy of news-
groups, devoted to special interests, favored the division into subgenres. The rst visit to
the complete hierarchy makes you dizzy.
MD: What weird wormhole led you into the parallel universe of Usegroups?
SM: In the 1980s, in Europe, there was a wave of amazing BDSM movies (the early
Pain and Slavesex series) that were different, and not only because of their content,
which consisted of long, unedited sequences of real BDSM practitioners, in actual dun-
geons instead of sets. Formally, these movies were very low-res, and the overall feel of
the productions was more like underground lms, made by and for BDSM people. I
had seen some of these movies, which were very hard to nd in Italy, and I was looking
for more. Usenet seemed like the right place to start.
MD: How did you hack your way into these Usenet subcultures? In my experience,
gaining access to porn-related newsgroups is massively time-intensive. You have to apply
Corduroy fetishist. Realcore image found online by Sergio Messina. Used with permission:
collection of Sergio Messina.
“The rst 20 titles of each series, SlaveSex and Pain, were really unbelievable,” notes Mes-
sina. “About the same time there was another, more fetish-oriented series (with mostly
the same ‘actors’), called Hard Games, which featured many porn-video rsts: rst scat,
rst serious bestiality, rst needle play. You can nd some covers at The cov-
ers say ‘original ton deutsch,’ which suggests that the videos were made by Germans.
The production seems to be by Scala. Martina [pictured above] was the true star of the
genre. Her screen name was Martina, but her real name, apparently, is Anita Foeller
or Feller; she did some stuff under this name, too. But her name was stolen by another,
much weaker, pornstar. So if you look for her you’ll nd the other…” Caveat emptor!
Mandingo fetishist. Fan of well-hung black men advertises her obsession. “Very often, re-
alcore people communicate online (or advertise themselves) by writing on their bodies and
then posting the pictures,” says Messina. Realcore image found online by Sergio Messina.
Used with permission: collection of Sergio Messina.
“Tom, thank you for the shoes.” Amateur fetishist. Realcore image found online by Sergio
Messina. Used with permission: collection of Sergio Messina.
to the moderator for membership, keep nudging the inevitably unresponsive moderator,
and so on.
SM: First, you have to nd out from your provider if you have Usenet access; it’s likely
you do. Then you need a newsreader. There are millions of freeware programs you can
use to read newsgroups for example, Mozilla is also a newsreader (but not Firefox).
And your ISP may have a news service, with an address that goes something like news.
yourprovider.xx. Once you have this set up (very simple, much easier than setting up e-
mail), you congure it so you can see the full group list.
If your provider is good, you’ll get a very long list. These are the upper parts of news-
group hierarchies; think folders. You go to “alt” and open it; you’ll see another immense
list, the second level of the hierarchy “alt.” Then you open “binaries” (images), and inside
you select the folder “pictures.”
I’ll give you an example:
There are thousands of newsgroups in the “alt” hierarchy, like (same
folder as the one in the example, but not in the subfolder “binaries”; it’s in “sex”).
Within the hierarchy alt. (which is infested with spam---
spam makes up over 50% of all Usegroup posts, but you learn to spot it), I suggest you
look into the .interracial, .transvestites, and .wives groups, just to get an overview of this
stuff and its history (many people repost older pics and collections). Also alt.personal.
bondage is sometimes quite amazing (watch out: explicit images!).
I should also say, since not many people ever visit certain newsgroups, that the chance
of stumbling across objectionable material (from violence to child porn) is very high.
One way to avoid it is to subscribe to one of the many web Usenet services (such as www. that remove child porn before displaying images from these groups.
In addition to Usenet, Yahoo hosts groups that archive amateur porn. For a while,
Yahoo was the best source of self-produced, self-published sexual imagery. Now, it’s much
harder to nd it since Yahoo stopped listing such groups. They’re there, but they’re covert;
you have to know exactly where to look, and there’s more moderation.
MD: How, as an accidental anthropologist, did you penetrate the perimeter defenses of
these groups? Were they wary of outsiders insinuating themselves into their subcultures?
SM: If you see a set of images with a subject line like “comments please,” these are new
images, and often the e-mail address on the image or in the message (all images have
a space for messages, although they’re often empty) works. If you mail someone, they
always reply. Also, images often have URLs written on them; I follow those URLs. So I
didn’t nd many “perimeter defenses”; after all, these are exhibitionists!
MD: Let’s return to the timeline you were unraveling. You said amateur fetishism rst
hit, online, around 1997–98, enabled by digital photography and free Web hosting.
What were the cultural reverberations of the amateur fetish boom?
SM: You had the fetish people nally seeing (and making) images that weren’t available
before people like vomit fetishists, who turned out to be unexpectedly numerous.
MD: What was the effect, for amateur-fetish porn people, of suddenly discovering that
they weren’t the only ones in the sexual universe with their obsession, in some cases an
obsession so rareed they thought they were its only examples?
SM: Let me quote from the splashpage of the very rst Hiccup Lovers’ website, circa
1997 (hosted on Tripod and no longer online):
Welcome to the Hiccup Lovers’ Web Site. We are a group of both male and female lov-
ers of the hiccups. We have found one another through the power and anonymity of
the Internet. Most of us had one very basic thought when we found one another: that
we were strange or weird or that there was something very wrong with us because of our
attraction to the hiccups, either in others or in ourselves.
By nding others who share this powerful attraction, we found that we are not alone.
We are not strange or odd and there is nothing wrong with us.
By the way, the site discussed various methods for getting the hiccups. Naturally, it had
no pictures just sound clips!
MD: Speaking of arcane obsessions, I still can’t get that hilarious, fascinating image
from your presentation at the Netporn conference in Amsterdam out of my mind: the
sneaker freak the guy with his cock in a running shoe!
SM: The Web inspired people. You had regular people posting images that for vari-
ous reasons hadn’t been available, images of real people enjoying themselves in various
ways, some of them predictable (the newsgroups are still full
of self-portraits of people just having missionary sex), some unusual, like the sneaker
Via the web, the white couple into well-hung blacks who hosts a gangbang in an
Austin apartment can arrange it a lot more easily, and probably got the idea from images
posted by happycouple69 (happycouple is a popular nickname) from Dover, England,
who will get very horny when they see the images posted by the Austin couple…and
so it goes.
MD: What inspired you to coin the term “Realcore”?
SM: During the 1990s, there was a strong trend toward “reality,culminating in today’s
reality TV shows. I’m thinking of the Rodney King video, shows like Jackass and Cops.
In this genre, there are some aesthetic factors, such as low resolution, unsteady camera-
work, and unedited footage, which we gladly accept because of the so-called reality of
what we’re seeing. We wouldn’t believe the Rodney King footage if it was shot by three
cameras with adequate lighting. Only 9/11 is an exception to this rule: many people ob-
jected to the cinematic editing of news coverage of the attacks and their aftermath ex-
actly because it made things look unreal.
Now, cellphone cameras allow people to lm in adult theaters, parking lots, cars,
or wherever. And, as in the case of Rodney King, you exchange good, high-denition
photography (cold, in McLuhan’s terms) for imagery that is low-res but indisputably real
(very hot!). This is why I call it Realcore. Softcore was simulated sex, hardcore went as far
as actual sex, Realcore goes beyond: it strives to portray, without too much interference,
people “actually” fullling their desires, often fully clothed.
Realcore is all about the reality of what you see, the truth of these images. It’s about
the desire to see someone doing something because they like to be seen. They’re lming
it because you are part of the game as well. You’re the audience. They get horny because
someone is getting horny over them. As Dante said, “Amor ch’a nullo amato, amar per-
dona” (Love, that exempts no one beloved from loving).
MD: Cultural theorists might argue that Realcore goes beyond Baudrillard’s Nostal-
gia for the Real, crossing over into a fetishization of the real a fetishization that is
only possible in a Matrix world where the air is thick with simulacra, from the digitally
retouched celebrity faces on magazine covers to the surgically perfected esh of the
millions who whittle themselves to t those images; from Bush’s Last-Action-Hero pho-
to ops (Mission Accomplished!) to the Hollywood blockbuster titling and pumped-up
Sneaker fetishist. Realcore image found online by Sergio Messina. Used with permission;
collection of Sergio Messina.
Asked about the unapologetic ugliness of some Usegroup Realcore-ers, Messina counters,
“It isn’t ugliness, it’s normality---a shopping center stripped bare, you could say. The ultra-
fat or extra-ugly are us.” Realcore image found online by Sergio Messina.
Used with permission; collection of Sergio Messina.
If you’ve got it, aunt it: according to Messina, this Realcore swinger is trolling for play-
mates by baring her assets banana breasts and a jones for nicotine. Fetching.
Realcore image found online by Sergio Messina.
Used with permission: collection of Sergio Messina.
Realcore image found online by Sergio Messina.
Used with permission: collection of Sergio Messina.
“A different tribute, very evocative,” notes Messina. “He is getting a hard-on over another
newsgroups user, and maybe he’s even online, at that very moment.” Realcore image found
online by Sergio Messina. Used with permission: collection of Sergio Messina.
Photoshopped tribute. Realcore image found online by Sergio Messina.
Used with permission: collection of Sergio Messina.
theme music cable news shows slap on war-porn footage of bombs bursting in air.
If this is so, then the gross-out nature of some Realcore practices, and the stunning
ugliness of some Realcore practitioners, begins to make a certain sense: Realcore’s gross-
ness and ugliness —its irrefutable corporeality, and its frequent delight in what Bakhtin
would call the pleasures of the “lower bodily stratum” heightens its reality, making Re-
alcore realer and therefore rarer in an age of simulations.
SM: That might be part of it. But think of these TV shows where you see police chas-
es, car accidents, rescues, bungee-jumping gone wrong, etc. For most people, there is
something very compelling in watching these shows, much more so than in watching
a reenactment. Is it because the TV channels are thick with ction? Partly. But real-
ity TV fullls other needs, touches some of the same strings that Realcore does. Jenna
Jameson-type industrial porno, which is becoming a bit more extreme every year, is to
Realcore what reality TV police chases are to Hollywood cop shows. It’s like Indepen-
dence Day compared to Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues. In the rst movie, you know
where it’s going and you enjoy the FX; but in the second, anything, literally anything,
can happen and does.
I agree about “the gross-out nature of some Realcore practices, and the stunning ugli-
ness of some Realcore practitioners.” Realcore stuff such as gloryhole pictures, amateur
gangbangs, and sex in adult theaters often ends up on “tasteless” sites. Scat, for example,
was extremely popular on gross-out sites like That’s because Realcore is shot
in a way that proves the stuff is real: unedited equals immediate, actual, true qualities
treasured by gross-outers and fetishists (and millions of reality-TV fans) alike. For scat fe-
tishists (and there are quite a few of them), knowing that the shit in the photos is really
shit and not chocolate (that’s another fetish!) is very important. This is why extreme-fetish
porno tends toward Realcore. The very rst people to understand this were European
BDSM moviemakers in the 1980s; reality was very important for them, too.
MD: What do Realcore people themselves say about the “realness” of their auteur porn?
SM: I’ve tried to bring up the “reality” subject a few times, in e-mail exchanges, but it
seldom bounces back, conversationally. They say that they got online, and they found
these different images, and that’s how they got involved in the scene. This is a common
story: Realcore seems to be more satisfactory than porno because it isn’t passive, it’s in-
In my lecture (which isn’t exactly a lecture; it’s more of an edutainment show, a cross
between stand-up anthropology and an X-rated Discovery Channel feature), I talk about
“tributes.” A woman posts her picture, some guy downloads it, prints it, cums on it, takes
a photo of the results the tribute and posts it back into the newsgroups. She gets com-
ments, requests to wear specic items her home suddenly becomes public.
It’s a whole game, involving mostly two or more people, where the rst post is only
the opening move. Once the tributes are made, the person portrayed in them collects
all these images and makes Photoshop collages that also end up online, on the person’s
website or in the newsgroups. The more tributes he or she gets, the greater the glory.
You don’t do this with just any image: tributes tend to involve portraits of faces. And
there are often specic requests for “tributes.
What a digital, complex, multi-stage way to please each other! Real, then virtual, then
real again (and sticky), then virtual again, then sticky again…
MD: Again, very Baudrillardian: the precession of the stimulacra. Or is it sem-ula-
cra? (Forgive me, J.B.) And, in its own way, Freudian: I’m reminded of that passage in
Freud’s essay, “The Uncanny,” where he talks about the survival, in the modern psyche
of the “atavistic mental activity” that he calls “the omnipotence of thoughts” the prim-
itive belief that subjective mental processes can affect external reality. The “tribute” has
something of the occult about it; it’s a kind of sympathetic magic what I do to your
image, I do to you.
How has being part of the Realcore scene affected the people in it?
SM: Many people have seen a change in their sexual lives, from “spiced up” to “turned
upside down” at least, that’s what they say. Most of them started downloading rst, and
then they got cameras and started taking pictures themselves. So emulation plays a role:
they like what they see and make similar stuff. Almost all the ones I’ve contacted were
unaware of the implications social, networking, futuristic of what they were doing.
They didn’t have much to say about the images in terms of cultural-critical insights, but
were happy to give juicy details on the setting in which the images were taken: many
even kept online diaries (for members) long texts, intended to accompany the images,
and serve as further evidence of their reality.
MD: You mentioned setting. I was particularly taken, during your Amsterdam lecture,
with your reading of the image of the woman proudly displaying her new trophy breasts.
As you noted, the surgical results were underwhelming, if not grisly. But you focused
(brilliantly, I thought) on the real subject of her self-portrait, namely, the sociological
subtext hidden in the backdrop she had chosen. The image was really a sort of status-
symbol porn. It was about the erotics of consumer desire the tokens of the good life
this woman had managed to amass, proudly and prominently on display in her petit-
bourgeois livingroom. Her newly augmented breasts were just her latest acquisition.
SM: That image is very Realcore: it has no center, everything is equally relevant, from
the picture on the TV to the vases on the shelf, the carpet, etc. There’s an almost Re-
naissance quality to the image the new breasts proudly displayed with the other house
MD: It reminded me of a Dutch master’s portrait of a self-satised burgher, surrounded
by the creature comforts that proclaim his status.
SM: Many couples stress their respectability: “We might do gangbangs (black cocks
only, inseminate my wife), but we would never cheat; we do this within the sacred insti-
tution of marriage.” Interesting and exotic to me as an Italian, but probably more under-
standable in the US. I always love details---bookshelves, pictures, whatever.
Realcore people are seldom aware of the photographic beauty of their images; they’re
always surprised to hear me say that. In most cases, they don’t seem very aware of any-
thing else but the sexual side(s) of what they’re doing. (Personally, I nd this attitude
very refreshing!)
MD: Do what extent do you and/or they see their autobiographical or documentary
porn as a rebellion against, or a critique of, mainstream porn, whose unblemished gloss-
iness rejects the Rabelaisian grossness and ugliness we’ve been talking about?
SM: They aren’t aware of the changes they (along with the rest of the digital revolution)
have induced in the porn industry. New mainstream porn genres have been born out of
Realcore, such as point-of-view movies. I guess it’s a bit like everything else digital: we
just do it, and analyze it later. Yet, as in the blog phenomenon, there is an awareness, and
often a pride, in differentiating what they’re doing from the mainstream media in this
case the unblemished glossiness of magazines or corporate sex websites. They know they
are different, because they look different, and in their images they stress this difference.
They’re also aware of the different temperature of their porn: in Realcore, the camera
is inside the action; most of it is shot by one of the partners, and eye and voice contact
with the camera is almost a rule. So I would say this: they might not be “aware” of the
rebellious quality of their stuff, but the images tell a different story.
Sergio Messina adds: “I presented Realcore for the rst time in 2000, at the Ars Electron-
ica symposium, whose theme that year was Next Sex. As sometimes happens in digital
culture, that presentation was too far ahead of the cultural curve; the phenomenon was
blooming, but hadn’t gotten the attention of mainstream culture yet. In the succeeding
seven years, many things have happened in terms of technological change and digital
culture, and most of these changes have affected Realcore in some way. Broadband, Bit-
torrent, Web 2.0, YouTube, camphones, videoconferencing: personal media has never
been so personal. While this interview is the most comprehensive “written” text about
Realcore so far, I’d like to emphasize that I prefer to present my research as a one-hour
live infotainment show, which is what I do best: a peer-to-peer session, in the esh,
where my body talks about bodies to other bodies. I’d like to thank the Institute of Net-
work Cultures, Marije Janssen, and Mark Dery for their interest in my work.
Sergio Messina (
Nishant Shah
I intend to make two arguments about Internet pornography that might, at rst glance,
seem to be already well made, made around other media forms, and made by names
more famous than mine. The rst is about how pornography on the Internet needs to be
understood, not in its sexual content, but in the narrative devices and the performance
within the blogosphere. The second is about how a pathologisation of pornography in
the third world, especially in the case of India, is symptomatic of a resistance to another
larger phenomenon, something that is perhaps best left to its amiable ambiguity: glo-
balisation. By the time I reach the end of this essay, I hope to have revisited both argu-
ments and formed them differently to propose a certain understanding of interactive
I want to make a quick clarication: throughout the essay, I shall be making the dis-
tinction between the use of the words Internet and cyberspace. While the Internet refers
to the technology that binds several networks through a single access protocol, cyberspace
is borrowed from William Gibson’s denition in his novel Neuromancer. Gibson coined
the term cyberspace and dened it as something more than a network: “Cyberspace. A
consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every
nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. […] A graphical representa-
tion of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system” (128).
Gibson’s notion of cyberspace was necessarily inter-active and agential. The ‘consensual
hallucination’ is a deliberate act of creation of the space and of the self. The ‘sense of who’
is rmly connected to the ‘sense of where’ within cyberspaces. This interactive nature,
and the embodiment of the self in the space are crucial in my deployment of the notion
of cyberspace. Another distinction that I would like to preserve is between pornography
on the Internet and cyberspatial pornography (or netporn as it is more popularly called).
I hope to formulate the two differently in the course of this essay.
I would like to suggest that categories are produced by the law through a process of
reication, where the abstract idea becomes hypostatised into an object or a thing. Por-
nography is a reied product where the notions of sex, sexuality, morality, obscenity, vul-
garity and prurience all converge to produce the ‘thing’ that we identify as pornography.
In the virtual world, the reied object is actually ephemeral in nature, thus leading to a
new denition of Internet artefacts. The law is a big player in the construction of these
categories, and the attempt by the state at policing and governing are essentially through
the medium of law. Also, an artefact comes to be recognised as ‘pornographic’ through
the interventions of the legal system.
In this essay, I hope to look at the interactions of law, culture and cyberspaces in or-
der to come to a new understanding of netporn outside of the prejudged categories of
morality, obscenity and sexuality that are generally deployed in conceiving of any notion
of the pornographic.
The Internet in India arrived at a time when pornography and ‘obscenity’ were already
emerging as public concerns. Here is a brief outline:
The outrage surrounding the Kamasutra condoms ads generated a lot of talk about
the nudity and sexuality they used to market their product.
The rst major controversy around ‘obscenity’ in the imagination of a ‘spectating
public’ around Subhash Ghai’s blockbuster movie Khalnayak where the heroine and
her accomplice shed the conventional roles of chastity and purity, and unabashedly cel-
ebrated their sexuality and desires in a song and dance sequence to the lyrics “Choli ke
pichey kya hai…?” (What lies behind the blouse?). Though the petition demanding a
ban for the song was rejected, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) actually
recommended revision of the Censor Board for Film Certication (CBFC) guidelines
to curb material that was ‘obscene and vulgar.’
Anjali Kapur, advocate and model, was charged with accusations of obscenity when
she posed naked for the cover page of Fantasy magazine. Nudity was immediately trans-
lated into ‘Pornography’ without examining either the framing of the subject in the pic-
ture, or the attempts at ‘aestheticisation’ of nudity in the picture.
The Shiv-Sena in Maharashtra announced its intentions of protecting India by “re-
pelling the attack on culture by sexual permissiveness.” Under the aegis of Pramod Na-
valkar, the then Shiv Sena Minister for Cultural Affairs, there were attempts made to
remove sex and vulgarity from Indian popular cultures through an indiscriminate con-
scation of books, magazines and lms that contained sexually explicit material.
The infamous Tuff shoes advertisement that had a naked couple (models Madhu
Sapre and Milind Soman) locked in an embrace, wearing nothing but a snake around
their neck, saw moral panic attacks coming out in a rash.
The Delhi High Court was ooded with petitions that demanded immediate cen-
sure and legal action against an idea that was not yet launched – An adult entertain-
ment channel called Plus 21.
Mira Nair’s controversial movie Kamasutra – A Story of Love was released, banned,
re-released, censored and shunned by many audiences.
Metropolitan magistrate Prem Kumar asked Doordarshan – the State owned televi-
sion network - to stop screening all material that did not have a Censor certicate (The
Pioneer, 4 July, 1996). Kumar also issued directions that authorised the police to enter
a place that screened objectionable material and seize it. A High Court decision later
stayed Kumar’s orders (The Times of India, 31 July 1996).
The Bajrang Dal a youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) attacked an
exhibition of artist M.F. Hussain’s paintings where he had portrayed Hindu goddesses
in the nude (The Times of India, 30 January 1997). This overtly communal attack was
articulated through the ideas of ‘obscenity’ and ‘vulgarity.
These arguments were later mapped on the Internet though they were not specic to the
Internet. The arguments are indeed an extension of the claims that were made against
satellite television, beauty contests, music videos, free economy, Hollywood movies and
the re-appearance of Coke1 in the Indian markets. They were arguments against the
outsider, who was slowly penetrating the Indian socio-economic sphere, and effecting a
new way of living; around a change which threatened to disestablish the existing order
of things, and altering the domains of life, labour and language2 in unprecedented ways;
around globalisation and the paraphernalia that it carries with it; arguments which were
eventually mapped onto the arrival of the Internet and the easy access to ‘pornographic’
material that it provided.
It is within such a quagmire of moral panic, redenition of the notions of decency,
obscenity and culture that the Internet made its presence felt. In May 1997, a national
lm magazine, Stardust, carried a morphed picture of Pooja Bhatt with the title: “Scoop
of the Month: Actresses caught nude in the net.” The rst public face of the Internet was
the possibility of unmoderated, unpoliced pornographic material on the WWW the
realm of the forbidden, the dirty and the desired.
The State’s initial reactions to the Internet were also rooted in technophobia and pa-
thology and a strong desire to police this new space. From attempts at blocking the ports
that supply pornographic material to passing laws against the under-age use of Internet
and the public consumption of Internet in cyber-cafes,3 the State has tried and failed to
monitor or thwart the proliferation of pornography on the Internet. Eventually, unable
to predict or control the cyberspaces, the State took a new approach towards the Internet
and its users. Computers and technology were looked upon as the panacea for curing all
the diseases that Development had spawned in India. The policing of these technologies
was taken to a new level of ‘responsible usage’ and ‘ethical consumption’ of material.
The State adopted a policy of disavowal with regards to the Internet and instead of
focusing on the grave concerns that pornography and its proliferation through the In-
ternet were posing, it decided to put the onus on the individual user4 and transferred
its attention to ghts over the radio spectrum and the threats to national security that
the new technologies posited. The State has a policy of reactive resistance to Internet
pornography; taking measures as, and when, the material ‘offended’ an individual who
reports it to the machinations of the state. The new cyber laws that exist in India blame
only the consumer of pornography for his/her (generally his) access to the pornographic
material, thus creating the category of a consuming citizen who is responsible, law-abid-
ing and morally ‘chaste.’
However, the State’s circumvention of the problem has had new age mutant cy-
ber theorists dwelling on many interactive sites like P2P networks,5 IRC chat rooms,6
MMORPGs,7 MUDs,8 webcams, forums around pornographic material9 etc. in order
to understand how pornography proliferates newly in the ungoverned circuits of cyber-
space. Most of them look at the easy availability of pornographic material online and do
not set out to dene or understand netporn. I would like to suggest that what needs to be
studied, in relation to Internet pornography, is not the easy availability of pornographic
material on the Internet or the sexual content of this material, but the shaping of pornog-
raphy within cyberspaces. While the Internet with its multimedia platforms serves as an
ideal space for sharing pornographic material in different formats erotica, still images,
moving images, webcams, anime, etc. this is not what netporn is about. I would like to
make a claim that pornography as a genre is dened differently within each of the media
it populates.10 Cinematic pornography and its conventions of framing, performance and
narrative, for instance, are very different from still image pornography in magazines like
Playboy or Penthouse. Similarly, written erotica/pornography has different structures to
operate within. To club all of these as netporn is to overlook the differences between these
pornographic products. More signicantly, it draws our attention away from pornography
as it is shaped and designed by the Internet. We need to start by dening netporn as a
category of pornography that is structured within cyberspaces and inherits the character-
istics of the medium within which it is produced.
The rst signs of recognition of netporn come from other spaces. Microsoft Networks
(MSN), on September 24, 2003, announced the closing of its chat rooms in certain parts
of the world largely the third world. The concern about pornography and the Internet
was suddenly made more visible and vocal as claims were made that the chat rooms (in-
teractive Internet forums) were used for “illegal sexual acts.”11 This was a new notion of
Internet pornography, pornography not as something that was created in a place of pro-
duction and then circulated through a medium, but pornography as created in the un-
folding of the very space within which it is housed. Unlike the earlier media forms like
print and moving images especially moving images the creation and consumption
of pornography were the same process. This is the rst take-off point to start thinking
of Internet pornography as constituted within interactions. Earlier interactive sex sites
like telephone sex or ‘talking dirty’ were often objected upon as obscene or indecent.
However, it is only with the Internet that these interactions are looked upon as prod-
ucts, as pornographic in nature. Netporn then can be located separately from the prolif-
eration of pornographic material on the Internet. It is housed in the interactions that
take place within cyberspaces across different platforms such as IRC, MUDs and blogs.
Netporn is not only a product of cyberspaces but it also becomes the visible characteris-
tic of most cyberspaces.
Traditionally, pornography was a visual spectacle of sorts where the dividing line be-
tween the performers and the audience was very clear. On the one hand were the paid
professionals who embodied the desire of the audience and performed several sexual
acts for the gratication of the audience. On the other hand was the audience who took
vicarious pleasures out of the acts being performed on screen by performers who were
the manifestation of their own desires. With netporn, the performers and the audience
are the same people. Sherry Turkle maps how users of interactive cyberspaces do it not
for something else, but for the act itself. The action becomes an end in itself and this is
a characteristic that is common across interactive cyberspaces.
There is absolutely no audience to a chat, or a blogging network outside of the partici-
pants in the blog or the chat: participation can range from active performance to passive
and innocuous lurking. The blog, though documented, is ephemeral and often lost in
the matrix, remembered only by search engines and Internet archives. These are forms
where the user becomes a performer as well as the audience. Netporn seems to encourage
such a narcissistic turn where the embodiment of our desires are us. A similar claim can
be made for webcams that allow capturing a person’s daily life and making a spectator
out of the person. Sites like have proved that the performer in front
of the webcam is as much a spectator as anybody else.
While pornography within cinema and earlier forms is so predicated upon the body,
netporn is essentially disembodied porn.12 Due to the very nature of interactive pornogra-
phy, the pornographic value of the production is not about gratication but about the pro-
jection of this gratication. To take an example; within a blog, if the user does not make
a representation of his/her orgasm the ultimate aim of most pornographic acts the
pornographic value of the production is completely lost. Even if the user in the physical
world does not reach an orgasm and yet makes a representation of it within the conversa-
tion, it is accepted as the culmination of the production. Disclosure on a blog would not
become pornographic in nature till it is consumed and visibly desired by the audience
that it is produced for. Self-representation (visual as well as verbal) becomes pornographic
because of the address the representation carries and the responses it elicits from the con-
sumers of the representation. The ‘pay off moment’ in netporn is not in the physical or-
gasm of the consumer/producer, but in the desired or projected orgasm of the user behind
the virtual handle. This disembodiment of pornography and its severe wrenching from
the notions of body is denitely a unique characteristic of cyberspatial pornography.
Within the blogosphere of Livejournal,13 netporn needs to be dened through the mo-
tifs of blogging and the methods of networking which are deployed in this sphere. Let
us start by dening a blog. Traditionally, in a conception that seems to think of cyber-
space as an extension of the ‘real’ world; a space of fantasy and escape, blogs have been
looked upon as an evolution of personal diaries or personal publications. It is easy to de-
ne blog as a web-publishing tool, thus spiralling an immense amount of speculation,
discussion and critique of blogs as replacing the traditional news media and bringing
out subversive narratives that shall change the world. However, this conception of blogs
comes from a techno-utopic idea and has been redundant for some time. While it is in-
deed a valid argument that the documented visibility of non-mainstream and marginal
voices leads to a certain impact on the way information and knowledge production are
treated, this is not the structural motif of blogging.14 Nor is it the dening characteristic
of a blog. Instead of looking upon blog as a medium of communication and information
dissemination, it might actually help in treating it as a cultural artefact.
A cultural artefact, to avoid any confusion, can be clearly dened as a living repository
of shared meanings produced by a community of ideas. A cultural artefact is a symbol of
communal (in the non-violent, non-religious sense of the word) belonging and posses-
sion. A cultural artefact becomes innitely mutable and generates many self-referencing
and mutually dening narratives rather than creating a master linear narrative. Because
the cultural artefact is beyond the purview of the law and becomes a signage for the con-
struction of the Symbolic Order within a community, it carries an illegitimate authority,
which is not sanctioned by the legal systems or the State, but by the lived practices of
the people who create it.
If looked upon as cultural artefacts, blogs can reveal different ideas as to why people
blog and what are the motifs of the cyberspace medium that they inherit. I would suggest
that blogs be looked upon as structured around the idea of Hypervisualisation. Hypervi-
sualisation can be detected in the Disney and Pixar animated movies where the aesthetic
of the movie is not in the narrative structure but in the rendering visible of that which
was not previously available to a normative eye.15 It is easy to claim that cinematic por-
nography also made the usually invisible acts into viewable performances and hence is
hyper-visual in nature.16 It is necessary to understand that Hypervisualisation is not just a
method or a tool of framing but an aesthetic which helps us make sense of an artefact.
It is easy to confuse Hypervisualisation with Realism, but a close look at the tech-
niques reveals that Hypervisualisation is actually almost the reverse process of Realism.
While Realism sought to represent reality, Hypervisualisation seeks to substitute it with
a higher and more believable notion of the real. Apart from the penetrative gaze that it
offers, Hypervisualisation is essentially about unravelling and revealing that which was
hitherto unavailable to our notion of our sense of the self and the spaces we inhabit. Hy-
pervisualisation is the characteristic motif of interactive cyberspaces wherein it becomes
a trope for revealing.17 The users within interactive cyberspaces like blogs, get into a vir-
tual striptease of sorts, where they increasingly reveal parts of themselves which adds not
only to the notion of their self but also to the idea of what blogs are.
Most studies of blogging seem to concentrate on what they call ‘political’ blogs or
‘information’ blogs that have a large audience and are more visible. However, we need
to look upon blogging, not as being inspired by these promises of reportage or analyses,
but as driven by the innate desire to tell a story, and a story not of the other, but largely of
the self. A large section of the blogosphere consists of ‘personal’ blogs biographical nar-
ratives documenting the ephemeral experience of living every day. At the cost of sound-
ing lyrical, I would suggest that blogs are an attempt to achieve immortality to create
documents that shall outlive the user and live in the limbo of the virtual. It is the same
drive that perhaps drives an artist to use blood in her paintings on canvas, or a writer to
put his angst to paper.
The visible face of blogging the informative blogs and the meta-blogs that anal-
yse the blogs are actually exceptions rather than the rule. They are visible because
they are rare and it would be a mistake to look upon these blogs as representative of the
blogosphere. They need to be evaluated as subversive rather than allied to the nature of
blogging. This is the reason why I look upon the blogging community within Livejour-
nal rather than looking at the more celebrated blogs that have a large readership and are
looked upon as ‘objective’ representations. I would rather focus on blogs that tell the
story. In the methods of telling this story, and the kind of things this story telling enables,
I shall try to formulate the notion of netporn as we have conceived it so far.
A typical life cycle of a blogger on ‘ElJay’ (as it is often known amongst the more
prolic bloggers on Livejournal) is interesting.18 A ‘Noobie’ starts with tentative narra-
tive accounts of the world around him/her and initiates a commentary about their daily
life. This is what I call the foreplay of blogging. The writer in the narratives is exploring,
expanding, nudging and unfolding the physical surroundings around him/her. Through
user-pictures, personal prole pages and subscription to communities, the blogger begins
to reproduce him/herself in a specic way; trying out different names, forms and identi-
ties. As the bloggers start ‘befriending’ people and increase their audience and readership,
a strange thing happens. Instead of suddenly becoming more cautious of the self and
the things that are being revealed on the blog, the blogger increasingly sheds the layers
of pseudonymity and facades that they create in their early narratives. There is a typical
increase in talking of the self in these narratives, and one can notice a sharp shift from
the exploratory narratives to the intimate revelatory biographies that are produced in the
blogs. The disembodied protagonist self makes it easier for the blogger to strip his/her
virtual garments and exposes more of the self than ever before.19
Through moods, through user icons, through the music that they mention they are
listening to, through emoticons, through subject lines, through the lters that they set
around their posts, and through the metadata that they generate, the users initiate long
discussions that range from existential angst to the best kind of bread to eat with pita salad.
However, more than the content of the blog, it is the nature of conversation that they en-
courage and the element of the personal that comes out in the conversation. Flirting, talk-
ing dirty, using sexual innuendoes, putting intimate pictures of the self, or even inventing
sexually charged blogging language like ‘comment whore’ or ‘blog virgin’ are a part and
parcel of this stripping. The narratives of the self take on the overpowering temptation that
the Internet offers of stripping the self bare without any inhibition of any kind. The blog-
ger enters an orgiastic setting where s/he is intimate with a huge range of people. These
are the people for whom the lters don’t work and the most intimate and personal feelings
and descriptions are put forward. Advice, exchanges, sharing of emotions, bonding the
process takes many different roads. With each of the persons in this clique, the blogger
develops a sense of safety, security and intimacy that allows him/her to take things at a dif-
ferent level. It is the post third date scenario and things are going to hot up.
Directly in proportion with the conversations that people start on the blog, the blog-
ger becomes more revealing, more explanatory, more stripped of the layers that tech-
nology has imposed on him/her. And then comes a moment when the blogger nally
achieves what s/he is looking for: an acceptance of his/her narratives and the realisation
that comes from the reciprocal actions by the others who read their blogs. The content
of the blog no longer matters. The blog often dwindles into something that is mundane,
dull, everyday, regular, uniformly un-anecdotal and private. The blogger realises that it
is not so much the content of what s/he is writing as the act of writing that is important.
This moment when the blog content comes full circle and resembles the rst posts, is the
moment of ‘blorgasm.’ The sense that the self has been realised and that the experience
of the moment is captured in that one representation or conversation is the pinnacle of
pleasure for a dedicated blogger.20
This is also the moment where the blogger engages in a reverse strip tease. It is at this
supreme moment of climactic joy that the blogger suddenly becomes conscious of the
publicness of his/her virtual persona. The hypervisualised self becomes the naked self
and this sense of rawness is evident in the way the blogs are written. They are no longer
for a wide audience or the large readership that the blogger has accrued. The narratives
are a form of exchange of sexual signs between the blogger and the adulterous group of
close friends that the blogger has cultivated. Often the comments take the form of an or-
giastic setting so embedded in personal views, shared meanings and language that they
make no sense to anybody else. If pornography is indeed a representation of an exchange
of sexual signs in a post-Derridian world, then blogging falls under that pattern.
It also leads to an unsettling reverse embodiment which is perhaps unique to inter-
active cyberspaces. In the rst half of their blogging cycle, most users try to map their
known-imagined and aspired-for bodies in the virtual world, and look upon these bodies
as an extension of their physical presence. In the post-blorgasm world, where the blogger
suddenly becomes conscious of the disembodied body and makes a call for privatising
the public, the disembodied self comes to be mapped upon the physical body of the user;
something that needs to be hidden from the people not in the grid of the blogging com-
munity. The very act of blogging becomes pornographic in nature as it moves towards
creating a certain ethos of sexual interchange and a coming of the self in the course of
this interchange. The blog becomes a space of shared meaning where signals need to be
decoded and signs get produced out of intimately shared meanings. The blogs on ElJay,
specically the personal blogs, take on the form of pornography as they use the porno-
graphic structure of interplay and represented pleasures of a disembodied spectator in
their unfolding.
The blog in fact becomes an illustration of netporn as I dene it. Cyberspatial por-
nography needs to be tracked in interactive spaces like the blog where the self real or
imaginary, physical or disembodied, consuming or consumed is put on display and
reveals itself in progression, arriving at a stage where it realises itself through the conver-
sations that take place in the blog. There are thus two ways of understanding netporn:
through the grid of experience, where the user is allowed to recognise the stripped naked
self, and the realisation of the publicness of the self, where the virtual persona of the user
is mapped out on the physical body of the user. The elements of performance and par-
ticipation also need to be understood as encouraging the process of stripping the self that
happens in such environments. Pornography has been the major motif of attraction for
young and rst time users of the Internet. However, the users get an intuitive understand-
ing of pornography as existing not only in the visual/written material available freely on
the Internet. They recognise the pornographic potential of cyberspace and hence most
users who come to cyberspaces looking for pornography also become producers of por-
nography in the interactive cyberspaces. More than the legislating bodies or theorists, it
is the users who have dened netporn in the interactive cyberspaces and have exploited
them to escape the panoptical view of a blinkered State apparatus.
The geeks the power users of cyberspace, the virtual âneur who have construct-
ed, explored, exploited and coined cybercities had this idea of pornography and the
pleasure principle long before the cyberspace became a democratic space of GUIs and
intuitive navigation. Pr0n, geek slang for pornography of a different kind, was already in
existence to give us clues to the pornographic nature of the Internet. In Geek lingo, pr0n
has very little or nothing to do with sexuality, sexual act or nudity. It is about the pleasure
of control, of manipulation, of knowledge and of penetrating through a system, not by
breaking it but by knowing it inside out. Pr0n is in the ultimate pleasure that arises out
of interacting with and through a system towards a physical and virtual climax. The sub-
versive element of Pr0n is not in defeating the system but in embracing it, immersing
in it and in deploying it beyond the initial conceptions of the system. The pornographic
in blogging on Livejournal is not about getting heard but about practicing pornography
without being detected by the machinations of the state.
While the incidents like MSN’s closing of its chat rooms and Yahoo’s currently with-
drawn ‘personal room’ service are already hinting at their recognition of the pornographic
nature of such platforms, the state remains impervious to such an understanding of net-
porn and clambers in the dark to arrive upon a policing of pornography on the Internet.
The IT law passed as late as 2000 understands Internet pornography in the old fashioned
grids of production, circulation, distribution and consumption.21
The law is incapable of dealing with the ephemeral quality of netporn and the pos-
sibility that pornography is not always ‘prurient or lascivious.’ Hence it is unable to deal
with either the digital sexual material that circulates so easily, or the intensely subversive
pornographic nature of interactive surng that the users indulge in on the cyberspace.
This policing of cyberspace from an external body is an indication of the failure of the
legal apparatus to understand, identify or account for the object under consideration in
our case, Internet pornography. The authority of policing has always been the privilege
of the State and also one of the activities through which the State validates its existence.
However, this authority is now displaced to governing post-geographical authorities that
rule in the realm of the Internet. The pathologisation of the cyberspace by the very bodies
that create and govern cyberspaces needs to be taken into account. The decision to police
and to promote certain interactive cyberspaces is not just an economic decision but also a
recognition of these spaces as embedded in cybercultural practices of a certain kind.
I had set out in this paper to explore the possibility of understanding netporn as a par-
ticular brand of pornography that is shaped exclusively within interactive cyberspaces.
It was my intention to recognise netporn not as something embedded in sexual repre-
sentations, but as something formed by the sphere of interaction and networking that
emerges out of the practice of blogging. The need to recognise netporn as constituted in
these spaces was to look at the possibilities of resistance and subversion without getting
caught in the debates of obscenity and morality that usually surround any discussions of
pornography. It is also interesting to note that netporn, thus understood, can be recog-
nised as paraphernalia of the all-inclusive globalisation. It also lets us recognise that the
resistance that the Internet meets in the names of obscenity and morality are actually
misplaced and are geared towards protesting against the approach of globalisation in
the third world. As a last remark, such an understanding of netporn gives the notions
of subversion or dissent a new idea, allowing us to bypass the often all-containing deci-
sions of the Indian nation state where pornography, and its production, consumption
or possession, is a crime. It also hints at the shifting paradigms of authority and pow-
er as bodies more powerful and pervasive than the geographically restricted nation
state emerge and become the new policing and governing bodies in a world dened,
understood and consumed through the deployment of cyberspatial technologies.
1 The story of Coke in India is fascinating. Coca-cola, the world’s largest cola drink,
was available in India till the 1960s and was emblematic of a certain Western mo-
dernity and urbanism in Indian cinema and art. However, following the closed
market policy, Coca-cola disappeared from the Indian markets, only to make a reap-
pearance after almost thirty years when the Indian economy adopted the free mar-
ket structure. Coke once again became the brand that skipped a generation to arrive
as the new sign of modernity and progress. The reappearance of Coke in the Indian
markets was a sign of a new way of living and critiques of the State’s economic poli-
cies and globalisation have often revolved around this particular phenomenon.
2 Michel Foucault in his The Order of Things talks about a paradigm shift visible in
the domains of life, labour and language. Globalisation has changed the way we
live, we work, we think of property and we create narratives of our self. It is one of
the most visible paradigm shifts in the last century.
3 In many Indian states, the cybercafés still demand a photo identity proof of age
before allowing the users to access the net. In a recent discussion in the Indian par-
liament about the access to pornography in public spaces, the concerned minister
declared that they are encouraging cybercafés to do away with private cubicles and
display panels, thus not giving privacy to the users.
4 In the recent spate of MMS scandals that have been doing the run of cellphone
users in India, the case of the DPS MMS is particularly interesting. The infamous
DPS MMS is a short video clip shot by a male student at the Delhi Public School,
New Delhi, engaging in sexual acts with a fellow female student. The clip spread
like a contagion among the cellphone users around the nation and hit headlines.
The court’s decision over the case rules that anybody found in possession of this or
similar clips on their cellphones or personal computers can face up to six months
of imprisonment and/or a ne of ten thousand rupees. Here again is an example of
the law’s inability to understand a cultural form so that the producers of the mate-
rial run free, but the consumer of the material is found guilty. This is a denite
example of disavowal on the part of the state, where instead of policing technology,
it polices the consumption of technological forms.
5 P2P or Peer-to-Peer networking has been one of the most used ways of sharing sexu-
al content on the Internet. Instead of uploading material on a home page on some
server, the P2P allows the users to share les and folders unsupervised on the hard
drive of their computers and transfer them across Internet connections. P2P was
also the biggest forerunner in encouraging piracy of media on the Internet.
6 Internet Relay Chat (IRC) has been one of the most prolic Internet activities and
has come to stand in for the popular Internet idea of ‘forever connected.’ Elizabeth
Reid’s account of IRC in her Master’s thesis has been one of the more inuential
texts on the experiences and economy of IRC.
7 One of the biggest excitement in the gaming world currently is about massive mul-
tiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) which allow the users to work in an
evolving virtual world at the same time over the Internet. More information about
the MMORPG is available at
8 Multiple User Dungeons or Multiple User Domains are text-based virtual reality
platforms where players interact through massive role-playing and characterisation,
investing a lot of time and text in creating the contexts and environments for their
interactions. One of the most celebrated MUDs, Lambdamoo, has been made pop-
ular by Julian Dibbell’s essay “How a rape happened in cyberspace.” More informa-
tion on Lambdamoo is available at
9 Very few studies of pornography on the Internet have actually focused on the physi-
cal moorings of cyberspace. Jane Gaines is a rarity who, in her productive article
“Machines that Make the Body Do Things,” looks upon the arrival of electric vibra-
tors (more popularly known on the net as dildos) as an indicator of the relocation
of the female clitoris and its gratication; something that heterosexual porn had
blind-sighted in order to focus on the ‘pay off moment’ the sperm of the male
orgasm spattered all over the body of the female performer. This was perhaps one
of the rst indicators of how netporn is not located in the material available on the
net, but in the way the users deploy the technology in their interactions with each
other. These interactions are threefold: human to human, human to machine, and
machine to human.
10 In his study of the infant Jesus iconography Childhood, Chris Jenks explores the
objectication of the child for a particular gaze; religious, in this instance, as the
beginnings of child pornography and the constitution of the child as an object of
pornographic interest. Jenks tries to make a claim that pornography is not consti-
tuted within the content but in the framing of the subject. With lm studies and
especially ‘porn studies,’ this is an argument that has often been made. Ashish Ra-
jadhyaksha, in his forthcoming book, talks of Realism in Indian cinema as porno-
graphic in nature and looks at the world-renowned lms of Satyajit Ray and Dada
Saheb Phalke to make a case for cinematic pornography.
11 It is hardly surprising that the only pornography that is objectionable in the
USA child pornography is presented as the reason for MSN and Yahoo’s dis-
continuation of their chat rooms.
12 Take for instance, the blog of a ‘desperate housewife’ at http://tademy.blogspot.
com/ where the blogger writes about the most intimate parts of her life in a very
graphic nature, often bordering on the pornographic.
13 is now one of the biggest free blogging services avail-
able based on open source software. One of the biggest advantages of using Live-
journal for a sample is the unique community features that Livejournal offers by
which people of different tastes, preferences and geographical locations can come
together to network and interact.
14 Anna Nataro, in her forthcoming book provisionally titled Introduction to the
Blogosphere, makes a strong argument for blogging as a Habermasian public
sphere. However, such an argument is valid only for blogs that are obviously con-
structed for a notion of public participation. It would be misleading to say that
blogs are primarily public in the Habermasian sense of the word.
15 This setting of the Hypervisual against the Realist is an interesting juxtaposition. It
allows us to look at Hypervisualisation as the overthrow of the cinematic ethos of
Realism and the introduction of a new way of looking at the world around us.
16 Linda Williams, in her work Hard Core, provides an illuminating account of how
the pathologisation and clinical framework of approaching pornography is actually
a way of controlling and shaping female desire and sexuality. Williams is bent on
talking of pornography as that which renders the invisible visible, thus relocating
the invisible in the domain of consumables and approachable. Though Williams
doesn’t use the term Hypervisualisation, it is on this simple understanding of ‘make
it visible’ that she bases her argument.
17 Within blogging, especially within the blogosphere of Livejournal, Hypervisuali-
sation can be observed and studied in the interactive memetic behaviour across
the blogs and user groups. Memes, generally identied as a bundle of data that
gets transferred from one agent on to another, come in many forms and a liberal
denition of memes would identify computer viruses, computer generated quiz-
zes and results, chain letters and emails as memetic behaviour. My focus is more
on memes with two active agents participating in the transfer. Also, Livejournal,
because of its interactive space encourages memetic behaviour and thus offers a
strong connection between narrativisation and memeisation.
18 A power blogger for more than six years now, Min Jung (MJ) at www.Minjungkim.
com gives a hilarious, although a little stereotypical idea of a blogger’s life cycle
on his personal blog. However, my model moves away from his a little and is more
typical of a user on ElJay.
19 In an extremely provocative article: “Bloggers need not apply,” available at www., Ivan Terrible unwittingly notices the same trope of hypervisualising
the self that is visible amongst the bloggers. In fact, Ivan goes ahead to warn prospec-
tive and current bloggers to make the same mistake of revealing too much about
themselves. Ivan’s warnings have a ‘practical’ tone to them, but he too recognises the
discomfort that comes from activities like blogging or other interactive cyberspaces.
20 Paul Willemen, in his aspirations for a Pornoscape, draws a close link between the
knowledge and the experience of sexuality. Drawing from the parable of the Origi-
nal Sin and tracing it to the claims of authenticity that are produced through ex-
perience of sexuality, Willemen brings to the fore the power equations that revolve
around the construction of sexuality and the pathologisation of it through an unin-
formed critique of pornography. The blogger, in the blorgasmic moment bridges
the gap between experience and knowledge. The rst cycle of blogging is experien-
tial, and the knowledge of that experience feeds the second part of the cycle.
21 “Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published in the electronic form
any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is
such as to tend of deprave or corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all
relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it,
shall be punished on rst conviction with imprisonment of either description or a
term which may extend to ve years and with ne which may extend to one lakh ru-
pees and in the event of a second or a subsequent conviction with imprisonment of
either description of a term which may extent to 10 years and also with ne which
may extend to 2 lakh rupees. “ -- Section 67 of the IT Act (New Delhi, 2000).
Dibbell, J. (1994) “A Rape in Cyberspace, or How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster
Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society,” in The Vil-
lage Voice, available at
Foucault, M. (1970) The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, New
York, Pantheon.
Gaines, J. (2003) “Machines that Make the Body Do Things,” in More Dirty Looks:
Gender, Pornography and Power, ed. P.C. Gibson, London, BFI, pp 176-89.
Ghai, S. (Director), Khalnayak, Mukta Arts Productions, 1996.
Gibson, W. (1984) Neuromancer, New York: Ace Books.
Jenks, C. (1996) Childhood, London, Routledge.
Nair, M. (1996) (Director), Kamasutra – A Story of Love, Mira Nair and Lydia Dean
Pilcher Producers.
Nataro, A. Introduction to the Blogosphere, forthcoming.
Rajadhyaksha, A. (2004) work in progress presented at CSCS, Bangalore on 12-09-04.
Reid, E. (1994) Cultural Formations in Text-Based Virtual Realities, Master’s thesis,
Melbourne, University of Melbourne.
Turkle, S. (1996) Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, London: Wei-
deneld and Nicolson.
Williams, L. (1989) Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the visible’, Berke-
ley, University of California Press.
Willemen, P. (2003) “For a Pornoscape” in More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography
and Power, ed. P.C. Gibson, London: BFI, pp 9-27.
Sex work may be the world’s oldest profession, but the word “profession” until recently,
has been only vaguely applicable to this line of work. It’s perhaps more accurate (though
less snappy) to say that sex workers1 are the world’s oldest unregulated working popula-
tion. But for a profession that can stake such a historical claim, the industry is extremely
adaptable and workers have been quick to pursue opportunities provided by the In-
ternet as they arose and continue to change, including but not limited to online porn.
Though the porn performers I wrote about in the last chapter, as well as the cam girls in
the rst chapter, certainly qualify as sex workers, the Internet provides women whose sex
work is conducted in person, especially escorts, with new opportunities for advertising,
screening clients, and building community with one another.
Because of the shame of societal disapproval and the logistics around the legal reper-
cussions inherent in this line of work, advertising, safety, and access to community are
immense challenges to people who work in the sex industry. Over the last dozen or so
years, the Internet has allowed for a massive shift as far as access goes, and the sex industry
has therefore become more accessible to would-be workers and clients. The sex industry
has also simultaneously become more private and more exposed, more professional and
more of an identiable culture. The culture of shame around the industry is very much
alive in some respects; however, for many women, shame is being chased out as more and
more current and former sex workers out themselves in the media beyond the Internet.
The most obvious example of this outing is in the ways porn stars are obsessed over
by mainstream media. Sex worker chic is spreading like wildre. In certain ways, this is
nothing new: Xaviera Hollander, internationally known as “the happy hooker” after her
Audacia Ray
1972 book by the same name, became a celebrity and symbol of free love in the 1970s.
Since then, porn stars, strippers, and high-class call girls have leapt into the mainstream
spotlight through sex scandals and tell-all memoirs. For the sex workers themselves, this
popularity is not dissimilar to the shiny red apple with a razor lodged inside: As trendy
and appealing as sex work can seem to be, the profession is still rife with stigma and many
inherent risks. The possibilities of the Internet for sex workers lead to a kind of choose-
your-own-adventure negotiation with notoriety and secrecy, where a sex worker can easily
become something of a celebrity both within her own community and outside of it if she
puts in the effort. Though there are many different kinds of sex workers who use the Inter-
net, including escorts, fetish workers, dommes, and strippers who use online forums for
support, the bulk of this chapter focuses on middle-class escorts, the most rapidly grow-
ing and visible part of the industry mainly because of the ways the Internet has changed
that particular aspect of sex work.
When I was doing public relations for a porn company, people were always surprised
that such a job existed. Sure, sex sells other stuff, but, they wondered, doesn’t sex just
sell itself? The truth is that a lot of deep marketing-thought goes into the sex indus-
try, whether the entity being sold is an independent escort’s companionship or couples’
porn. However, it’s true that marketing becomes tricky when there’s no physical prod-
uct, or when the service that’s being provided isn’t necessarily legal. Mainstream ad
agencies deal with versions of this problem all the time as they market brands and life-
styles, but sex workers tangle with it in a different way, because the thing on the market
block is them. Advertising has always been the simplest for street workers, because what
you see is what you get—with maybe a few minor and inevitable variations. However,
for women who work in dungeons, brothels, and private apartments, or outcalls to ho-
tels, advertising is a very precise art form requiring that they reach a perfect balance
between adequately representing themselves so that the client is not disappointed and
construing themselves in a way that attracts the kinds of clients they want to see.
For women who work independently, the Internet has opened up a vast new world of
opportunity in which different marketing styles can be tried out cheaply and easily—and
changed immediately if they fail. It’s hardly an overstatement to say that the Internet has
transformed the sex industry: the ways businesses are run, the stigmas attached to being
on either side of the transaction, the visibility of the industry, and the information avail-
able about sex workers who market their services. Many sex workers who worked in the
industry before the Internet jumped right on board with Internet advertising as soon as
they got a glimmer of the opportunities the web offered.
The Internet has also inspired a new generation of sex workers to nd their places in the
industry and develop opportunities that may not have presented themselves without the
Internet. In 1989, Veronica Monet started working as an escort in Berkeley, California.
She advertised in the Spectator, a major weekly adult tabloid at that time. The paper
was essentially a vehicle for sex workers’ ads, which were its major source of capital.
Each ad, which typically took up a sixteenth of a page, consisted of a few lines of text,
a sort of abstract photo that didn’t show the woman’s face, and a phone number. For
Monet and other independent sex workers of her era, small ads in the Spectator and he
information provided, Monet received many more phone calls than she did clients. Of-
tentimes the potential client would reveal what kind of woman he was looking for and it
wouldn’t be a t. Agencies weren’t always helpful, and they were renowned for the “bait
and switch,” in which a photograph or description of one woman is provided and then
someone not matching that description at all appears for the job. Certainly the thrill of
the unknown was part of the appeal for some clients, though for others the roadblocks to
getting exactly what they wanted were numerous.
Monet used the Spectator exclusively for the rst two years of her career, until a
technologically savvy client of hers gave her the heads-up about Bulletin Board Systems
(BBSes), an early, nonpublic form of the Internet. After discovering the BBS, Monet con-
tinued to use print ads, but she began to give potential clients a password so they could log
on to her little corner of the system. The men were able to check out pictures that gave
them a much better sense of her than the newspaper ads. Monet made the bold choice
to show her face in the photographs she posted online, something almost unheard of at
the time. By 1992, Monet was fully exploring the options that the burgeoning Internet
technology had to offer.
Likewise, Catherine La Croix, a sex worker who had started in the business as a
BDSM phone sex operator in the 1980s, got her start on the BBS in the mid-1990s.
She and a business partner (also a sex worker) built the rst major woman-owned BBS,
Two Babes Online, in 1995. They hosted sixty-four incoming lines and held forums on
which people were able to discuss sex. Two Babes Online quickly became a go-to place
for people of all stripes to explore their sexuality. But this site became more than just its
message boards; it was an early incarnation of a porn site. The images made available on
the BBS were posted in many different formats, which meant that a porn consumer had
to make some effort to get to know the technology of the system so he or she could sample
the wares in order to get the instant gratication that these sites had the potential to pro-
vide. Slow-paced and roundabout not-so-instant gratication aside, the BBS proved to La
Croix and her partner that there was money to be made from sex on the Internet.
After experiencing the sharp rise in popularity of Two Babes Online, La Croix began
to explore the options for advertising ofine services on the Internet. She had since be-
come an escort, and decided that the Internet seemed like a good way to pursue clients.
Located in Seattle, she was in close proximity to Microsoft. Her foresight that, in her
words, “Geeks need sex, too, or even more so” led to a thriving business. Like Veronica
Monet, she made the choice to show her face in the photographs she posted on her rst
website. Though she hadn’t shown her face in print advertisements before that point,
La Croix had done an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, so she wasn’t afraid of
the level of exposure that might result from her postings. She saw showing her face as an
important tool in reaching the kinds of clients she wanted to see. Today, face shots are
commonplace among sex workers who advertise online. La Croix notes that the Internet
fools people both sex workers and clients alike into thinking they’re anonymous. In
fact, she says, it’s quite the opposite. It’s possible for anyone posting photos online to be
recognized out in public, especially when posting face shots, or pictures with other iden-
tifying details, and the IP (Internet Protocol) address one posts from is recorded on each
website a person visits and viewable if the website’s owner keeps track of visitor statistics.
So with a little bit of know-how, anyone’s Internet use can be traced.
For both Monet and La Croix, the Internet opened up a new, untapped market of
tech-immersed, middle- to upper- class men who were spending tons of time in front of
their computers and who were looking for ways to interact with women in a structured
and limited way because they claimed to have no time for a full-blown relationship.
These men began to form the backbone of the online advertisement-driven sex industry.
They had money and time to burn on the Internet, which made them ideal guinea pigs
for searching and contacting sex workers online. Sex online something that was previ-
ously only accessible and appealing to people who understood the inner technical work-
ings of the Internet has exploded since the early 1990s, and the Internet has become
more widely available and user-friendly.
New York-based dominatrix Jo had been a sex worker before she moved to New York
in 1997 but hadn’t capitalized on the Internet until she started using the message boards
at fetish and BDSM website Max Fisch Domina Guide. Jo launched her website in 1999,
a bit later than Monet and La Croix. She doesn’t think that the clients she has obtained
through the Internet are any different than the clients she got through other forms of ad-
vertising. This difference of opinion probably stems from a range of factors pertaining to
the different experiences of someone coming to the industry a bit later in the game. When
Monet and La Croix rst began to experiment with the BBS and online advertising in the
early 1990s, Internet access was not as widespread as it would be just a few years later. At
that time, the notion of meeting people online was seen as dangerous and sketchy, even
though most users were likely to be introverted computer programmers who are more
harmless than the average Internet user today. By the late 1990s, America On Line had
begun to dominate the Internet and promote a more user-friendly platform, which acted
as an invitation for average Americans to get online in droves.
Just as trends in clientele have changed over the years, there have been changes in
trends for workers themselves. The change witnessed in the industry was perhaps most
jarring for women like Denzi, who became a sex worker in the late 1970s, got out of the
industry, and then returned to escorting in the early 2000s and started to use the Internet
to advertise. Whereas Monet, La Croix, and Jo all made relatively smooth transitions from
print to online advertising, Denzi had a steep learning curve to deal with after having
been away from the industry for so many years. More than two decades ago, Denzi started
working at a massage parlor in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of nineteen, staying there until
she met a pimp who took her to Phoenix and later to Los Angeles, where she became a
streetwalker. After a few years, she escaped her pimp and made her way back to Arizona
to nish school. “After getting married, divorced, having kids, and a long career in the
paralegal eld, I decided to return to prostitution via online escorting,” she says. Now
forty-eight, Denzi has remade her sex worker persona without a trace of the street worker
aesthetic, and notes, “I think I would have denitely started back in sex work without the
Internet, but my experience would be far less prosperous without it, I imagine.” Denzi,
whose tagline on her website, Denzi4u, is “Beyond the Ordinary Erotic Encounter,” po-
sitions herself as an elite companion with session options that include a sensual Japanese
tea ceremony. Like many women who have their own sites, Denzi appeals to a middle-
class clientele of gentleman who want to be pampered.
One of the most powerful changes the Internet has brought to the sex industry is that it’s
created a vast and visible middle class of sex workers who cater to middle-class men. Pri-
or to the advent of the Internet, the media tended to portray an extreme when it came
to sex workers: The women tended to be either high-class escorts who made upward of
$20,000 for a weekend excursion to an exotic locale with a high-status businessman,
or downtrodden, drug-addicted streetwalkers who were usually women of color. The
number of sex workers who fell somewhere in between those two extremes is difcult
to quantify, but there’s no question that the widespread inltration of the Internet into
the majority of people’s homes has resulted in an increase in the number of women who
make up that middle ground. It’s populated by women who may be full-time, long-term
sex workers, as well as others, such as college students who are temporarily doing sex
work or women who do sex work casually to supplement the income they make from
full-time jobs in other elds. The scope of the Internet does seem vast, but the majority
of the world’s sex workers do not use the Internet to do their work.
Documented in blogs and on message boards, middle-class sex workers tell their sto-
ries directly and indirectly, detailing lives of middle-class comfort that include homes,
families, and friends—just like people in any other line of work. Online advertising ven-
ues, message boards, and communities have, in many respects, standardized the industry
and brought it to a newly professional level. Without too much effort, a potential client
or sex worker can nd out what the going rate is for an hour-long session in his or her re-
gion; sex workers who charge much higher or lower tend to be criticized by others in the
area. Likewise, there are standards for behavior and modes of dress for both online and
ofine experiences that are increasingly being enforced on message boards and through
review sites.
The Internet makes dabbling in the sex industry as an independent worker much
easier in most respects, but it’s debatable whether the Internet has brought more women
into the industry than would otherwise be in it. The Internet makes it possible for the
curious woman to explore her working options without having to make the scary phone
call to an agency, or go to an interview at a brothel, and she doesn’t need to have any
direct connection to the industry to try it on for size. Because it is a high-stress, stigma-
tized, and sometimes illegal business, the turnover among sex workers is immense. Most
women don’t stay in the industry for more than a year or so at a time. Though they may
drift in and out of the industry over the years, it’s unusual to nd a sex worker who is de-
voted to sex work as a career.
Catherine La Croix comments, “The web has unfortunately made more women
think they can do this because they think it’s easy . . . A lot of women don’t contemplate
the ramications of this job because of the Internet. What lots of them don’t understand
is that this is a business, rst and foremost.” Though sex workers’ websites are of course
meant to attract clients, they can also have the effect of seducing wannabe workers into
the industry under the pretense that the work is sexy, fun, and easy. Speaking about the
deceptions offered up by Internet advertising to young dommes, Jo says, “It’s easy for
them to get the wrong impression because of the way websites are put together. Many
women have lists on their sites of things that they will not do because of legal restrictions,
but the reality is that everyone in the business does these things once they get to know a
client a bit better.”
Although interest in sex work has certainly increased since the advent of the Internet,
and women who may not have wanted or been able to work independently without an
agency or pimp can do so now, the work itself remains the thing that ultimately discour-
ages women from getting into the industry. The Internet has, in Veronica Monet’s words,
created a class of sex workers with a “pseudocelebrity status,” but it has not changed the
essential nature of what sex workers do—exchange erotic labor for a living. La Croix is
direct: “To put it bluntly, you need much more than tits and ass; it’s whether or not you
have the mind for it. You have to know who you are, and the way that you see yourself is
all-important,” she says.
Recognizing the difculties of sex work is often challenging when women are faced
with the ease of technology and increasing availability of both online and ofine guides
to the ins and outs of the sex industry, as well as intricate support and networking sys-
tems. For young women irting with the idea of entering the industry, the options are
both daunting and comforting, as there is no longer the need to do sex work in a void,
without the support and understanding or at least email correspondence of fellow work-
ers. Whether a woman ultimately chooses to get into the industry or not, there are many
resources available to her online, not the least of which are advertisements posted by
other sex workers. Over the last few years, online advertising for sex workers has become
a serious business with seemingly limitless options.
There is a massive number of websites that assist sex workers in advertising to their po-
tential clients. Two of the biggest national sites are Craigslist, which is free for sex work-
ers to post and clients to browse, and Eros Guide, which has a monthly fee for sex
workers to place ads and is free for clients to browse. There are many other sites that
cater to particular tastes or are similar to these sites with minor variations in design and
searchability. While sex workers and clients tend to have their preferred sites, they often
use several different ones at the same time, though how widely they cast their net often
depends on the associated costs for membership; some sites charge sex workers to post
ads, while others charge clients to search them. Craigslist and Eros Guide have each
been online for more than a decade, so their national standing is well established. New-
er sites that host nationwide ads quickly learn that it is more protable to cater to select
cities and have many ads for one city rather than few ads for each of many cities.
Craigslist’s Erotic Services is one of the many pages on the free, public, reader-mod-
erated board, which, like all Craigslist pages, is organized by city. Posters can create text
posts of any length, and as of a few years ago, they can also add pictures. Craigslist is a
bit of a clusterfuck, though it’s searchable by whatever keyword you can dream up. The
posts go up on a rst-come, rst-served basis, and they cycle off the front page of the fo-
rum as new ads are posted. The front page features the one hundred most recent posts,
which in major cities like New York and San Francisco cycle off at an alarming rate—as
quickly as a half an hour after posting. Craigslist’s Erotic Services postings are highly
sensitive to things like weather, holidays, and time of day, with big spurts of postings near
lunchtime and toward the end of the workday. Some of the more amusing posts go up
late at night to appeal to high and horny guys trolling the Internet and making less-than-
stellar choices about where and how to spend their money (well, maybe stellar for the
girls they give their money to). Though the search feature helps make things more exact,
Erotic Services doesn’t have categories; posters include keywords that they know people
will search for, including online escort slang so that they can attract the kind of clients
they are most interested in.
Because of the fact that the Erotic Services forum is free to use and doesn’t require
any kind of registration to post or send messages, as well as the fact that it’s attached to
a larger website that doesn’t have erotic implications (unless you think nding an apart-
ment or trading your bicycle for a TV is sexy), it tends to attract a high number of men
who have never hired a sex worker before and have no idea how to go about it, as well
as men who are looking for a cheap, fast fuck, and men who don’t understand why they
have to pay for sexual services. Craigslist is considered by many sex workers to be the bot-
tom of the barrel because of the type of clientele it attracts, but many workers who use
other advertising venues as their primary means of getting new clients still occasionally
advertise on Craigslist if they have a gap in their schedule to ll.
Craigslist is also popular among women who don’t do sex work as their primary
source of income and who don’t want to spend the money on a monthly ad that will at-
tract more clients than they are willing or able to see. They use Craigslist to post an ad and
book a session as their time allows and when their income could use the padding. Chariz,
a lesbian in her midtwenties who spent some time making money by wrestling men she
connected with on Craigslist in Portland, Oregon, stumbled across the world of erotic
wrestling by way of Google. Her work in freelance construction sent her onto the job
boards on Craigslist, and after she pursued wrestling as a casual erotic interest, a friend
convinced her to try moving her wrestling ad from the Casual Encounters section to
Erotic Services. About her choice to do this work, Chariz says, “I probably wouldn’t have
started wrestling men for money without Craigslist. It was part necessity, but not com-
pletely. I’ve always been able to get other jobs, so if it hadn’t been as convenient, I don’t
think I would have put the time into getting clients.” Although Chariz developed a few
regular clients who she wrestled once or twice a month, wrestling wasn’t her main source
of income, and her use of Craigslist to get clients remained fairly casual and dependent
on her schedule, as well as her nancial needs while she was a college student.
Workers like Chariz are the coveted “non-pro” workers. They’re typically young, col-
lege-age women (or women who pose as such) who claim to love sex or whatever fetish
they’re catering to. They often post ads that say something to the effect of “I’m doing this
for the extra pocket money,” to buy books for school or new clothes or other nonessen-
tial items. Full-time professionals are often criticized on Craigslist, despite the fact that,
technically, a person who accepts money for sexual favors is a pro. The assumed value of
a nonpro is that she’s not doing the work primarily for the money, but rather because it’s
fun and the money is a delightful side benet. On Craigslist, the message boards and the
advertising boards are one and the same, so clients and workers alike declare their dis-
appointment with one another right alongside the ads highlighting the very services the
men are seeking out. Whenever clients describe a woman on the board as a pro, they’re
almost always saying so with a sense of disappointment, because they seem to be perpetu-
ally in search of slutty college students who may ultimately agree to a no-strings-attached,
no-fees-involved kind of arrangement.
Professionals, however they position themselves, are the name of the game on Eros
Guide, which has online advertising branches in more than thirty US cities, as well sev-
eral in Canada and the United Kingdom. Lily, a thirty-two-year-old from Manhattan,
started stripping at twenty-two and later became an escort, placing an ad on Eros Guide
in 2001 that was the mainstay of her marketing strategy. Even though escorting was her
main form of income, Lily found it worthwhile to advertise herself as a non-pro college
student, which was a marketing angle that resulted in her never having to launch a web-
site of her own. She thought a website would make her appear to be the professional she
actually was, and that it would destroy her carefully constructed college-girl image. An
added bonus was that she could avoid the costs and headache associated with creating and
maintaining a website. Lily found that the wording of her ad, as well as the photographs
she used, made a big difference in terms of the types of clients she could get: Photos shot
from a low angle attracted submissive men, while photos featuring her in conservative
outts baring little skin attracted vanilla clients who were easy to get along with.
Advertisements on Eros Guide are broken down by type of session: escorts, mas-
sage, dancers, BDSM/fetish, tv/ts/shemale, men, and tantra; they also have searchable
subcategories for hair color, Asian, ebony, Latina, porn stars, boob size, incall/outcall.
Though the ad offerings are standard city to city—two hundred words, a phone number,
a weblink, and three photographs (all of which are updatable at no extra cost whenever
a worker supplies new content)—the ad rates vary by city depending on what the market
will bear: In Denver an ad costs $60 a month, while in New York it costs $175.
Eros Guide ads target a middle-class market of men who have Internet access and
money to burn. They’re for men who prefer an online shopping experience of casual
browsing and research before they make a decision. The interconnected networks of
Eros Guides in each city make the website ideal for traveling businessmen, because
even though the sex workers are different in each city, the website navigation is the same,
which lends a sense of familiarity and security to the process. Likewise, some sex work-
ers choose to go on tour and use the Eros Guide network, and the website is set up to
put notices up on the proles of sex workers who are in town on tour for a short amount
of time.
Though agencies that employ sex workers use advertising on Eros Guide and other
sites, it’s usually easy to tell the difference between agencies and independent workers.
The easy browsing feature on the site makes searching for independents a more reward-
ing prospect than it could be if independent workers’ sites were not linked in a common
space. Lily worked for escort agencies before trying her hand at independent work, which
she only did because the agencies she’d worked for were busted. She says, “I’m not sure
if I would have gone independent without the Internet, because I just wasn’t aware that
that was a possibility.” Initially, she says, “It was scary to be responsible for doing every-
thing on my own.” After learning the ropes of advertising and screening clients, and
starting to make connections with other sex workers, Lily began to love working on her
own because she was able to control so many different factors from her image to her
schedule to her rates and the degree of interaction she had with clients before deciding
whether to see them.
In the trade up from Craigslist to Eros Guide, sex workers gain and lose power and
freedoms. On Craigslist, restrictions are put on postings by other members of the com-
munity, who can ag noncompliant postings for removal, and occasionally by the Craig-
slist staff, who may remove postings that blatantly disregard the rules that bar explicit
exchange of sex for money. However, the actual structure of the advertisements is totally
open to the poster’s discretion and can be as brief and vague or as long and detailed
(though not sexually explicit) as possible. Ads on Eros Guide look much more put to-
gether and typically feature professional photography instead of photos taken with a we-
bcam or a consumer-grade digital camera. Eros Guide ads are also scoured by their staff
for any hint of sexual activity; in fact, the word “sex” is not allowed at all. Additionally, the
limit on word count puts restrictions on what a sex worker can say about herself, which
is similar to the limitations in print ads. However, the advertisements do have the escape
valve of a link to the worker’s website, where she can say whatever she wants—within
the limits of what’s acceptable regarding the legal restrictions around the business of sex
work. Both websites allow and even encourage a sex worker to operate her own business,
whether or not she has her own website.
Both Craigslist and Eros Guide, albeit in different ways, exist as cultures beyond just
the listings for sex workers, which makes them not so different from print publications.
Their content may be about sex, but it’s not always pure advertising. In this respect, sex-
worker-advertising sites are increasingly becoming online communities where people
hang out to discuss different issues centered on sexuality, but the discussions also devi-
ate from this topic. These advertising/community sites have increasingly begun to look
more and more like dating sites, with their articles about sex and off-topic discussions.
This design and functionality crossover is an important one it lessens the stigma of sex
work and hiring of sex workers by making it appear more like dating just with required
“generosity” on the men’s behalf.
If the community and webzine aspect of advertising sites is a bit confusing and nudg-
es the sex industry away from pure commerce and into something else, the world of
message boards geared at sex workers and their clients (or providers and hobbyists, as
they are called on the boards) is innitely more complex. Since the late 1990s, mes-
sage boards have emerged as the more highly interactive counterpart to advertising sites.
People who use the boards tend to also use advertising sites, though the reverse isn’t al-
ways true. Clients who use message boards on a regular basis tend to be very engaged
with the culture, referring to themselves as “hobbyists,” and referring to the act of hiring
sex workers as “the hobby” and the sex workers themselves as the “providers.” The slang
that sometimes appears on sites like Craigslist and Eros Guide runs rampant on mes-
sage boards, to the point that some of the postings are difcult to decipher for readers
outside the culture.
The key component of message boards like UtopiaGuide, Big Doggie, The Erotic
Review (TER), and Max Fisch are the reviews, submitted by men who have had sessions
with sex workers and want to report on them, ostensibly to give other hobbyists the in-
side scoop so they can make informed decisions about which women they want to see.
Though it varies, the boards tend to be password protected. Some, like Max Fisch, are
free to read and post on but require registration with a valid email address, while others,
like Big Doggie, can be perused in an abbreviated version for free, but require a paid
membership on the part of both providers and hobbyists in order to see full reviews or
to participate in board discussions. The boards create a space for providers and hobby-
ists to interact socially outside of private sessions. Explicit advertising is outright banned
on most boards, though providers are permitted to post notices about their whereabouts
and available days and times. Eve Ryder, a now-retired New York–based escort who pri-
marily used UtopiaGuide, says, “Many of the threads are about guys reviewing girls and
swapping tips and such, but interesting stuff is always appearing. I’ve seen threads there
where guys and girls openly debate how tips should work, for example. I’ve watched girls
attack johns who behave badly toward women—openly and with other girls and johns
backing them up! Imagine that ever happening before the days of boards.” In addition to
the spaces where providers and hobbyists can talk to one another, most boards also have
sections of the sites that are available only to providers or only to hobbyists.
For the providers, the boards are a mixed blessing. Jo, the dominatrix from New
York, spent some time as a moderator on the fetish and BDSM message boards for Max
Fisch, but she quickly tired of the drama and downright nastiness. She found many of the
men to be pushy and annoying: “They were always expressing their preferences, which
is generally okay, but they were being very judgmental and had screwed-up ideas about
what it means to be a true domina.” Because of the ame wars and general sniping on
the site, Max Fisch shut down its community boards and DomBoards and replaced them
with The Hang, a more heavily moderated and community-oriented board. Though
The Hang is more regulated than earlier incarnations of the boards, it would be naive to
expect that people will ever be completely polite on online message boards, especially
when dealing with matters like sexual preferences and fetishes, which have the tendency
to offend even (or perhaps especially) people who spend a lot of time in a sexualized en-
vironment and know what they do and do not like.
The review function of the message boards is the most controversial part of these types
of sites. In order to make the reviews a good and sexy read, hobbyists often embellish the
truth, which would not be such a bad thing if the changes were only in orid language,
but some hobbyists report on sex acts that providers are not actually willing to perform in
their sessions, setting a troubling precedent for women and future clients. Some boards
bestow special privileges and discounts on hobbyists who have written a certain number
of reviews, which results in the writing of bogus reviews of providers hobbyists haven’t
actually seen as they scramble to boost their numbers closer to whatever quota they are
trying to reach. A provider’s reviews can certainly affect her business, as many serious
hobbyists strictly pay attention to the boards and what their fellow men have to say about
the providers.
Eve, an active participant and often agitator on UtopiaGuide, says, “I once posted
a review of a client I had after he posted a ridiculous review about me claiming to have
done all kinds of acrobatic stuff. I posted what really happened, because I just didn’t care.
You know: ‘He was never really hard, and he has a bad back, so I had to be on top for the
thirty seconds it took him to come….’” Some of Eve’s experiences on the boards were
frustrating, to say the least, but overall the boards had a positive impact on her business.
During her career, Eve never paid for advertising, but her active participation on the
boards—especially when she was argumentative—drummed up plenty of business.
Though Lily recognizes the value of good reviews, she was extremely wary of the re-
view boards and how they affected client expectations, as well as her privacy and reputa-
tion. She made her clients aware of her rules: “They weren’t allowed to post on TER if
they wanted to see me again—that site just has a terrible reputation. I allowed them to
post on Big Doggie, but without writing about sex even with the lingo, and it did help
my business.”
Beyond the day-to-day mini-crises and controversies on the boards, several larger scan-
dals have erupted and brimmed over beyond the reaches of the message board commu-
nities in recent years. In the late 1990s, message boards, reviews, and online sex worker
advertising in general were a free-for-all. At that time, clients and workers felt that their
anonymity was protected on sites like Big Doggie and The Erotic Review, and that they
weren’t being watched or recorded by law enforcement, or that even if they were, they
were safe because they’d developed an intricate-enough slang and a clever-enough dis-
claimer (which still appears on many websites and which is intended to provide protec-
tion from the law):
Money exchanged is intended for companionship only and modeling services. Anything
else that may or may not occur is a matter of personal choice between two consenting
adults of legal age and is not contracted for, nor is it requested to be contracted for in
any manner. This is not an offer of prostitution.
On the boards, which participants view as private, membership-based spaces that
are not open-to-the-public forums, explicit sexual acts were often described and dollar
amounts provided. As it turns out, law enforcement did start to take an interest in on-
line action. A Florida State attorney launched a two-year investigation of Big Doggie in
2000. The operation, stealthily called “Operation Flea Collar,” targeted hobbyists by
creating proles on the site for fake providers. The vice squad went so far as to buy stock
images of a lingerie-clad woman around whom they built a website that was a convinc-
ing facsimile of a real escort’s site eventually, that is, as it took a little trial and error
for them to get clients interested in their provider. When the vice squad felt it had gath-
ered sufcient evidence to denitively accuse Big Doggie of being a conduit for illegal
activities, they pounced on the co-owners of the site, Charles Kelly and Steve Lipson,
who were charged, along with eleven other men, with more than fty felony racketeer-
ing, procurement, and obstruction charges in July 2002. In December 2002, a judge
dismissed charges, ultimately deciding that the message boards were a protected form of
free speech.
A big part of the message board scare was linked to the inherent sexism of the legal
system when it comes to prostitution: Female workers are the ones most often arrested
and made an example of, while the men who purchase their services or facilitate the
business stroll away without incident. In this instance, however, the men were being
targeted in what is sometimes called a reverse sting. It’s interesting to note that “reverse
sting” acknowledges the fact that the women are the real targets when it comes to law
enforcement around prostitution. It also begs the question: Would there have been such
calamity over the message boards in the summer of 2002 if the providers been the targets
rather than the clients? Probably not.
Though today Big Doggie is once again the powerhouse it was before the bust, vice
squads throughout the country have started to employ online advertising and commu-
nities to make arrests. But it’s sex workers rather than clients who need to be most con-
cerned about the increasing interest of the legal community in online spaces. Since
providers cycle in and out of the industry so quickly, there isn’t a strong sense of history
or awareness about the types of things they should avoid when pursuing their online sex
businesses. New providers often make the same mistakes that providers and hobbyists
made half a decade ago: They give too much information about their precise services
and what they will and will not do for their rates, while also naively assuming that they’re
anonymous. Though clients often express concerns about discretion, their worries are
mostly about wives and families, while the risks that sex workers undertake are a real and
present danger. This danger does not just come from outside the business, either; it often
comes from within.
In the sex-negative, guilt-ridden, judgmental society we live in, the leap in people’s
minds from sex to danger is a short one indeed. And I’m not even talking about BDSM
play, but just regular ol’ fucking. Add commerce to sex and you’ve got a formula for all
kinds of fear and guilt, not to mention tsk-tsking and “I told you so’s” when a sex worker
gets into an ugly situation. Double up this whore stigma with the stigma of Internet
weirdos, and you’ve got a scornful-nearing-gleeful newspaper article waiting to be writ-
ten. Though many sex workers report never having had a violent client, violence against
sex workers is the number one thing that the press pays attention to. This is more often
about sending the message that sex and violence go hand in hand than it is a warning
that this is something awful that should be stopped.
Despite general assumptions that have led to sex work being voted the job most likely
to get you chopped up and stuffed in garbage bags, the non-sex-working public is often
surprised to learn that sex workers have elaborate systems for screening potential clients.
Though screening and safety systems existed before the Internet—clients were some-
times approved through word of mouth from other workers and discreet but investigative
phone calls to the client’s place of business were made—the Internet has streamlined the
process. Screening serves a dual purpose: to conrm that a potential client is pleasant to
deal with and not dangerous or a rip-off artist and to prevent those who work in illegal
parts of the industry from getting busted.
Most ladies do some, if not all, of their client screening themselves. For the purposes of
this book, I’m primarily concerned with middle-class sex workers who use the Internet
as their primary source of obtaining clients and who work independently or in collabo-
ration with a few other women. I am not addressing the experiences of street workers
who advertise their wares by being present on a stroll known to be a place where com-
mercial sex can be acquired, because they are beginning and ending their transactions
in person rather than online. However, it’s important to note that street workers, like In-
ternet workers, often have very tight-knit systems of checking in with one another.
Independent workers who work through the Internet rely on several different forms of
free screening. Before they even get to that point, they rst decide what level of informa-
tion they require from a potential new client before agreeing to a session with him. Levels
of screening vary from worker to worker; it’s a matter that can cause cattiness and judg-
ment between fellow sex workers because oftentimes one provider may perceive another
as being too lax or overly paranoid. Some sex workers simply require a few exchanges of
email in which they assess the client’s general behavior and determine whether he brings
up anything illegal (“How much for a blow job?”) in his initial correspondence. This rst
level of screening, before and sometimes without the exchange of personal information,
tends to be the most basic and can simply be based on a gut feeling in regard to both
safety and compatibility issues. Most sex workers are not just concerned with their safety
and well-being, but also with their general sanity, and the question “Is this guy going to
annoy the hell out of me for the hour we’re together?” is usually a much more pressing
one than “Is he going to ax murder me?”
For providers who take screening measures beyond gut feelings and correspondence
with a client, a simple electronic check is the next step—and a lazy but curious girl’s best
friend. Just as many women have taken to Googling a potential date’s personal informa-
tion, many sex workers poke around the Internet in search of any and all information
they can nd about potential clients. Providers Google a client’s email addresses, phone
numbers, names, businesses, and whatever other shred of personal information the men
provide. For the most part, this kind of search isn’t going to yield any kind of “this man is
mean to hookers” explicit warning, but it may deliver vacation photos, a an-recipe blog,
or boring PowerPoint presentations about a company’s gains and losses—all of which
contribute to a better sense of who the man is in the real world. If a client is unwilling to
provide his real name and the provider doesn’t insist on it, his online nickname or handle
may be more than useful, because such men are likely to have set up email accounts
specically for their illicit affairs. These handles may lead the intrepid provider to client-
and-provider message board discussions starring the man in question.
Though message boards have their fair share of both comedy and tragedy as a sparring
ground between providers and clients, it’s worth going into the fact that they’re a valu-
able resource for women who want to have contact with other providers, and also for
those who want to sniff about for signs of insanity or general disrespect in a potential
client. More than that, public as well as membership-based message boards serve as
an interesting counterpoint to something that has grown out of the ease of information
sharing online: the bad-date list. Networks of sex workers, especially call girls, have al-
ways tended to maintain their own internal blacklists with the tacit agreement that no
girl in their particular circle will see such-and-such a client for whatever infraction they
deem serious enough. Those internal support systems aside, the Internet has led to an
increase in this type of information sharing.
Private provider-discussion Listservers, like the one run by Prostitutes of New York
(PONY), require a reference before a new provider can get on the list, and they often
have posts about trends in local and national law enforcement, sex worker news, and the
ever-important bad-date list. Providers circulate information meant to assist and protect
their fellow workers, and the information can include anything from “He smelled weird
and shorted me on my rate” to “This guy was high on something, freaked out, and pinned
me against a wall when our hour was up.” When possible, providers describe the clients
they wish to make persona non grata in as much detail as possible, including images and
driver’s licenses if they have them, as well as email and phone contacts. Once these de-
tails circulate, local sex workers band together and won’t see that client, and they’ll work
to circulate the information to warn other colleagues. Bad-date lists generally do a great
service to providers without exposing the clients to the whole world, though there are
instances where other sex workers on the list may encourage a fellow provider to go to
the police if she’s been assaulted.
The popularity and ease of self-publishing on the Internet via blogs and websites has
led to the rise of public bad-date lists and blacklists. This is due, in part, to the ease with
which workers can put up and update their own sites. While sex workers are unanimous
in their support of private bad-date lists, which help to keep providers safe and encour-
age a sense of community and concern for other workers, there is much debate over the
value of public bad-date lists.
The primary argument in favor of public bad-date lists is that by posting even a little
bit of a client’s information, like an email handle that he may use only for communicat-
ing with sex workers, the client is being held accountable. A public bad-date list does not
require any kind of registration or exchange of information to gain access. This makes
the list a powerful tool for sex workers who are not connected to other workers in their
area, but who have Internet access and stumble across the list. Though groups run by
sex workers are usually very diligent about their members’ privacy, some sex workers are
hesitant to trust other sex workers. Public bad-date lists published by sex workers directly
serve the workers: The lists supply the information without requiring that the sex worker
provide identifying details. Lars Ollson, who runs Don’t Fuck with Us!, a blacklist blog
for sex workers around Washington, D.C., maintains that “making the list public isn’t to
shame the client, but to motivate him to x the situation, and to show that we all talk to
each other.”2 Many clients may not be aware that sex workers talk to each other. Away
from the comfort of message boards, only die-hard hobbyists spend lots of time in the
company of like-minded enthusiasts. (At least as far as they know.) However, intentional
or not, if a client’s phone number or email turns up in a Google search that leads to a
blog that derides him for being mean to prostitutes he hires, that could probably be con-
strued as shaming.
Whereas the private bad-date list only serves the purpose of warning providers about
dangerous, unpleasant, or time-wasting clients, public blacklists serve two purposes:
warning providers and embarrassing clients. Of course, a client gives up his right to pri-
vacy and discretion (the things that keep the sex industry moving along) the moment he
robs or physically assaults a girl he has hired. And working girls often win cases against
clients who assault them, despite the fact that they’re sometimes in the throes of an il-
legal act when something like this happens. However, some of the incidents that qualify
clients for public bad-date lists fall into more of a gray area. On Don’t Fuck with Us!,
the most common offense is a “no call, no show” (NCNS in the industry lingo) appoint-
ment, which is when a client establishes and conrms a date and time but then isn’t
heard from again—or is maybe heard from after a bit of time passes and he wants to set
up another appointment. This kind of infraction, though annoying and disrespectful,
comes with the territory of being a sex worker; clients will occasionally ake out due to
cold feet, discovery by wives, last-minute change of plans, or a number of other excuses
that may or may not be valid. When a client violates the basic etiquette of a session in a
way that shows his ignorance of the situation but not his maliciousness, having his infor-
mation posted on a public bad-date list puts his infraction on the same level as those of
guys who push sex workers’ limits.
The NCNS client is a close cousin to the time waster. One of the curses and bless-
ings of the availability of ads for erotic hire on the Internet is that it sets up almost innite
opportunities for window-shopping. Because of the absence of face-to-face communica-
tion, online window-shopping often extends past looking and into emailing. However,
providers quickly get acquainted with the tactics of time wasters and learn to sniff them
out. These are guys who ask lots of questions that are thinly veiled attempts at acquir-
ing masturbatory material; they are vague about what they want and when and where
they want it. The New York– and New Jersey–area blog Black List is composed almost
entirely of lists of the emails of the time-wasting men who populate Craigslist’s Erotic
Services board.
Though clients, like service providers, are initially careful about concealing personal
information, things like phone numbers, which most providers require before agreeing
to an appointment, are easily traceable online through reverse-lookup services that give
the street address of whatever phone number is plugged into the system. As a result, it’s
fairly easy to link blacklisted men to their real-world identities: A simple Google search
turned up the real names and home addresses of several men on the Don’t Fuck with Us!
blog. Although men who remove condoms without telling their partner or cross physical
boundaries certainly deserve to be reprimanded at the very least, clients with more-minor
infractions are subject to blacklist-wielding providers’ whims as well, creating a power
dynamic based on shame and what could turn into blackmail.
Other than the whole personal-information-posted-online- without-consent thing, a
major side effect of public bad-date lists is that men who make good dates fear that their
personal information will wind up broadcast all over the Internet. After they’ve seen some
examples of the infractions men commit to land themselves on bad-date lists, I’m sure
that many potential clients shy away from making appointments. Likewise, sex workers
who mock would-be clients’ phone messages and emails on public forums are potentially
driving away perfectly harmless clients, who cower in fear from Internet wrath and keep
their wallets safely in their pockets. Some might perceive the posting of minor infractions
as sex workers acting out in various ways, but the reality is that sex workers are expected
to always be well behaved, while clients are not; clients are often less afraid of the con-
sequences of misbehaving because of that old “customer is always right” mentality—not
to mention their sense of male entitlement. Public blacklists are a way for sex workers to
anonymously lash out at bad and irritating clients. In essence, this functions as a solid
counterpart to the posting of anonymous reviews by clients who basically claim that the
providers need to be well behaved or be out of business.
Public bad-date lists might have their share of problems, including the fact that they
can spur a particularly litigious client into legal action. However, they do serve their pur-
pose well. The freedom to post information about bad clients allows sex workers to alert
each other to clients to avoid the next time this client’s email or phone number gets
Googled as part of a screening process, it will lead to the bad-date list, which wouldn’t
happen if the list were on an email list or password-protected message board. Public lists
may likewise get the attention of the men who are on them and are either directed to the
site as Don’t Fuck with Us! asks providers to do—or nd it through vanity Googling,
and they will know they’re being watched and disapproved of, much in the way that pro-
viders know this through reviews clients write.
Posting a client’s information online breaks with most clients’ top priority: being discreet
(or that cringe-worthy common Internet misspelling, “discrete”). Though providers are
at a higher risk of attracting the attention of law enforcement than their clients, wheth-
er a sex worker is discreet is one of the most common questions posed by clients when
seeking out a provider. This question has two unspoken dimensions to it: The rst is
“Please don’t show up at my hotel looking like the hookers I see on TV;” and the other
is “Please be very careful with the personal information I give you.” Just as different pro-
viders have requirements around how much information they need about a potential
client before they see him, clients’ comfort levels vary from person to person. As the sex
industry becomes increasingly professionalized, what information is required is becom-
ing more standardized, which has opened up the market to businesses whose sole pur-
pose is the sharing and protection of information.
The most widely used of these services are Room Service 2000, often referred to as
RS2K, and Date-Check, which is popular among escorts and occasionally used by in-
dependently operating dominatrices. Both sex workers and their potential clients need
to sign up to use the system and clients have to pay a one-time membership fee. The
client is required to submit a heap of personal information, including his full name and
credit card information, as well as a home and work address, the name of the company
he works for, and his position and title. This information is not passed directly on to the
provider, but it must be given for membership so that a provider can rest assured that
the client checked out when the website’s staff followed up on his points of contact. The
purpose here for Date-Check is the approving of the client, which gives providers the se-
curity that the client they are in touch with has passed a background check. RS2K creates
a buffer between the provider and her client’s personal details, which many clients like
because it means that their information is not at risk in the provider’s hands and they’re
reducing the risk of transmitting their personal information over the largely unsecured
Internet by having to go through the process just once rather than repeatedly. Providers
who list RS2K as a verication option sometimes give a discount for their sessions set up
using RS2K. In addition to their role as providers of screening, both websites have also
evolved into escort-advertising sites, making them sort of one-stop-shopping operations.
Though these sites certainly ll a need and step the escorting business up a notch—
out of the shadow realm of strange business dealings—they also create a new kind of mid-
dleman between the worker and her client. This can be both helpful and a hindrance.
Services like RS2K are a marker of the upscaling of escort businesses and a recognition
by business owners that there is legal money to be made from the sex industry. This ser-
vice, therefore, removes some of the power of interaction from an independent provider.
While many providers may be willing, even happy, to surrender the tedious and often
frustrating task of verifying a client’s identity, it nudges them away from independence
and one step closer to signing up with an escort agency or having their hard-earned mon-
ey soaked up in payments for other “necessary” services.
Lily, whose escorting career started when she worked for a Manhattan agency, took
on the responsibility of doing screening herself after going independent and prefers it
that way. She says, “I didn’t like the idea of putting screening into a third party’s hands.
I feel like I’m safer verifying a client myself.” Other sex workers who use the verication
services available feel that the companies offer a veneer of legitimacy. Beverly Fisher, an
escort from Denver, Colorado, disagrees with the idea that a third-party service is a hin-
drance, and says, “I see these services as a help for providers, and they help the clients
feel secure, like they don’t have to give providers all this extra information.”
Sex workers and businesses that take measures to protect them demonstrate a commit-
ment to making the sex industry a bit more organized, at least when it comes to the
topic of safety and making a prot. However, since the late 1970s, a growing number
of people involved in the sex industry have started to argue for and debate about sex
workers’ rights, supporting causes ranging from labor rights for legalized workers (like
strippers in the United States) to decriminalization of prostitution in places where it’s il-
legal to the more general and less quantiable struggle against the stigmas of being a sex
worker in most parts of the world. Just as the Internet has transformed advertising for sex
workers, it has increased the capacity for coalition building for sex-worker-rights activists
on both the local and global levels. Since the advent of the Internet and its communi-
cation tools, sex worker organizations that existed prior to the Internet have adapted to
using the new technology, and projects that might not have been possible without the
Internet have been launched and carried out.
Prostitutes of New York (PONY), a thirty-year-old sex worker support and activism
group that distributes information to its members through a moderated email list that
requires a recommendation to join, was once operated solely by sending discreet mail-
ings about events and actions affecting sex workers. Its members maintained a phone tree
to notify each other about meetings, as well as bad dates. PONY’s website is a one-page
informational site without any bells or whistles—or even its own domain—that’s main-
tained its exact same look since it was launched in 1996. The page offers minimal but
adequate information about the group; due to its simplicity, it seems as if PONY activities
don’t take place online. Though it’s true that there aren’t any public online forums as-
sociated with the organization, it has moved most of its written communications services
online. This shift has certainly attracted new members who aren’t necessarily ready to
make contact in person or by phone, or who aren’t willing to provide a mailing address,
but it has also contributed to the loss of members who aren’t technically savvy enough to
use the Internet or who don’t have access due to nancial constraints.
Like PONY, the Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) was formed before the Inter-
net became widely accessible and was transformed as the Internet made its way into the
homes and workplaces of more activists. Activists Cheryl Overs and Paulo Longo hatched
the idea for NSWP in 1991, and formalized it in 1992 to promote sex workers’ health
and human rights. By 1997, the NSWP Listserv was running strong, and its existence has
facilitated international communication and collaboration. Critics of NSWP say that
since going online the project has become increasingly American in terms of the voices
represented. This is mostly due to the fact that 75 percent of Americans have Internet
access, while in many developing countries, less than 5 percent of the population has ac-
cess. This is certainly a limiting factor, but the gains and time saving that have resulted
from the move online have made an immense impact within the activism community.
Melissa Ditmore, who works with NSWP, says, “The Internet has brought higher levels
of dialogue because the conversation is wider. Language is a huge issue—not only what
languages people can use for communication (English is the online standard for interna-
tional communication), but also the very words chosen. Specic issues, even things about
which everyone agrees, have to be presented differently in different contexts. Stronger
language is used in some places, while greater tact is required elsewhere.” Through the
unity the Internet brings, it also underscores international differences.
These differences both as obstacles and unifying forces—are part of what drove Ana
Lopes and her colleagues to form The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW). The
union is a part of Britain’s general union, GMB, and its benets are strongest for its mem-
bers. In January 2006, for example, the union won its rst-ever unfair-dismissal case for a sex
worker, against Essex-based phone sex company Datapro Services Limited.3 In this case, a
phone sex operator and IUSW union member named Irene Everitt, who had worked for
Datapro for eight years, was red after having been accused of gross industrial misconduct.
The union sued Datapro for her job and won. Though it’s not as effective in countries
outside of the UK, IUSW owes its international presence to the Internet. Says cofounder
Lopes, “I cannot imagine how my colleagues and I could have founded The International
Union of Sex Workers without the Internet. It was and is absolutely fundamental. It was
through reading other sex worker organizations’ websites that we became aware that sex
workers all over the world were demanding to be treated as workers. It was through email
and Internet discussion lists that our positions were formed, our policies developed.”
Sex workers’ activists groups aren’t necessarily a unied front, on the Internet or else-
where. Unions appeal to a small subset of sex workers who do work that can be union-
ized, like stripping and phone sex, which are legal in most places. For workers whose
jobs are illegal or who fear that unionization will take away some of the appealing pieces
of the sex industry its exible hours and the potential to earn a lot of money in a short
time unionization is not a primary concern. On the Internet, perhaps the most power-
ful way that sex workers disagree with sex-worker-rights groups is by disregarding them
entirely. While the more politically active groups focus on issues like unionization and
decriminalization of prostitution, many sex workers use the Internet solely to advertise
and connect with other sex workers in a social and business framework that they don’t
see as political in any way.
Melissa Gira, a San Francisco-based activist and one-woman Internet sexuality phe-
nomenon, is keenly aware of the role that online advertising has played in banding sex
workers together in ways that may not seem overtly political to them, but become so over
time. Though she began her sex work career as a dancer, Gira didn’t begin to discuss
the industry with other sex-workers until she began doing alt porn modeling online in
1999. At that point, she began meeting people through LiveJournal who were having
similar experiences. In the fall of 2000, a LiveJournal friend of Gira’s got arrested for es-
corting, which led to an uproar online, followed by pointed conversations among other
sex workers about the wrongs of the sex industry and what they could do about these is-
sues together.
For Gira, a major point of power was her ability to create her own media online.
Whereas PONY, NSWP, and the IUSW had all hired people to make and maintain their
websites, Gira struck out on her own and built her own sites for creating porn (on her
now-defunct site RadicalFaeries), camming (initially on NakkidNerds and then Beautiful
Toxin), and blogging (at LiveJournal and various incarnations of her own sites: Sacred
Whore and Melissa Gira). For Gira, the Internet facilitated ofine sessions with clients,
but perhaps more importantly, it created online opportunities for doing business and col-
laborating with other women. Gira says, “Porn on the web was a way to get all the models
talking to each other, and learning to do my own site and run my own business was politi-
cal for me then.” For many women, business and politics weave together in intricate ways.
This is not to say that all sex workers who talk to each other online become politicized
by sharing their experiences in a sort of “consciousness raising for the Internet genera-
tion” scenario. Gira, for instance, had already been working in a politicized environment
before making her own website and running her own business; for other women politics
don’t come into play unless their business is affected. Even so, threats to sex workers’
businesses and safety don’t necessarily turn most workers into activists overnight (or at
all): sometimes because they don’t want to spend more time than absolutely necessary on
their work, sometimes because they don’t want to risk a greater degree of exposure, and
sometimes because they just don’t care and want to be left alone to do their work.
The younger generation of sex workers—which really just comprises women who are
ve or ten years younger than the women who started groups like PONY and NSWP—
turns to the Internet rather matter-of-factly for advertising, information,and resources.
Women like Gira found community on the Internet partly because they were seeking it
out, but also because they were already spending social, working, and information-gath-
ering time online. Creating a network and support community among sex workers was a
natural progression for Gira and her colleagues.
In the summer of 2006, the swirl of online sex worker activism came to a head with
the Desiree Alliance’s four-day-long sex workers’ conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gira
and I were both members of the conference’s ofcial media team. Gira told me that the
conference was “the rst sex worker conference in the United States that I know of or-
ganized by mostly Internet-based sex workers using the net to organize the conference
itself.” Stacey Swimme, one of the conference’s organizers, echoes a point Melissa Dit-
more has made: that organizing online made it possible for an entire group of people to
be involved in the organizational process in a way that is actually democratic and respon-
sibility sharing. “Because of the Internet,” Swimme says, “we had more community buy-
in to the conference. More women felt responsible for and connected to what was going
on in the planning stages, so it made for a better and stronger conference.”
The strength of gathering on the Internet was very much apparent at the conference,
where many conversations among young women about day-to-day sex worker issues like
advertising, photographs, and safety hovered around issues connected to the Internet.
The women who came together at the conference, many meeting in person for the rst
time after lengthy correspondence online, were technically adept and overwhelmingly
young though young isn’t necessarily a shift away from what sex workers always have
been. Swimme believes that “the sex-worker-rights movement would not have moved
forward without the Internet, because the Internet links independent workers who are
exible in terms of class, work, and time available to work on activism projects.”
Social activism has long been the province of middle-class, college-educated white
kids, and judging by the attendees at the Desiree Alliance’s conference, the sex workers’
rights movement isn’t much different. Independence from pimps and harsh economic
situations is the norm for sex worker activists most women who are highly active in the
movement don’t work for agencies or other kinds of bosses, and many don’t have chil-
dren. Street workers are a minority in the activism scene, though the women who are
street workers and involved with activism are not hesitant to make their presence known.
After all, they’ve typically gone through a lot to be able to tell their stories. Most sex work-
ers’ rights advocates who aren’t street workers are keenly aware of the class disparities
within the ranks, and are concerned with diversity and representation, but are also wary
of speaking for other women and their needs.
Though it’s nearly impossible to characterize an average sex worker, the half-joking
T-shirt that reads I SUPPORT SINGLE MOMS next to an illustration of a stripper on a
pole is clearly based on the belief that many single mothers enter the sex industry because
of the potential for high earnings over a short time coupled with the appeal of a exible
work schedule. It’s true that there are plenty of single moms who work as sex workers, and
most of their activism is limited to online work, since the need for a exible schedule is
the very thing that prevents them from uprooting and attending a sex worker conference
for several days. Their activism may stay online, or their voices may not be heard at all
because of the nancial and time constraints of earning an income and supporting and
raising children. Single moms often choose the sex industry and forego standard middle-
class comforts in favor of exible schedules and an income that isn’t xed. The class di-
vide, especially when it comes to the Internet, is very strong, and when the jump from
online to in-person interaction occurs, it becomes even more apparent.
As the Internet has increasingly brought sex workers together, they have formed com-
munities with people in their towns as well as across the globe. They continue to maintain
their separate spaces as well, and to be guarded and suspicious of each other in certain
areas, which is a natural outgrowth of this line of work. Activism has been part and parcel
of the online shift toward being more connected for sex workers, and though the Inter-
net has enabled conversations to happen across the world about sex workers’ issues and
has allowed collaborations and comparisons of models to happen in a powerful way, sex
worker activism online has not just been about chatting and emailing, but about real co-
alition building. So much about activism and coalition building is essentially about com-
munication, and the ease and speed of the Internet at least for those who have access to
it—brings both communication and activism to a whole new level. In this respect, even
sex workers who are not interested in joining activist networks benet from the work and
awareness of other sex workers.
1 “Sex work,’ is a phrase that was coined by self-proclaimed whore activist Scarlot
Harlot in the late 1970s to refer to the explicit exchange of erotic labor for a mutu-
ally agreed upon amount of money, goods, or services. Though “sex work” is often
considered to be a euphemism for prostitution, the sex industry encompasses many
different kinds of work—stripping, naked oil wrestling, phone sex, domination, and
panty hose modeling, to name a few—many of which never involve genital contact
and some of which don’t involve any kind of physical contact at all. Just as there
are many different kinds of sex work, workers have many names for the work they
do. More politically active folks tend to refer to themselves as “sex workers,” which
is linked right up with socialisty, labor organizey folks (even if those same people
don’t connect themselves with the struggles of said sex workers). Most women
in the industry identify themselves with respect to their specic job: escort, porn
performer, dancer, masseuse, dominatrix. Despite the names different types of per-
formers and service workers prefer, I will be using the term “sex work” throughout
this chapter, though when quoting workers, I have left their lingo usage intact, and
I refer to the workers however they choose to refer to themselves.
2 Lars Ollson and Tracy Quan. “Positions: Are Public Client Blacklists a Good
Idea?” $pread Magazine (Summer 2006): 10.
3 “Sex Workers: GMB Wins First Ever Unfair Dismissal Case,” Independent Media
Center (2006),
THE BEST OF BLOGS: Annual reader-nominated and voted on awards for blogs in
many different categories, including Best Sex Blog.
BEVERLY FISHER: Denver-based escort and writer.
BLACK LIST: a New York– and New Jersey–area blog that is seldom updated but has
several extensive lists of emails used by men who attempt to hire providers through
CATHERINE LA CROIX: Catherine does sex work and sexuality consultation, which
she details on her website. She is also the author of the self-published book On Our
Backs, Off Our Knees: A Declaration of Independence by a Modern Sacred Whore.
DENZI: Denzi is a middle-aged escort who used the Internet to remake herself after a
career in her teens and early twenties as a street prostitute.
DON’T FUCK WITH US!: Run by a Washington, D.C.–area male escort, mostly male
workers in and around D.C. list their grievances with various clients, whose aliases and
phone numbers they post.
tive in the U.K. that uses the Internet as an organizing tool.
MAX FISCH DOMINA GUIDE: The premier site for listings and links to the websites of
professional dommes around the United States. Also hosts a very active discussion board.
NETWORK OF SEX WORK PROJECTS (NSWP): Project linking together sex work
projects from around the globe; members’ meetings often take place online.
PROSTITUTES OF NEW YORK (PONY): New York City–based organization for sex
workers with a thirty-year history.
ROOM SERVICE 2000 AND DATE-CHECK: Websites that offer client-verication
services for escorts.
and advertising websites where providers and hobbyists can interact and hobbyists can
review providers.
VERONICA MONET: Veronica is a former sex worker who offers sexuality education
and consultations and is the author of Veronica Monet’s Sex Secrets of Escorts: What
Men Really Want.
Copyright 2007 by Audacia Ray from Naked on the Internet: Hookups Downloads and
Cashing in on Internet Sexploration. Printed by permission of Seal Press (www.seal- and imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
‘The industrialization, through home computers, of physical and psychical care
and hygiene, children’s education, cooking or sexual technique is precisely desig-
nated to generate capitalist prots from activities still left to individual fantasy.’
(Gorz, 1982:84)
‘What do the punters want from us?[..]Right now, it’s the psychological part that is
most important[...] With the kind of clients I have, the real work is not so much physi-
cal as it is intellectual.’
- Lucrezia
‘We sell an idea. On the street they sell pieces of meat.
- Luciana.
‘In Colombia people fuck much more. The whores do it, and other women do it too.
Here it seems men mostly take their pleasure in thinking up things.’
- Patricia.
For Lucrezia, Luciana and Patrizia, up-market sex-workers interviewed by Alessando dal
Lago and Emilio Quadrelli in their brilliant survey of the hidden life of a contempo-
rary European metropolis (dal Lago & Quadrelli, 2003:208-209), the most important
aspects of their metiér is intellectual and cerebral. It is their capacity to pretend and
perform; to make up situations and relations that satises the demands of their middle
class professional clients, and as Luciana comments, sets them off from the ‘meat mar-
Adam Arvidsson
ket’ on the street where working-class men go. Furthermore, the stories told in dal Lago
& Quadrelli’s book indicate that at least among middle and upper class clients, the de-
mand for more ‘advanced’ , ‘cerebral’ (or ‘kinky’) services has increased in recent years.
Certainly, the enriched media environment video cassettes in the 1980s and Internet
porn in the 1990s has greatly enhanced the erotic imaginary of the European middle
classes (McNair, 1996, O’Toole, 1998). As an industry with about twice the turn-over of
the Disney corporation, and with a highly differentiated structure (operators range from
large vertically integrated companies to small amateur enterprises), Internet porn offers
any conceivable kind of kink at just a couple of mouse-clicks’ distance (Cronin & Dav-
enport, 2001, Lane, 2000). Patricia’s comparison with Columbia (presumably based on
personal experience) is suggestive (if far from conclusive) in this respect. Is it the case
that where the habit of surng the net for thrills is less widespread, sex is generally more
corporal and direct? While in relatively well-wired Northern Italy men are used to in-
vesting time and energy in their fantasies and want comparable Real Life performances?
Looking at the turnover and popularity of Internet porn one could suggest that the three
women’s experiences with increasingly cerebral sexual demands could be a side effect
of the further ‘industrialisation of fantasy’ that André Gorz predicted be a consequence
of the spread of computers and information technologies. These technologies have en-
hanced the capacity to fantasise about things like sex. This, one could hypothesise, has
produced more advanced and more fantastic demands on the part of the consumers of
sex worker services. If this is true, then the ‘industrialisation of fantasy’ on the part of
new media technologies has re-positioned such fantasising from a private, essentially
recreational and non-productive activity, to an integral, productive element of the value
chain of the booming sex/porn industry. How, this chapter asks, can we understand this
new relation between technology, fantasy and value theoretically?
While (decreasingly) marginal to respectable academic debates, the porn industry
seems to supply a paradigm case for the emerging ‘new’ or ‘second’ (in the sense of Web
2.0) information economy. This not only in the sense that the porn industry has been a
driving factor behind the development of new technologies (like Real Time Streaming)
and new media forms (like the Amateur genre), but also in the sense that the subjec-
tive relations (or forms of ‘interpellation’ to use Althusser’s old term) promoted by porn
(both on and off line) are becoming exemplary of the ways in which consumers or view-
ers are positioned as value producing subjects by the new information economy in gen-
eral. Phenomena like SecondLife, MySpace, the booming Internet dating sector and
most of what is known as Web 2.0, are increasingly based on the ability of viewers to pro-
duce affective relations to others in the absence of ‘meaty’ embodiments. Such fantasis-
ing about the other is precisely what porn consumers have engaged in ever since the
inception sometime in the mid-1700s of modern pornography. The new element
in online porn, as in Web 2.0 more generally, is that such fantasising is now becoming
critical not only to the realisation of value (where Marx placed it, but also to the produc-
tion of value (cf. Miranda, 1998). The imagination is empowered, but it is also put to
work as an important source of prots.
This affective productivity has itself been greatly empowered by new information and
communication technologies.
Internet porn thus shows how an emerging productive power a media enhanced
capacity to imagine and relate, which is itself a consequence of the particular sociological
and technological features of the information society can be subsumed under capital
as a source of surplus value.
Seen this way, Internet porn is but one aspect of a more general trend to commodify
our ability to construct a common social world through communicative interaction, put-
ting it to work in generating economically valuable outcomes (Arendt, 1958, Habermas
1984, 1987, Hardt & Negri, 2004). Indeed, one can argue that such a movement towards
the commodication of the common constitutes an emerging paradigm of valorisation in
e-commerce (as well as in other vanguard sectors like software development, biotech,
brand management and design). The rst strategy that guided the commercialisation of
the Internet in the mid 1990s built mainly on a vision of that medium as a new chan-
nel for the provision of content. The key to making money online was to capture con-
sumers, or ‘eye-balls,’ to whom one (commercial sectors?) could subsequently broadcast
ready-made products through new channels. This was the economic rationale behind
the merger of large media companies with large content libraries, like Time-Warner with
Internet portals, like AOL. Even though this strategy allowed for a certain amount of ‘in-
teractivity’ (as to the choice of feature and time of viewing), it basically replicated an older
broadcasting logic in which content was understood as produced by professionals, and
then broadcast to a public of consumers. But already the success of AOL in accumulating
a critical mass of ‘eyeballs’ built on different relations between ‘producers’ and ‘consum-
ers.’ To a large extent AOL’s success derived from the unpaid efforts of tens of thousands
of volunteers who administered online communities, actively contributed to discussion
groups and built and maintained websites. It is estimated that in 1996, ‘at the peak of the
volunteer movement, over 30.000 community leaders were helping AOL to generate at
least $7 million a month’ (Terranova, 2004:92). The success of AOL thus already built on
the ability to put the communicative production of users to work. Stretching the deni-
tion a bit, we can argue that a similar principle stands behind more recent forms of media
voyeurism, like web-cams or reality television, where viewers interact and engage in a
‘work of watching’ that effectively extends the production of valuable content to include
the social and communicative processes of the life-world (Andrejevic, 2003).
This strategy actively utilises the interactive bias of the medium. It builds on putting
to work, stimulating or empowering the human ability to create a common through in-
vestments of affect. To quote one Merrill Lynch consultant: ‘to say that the Internet is
about information is the same as saying that cooking is about oven temperature right,
but wrong. The real creator of value is relationships’ (Schrage, 1997). This relational ca-
pacity is then made to evolve in such ways that it creates an enclosable area for which one
can charge access fees or it is made to sustain a distinct brand identity.
The commodication of affect is nothing new in itself. Already Karl Marx recognised
the potential value of the production of common meanings and aesthetic experiences,
through the labour of singers, schoolmasters and poets. But he considered these activities
so marginal in relation to capitalist production overall that it was not worth wasting much
intellectual energy on them. Until recently most economists Marxists or not have
shared this view of immaterial production as economically insignicant. We can date the
rediscovery of immaterial labour to the 1970s when feminist economists began to argue
for the productivity of housework and the mostly female production of affect and care in
general. It accelerated in the 1980s as the developing service economy was the subject
of a host of studies of service professionals, like air-line stewardesses and retail personnel.
Recently, the focus on immaterial labour has come to invest the new culture industries
or ‘creative industries’ and the contemporary ‘creative’ workforce as such. An important
part of the productivity of such knowledge-intensive professional workers is understood to
rest with their capacity to work with sociality and communication to produce the kinds of
social circumstances (project teams) and shared meaning complexes (corporate culture)
that allow a exible adaptation of the production process to the rapidly shifting demands
of a volatile market environment. There is also a growing body of literature that stresses
the connection between the mediatisation of the work process and the necessity of, and
capacity for, such immaterial, affective work, (Zuboff, 1988, Mowshowitz, 2002). To my
mind, this points to the possibility of a more general connection between the mediatisa-
ton of the social and the productivity of affect.
Arguably, Marx is not the right thinker to start with in establishing that connection.
A better point of departure is Gabriel Tarde. This long marginalised (but recently redis-
covered) sociologist pointed to the direct economic relevance of public communication.
In his Psychologie économique (Tarde, 1902), he argued that, at least for luxury goods, the
value of a commodity was partially determined by the public production of standards of
‘truth, beauty and utility’ that could serve as a measure (because such goods did not have
a place within traditional standards of value). The cognitive and affective productivity of
the public should thus be understood as an integral element to a society-wide, extended
production process by means of which the values of such goods were established. Tarde’s
argument was that the public could serve as such a productive subject because it was not
directly tied into the xed codes of traditional social circles. Rather, the public mobilised
individuals across geographical and cultural boundaries in a sort of transversal network-
ing of minds. This autonomy of the public allowed it to produce ideas that could not
emerge elsewhere. In short, the productivity of the public rested on its particular ability
to fantasise, and likewise construct virtual alternatives to the actual.
Indeed such a relation between the mediatisation of public communication and the
enhanced powers of fantasy has stood at the core of critical receptions of new media tech-
nologies for a long time. An enhanced capacity for fantasy has been perceived as the ip-
side to the new capacity for rational argument that has commonly been attributed to the
emergence of the modern public. One of the central preoccupations of early social theo-
rists was that the new mass media would create excessive powers of imagination. People
would imagine situations that they simply could not realise, or situations which realisa-
tion would severely disrupt the established order of things. Gustave LeBon (1896[1991]),
Scipio Sighele (1901) and later Ortega y Gasset’s (1932) preoccupations with the disrup-
tive effects of the mass mind are examples of the second attitude (as are instances of press
censorship and the eighteenth century suppression of coffee houses). Emile Durkheim’s
(1897[1966]) concept of ‘anomie’ is an example of the rst attitude. He argued that the
greatly enhanced powers of the imagination that characterize modernity risk propelling
the individual’s plans and prospects beyond what is realistically possible or socially per-
missible. Divorced men, Durkheim argued, risk becoming anomic because, beyond the
limits of marriage, they are now free to imagine a sexual life too fantastic to be realised. It
is telling that Durkheim choose love and sex, or to use a common term , ‘the erotic’ as an
example of the anomic dangers of the modern, mediatised intellect. As Lynn Hunt (1993)
among others have argued, the mediatisation of erotic fantasy, from the early publications
of libertine thinkers like the Marquis de Sade onward, there has been a powerful and
potentially destabilising force of the imagination. Sade’s imaginations of fantastic erotic
relations were deeply intertwined with fantasies of a different social and moral order.
When censorship of erotic publications began in the mid–1800s, mass literacy, cheaper
printing technologies and signicantly photography, had empowered a mass capacity
to fantasise about sex and, by implication, about ‘a new standard for sexual difference’
(O’Toole, 1998). Female erotic fantasies have been feared to have equally disruptive re-
sults. In fascist Italy, the new erotic demeanour of young urban girls, who modelled their
behaviour on Hollywood lms and romantic stories in new, American-style women’s
magazines, was perceived to have dangerous consequences for established gender roles
as well as for female fertility (de Grazia, 1992). In India in the 1950s, newspapers and
cinema were major driving forces behind the emergence of non-traditional attitudes to
love and marriage (Gist, 1953). In the 1950s, sociologists Francesco Alberoni and Guido
Baglioni (1965) argued that the new ‘urban culture’ spread by television had made girls
in Southern Italy refuse to marry peasant men. This they claimed was a major push fac-
tor behind migrations. In short, the erotic has historically proven to be an important ex-
ample of how the media can enhance the capacity to imagine social relations, and how
this enhanced capacity can subsequently have real, transformative effects.
Indeed, it is telling that according to Thomas Laqueur’s history of masturbation, the
real dangers of the ‘solitary vice’ were not so much physical as they were social. He shows
how enlightenment thinkers form Voltaire and Rosseau to Kant worried about masturba-
tion primarily because it risked deviating psychic energy away from the moral project of
the social towards the individualistic pursuit of fantasy. ‘Autoerotic sexuality was at odds
with social and moral life as it ought to be lived,’ it risked making the subject ‘hopelessly
enslaved to himself’ (Laqueur, 2003:42). This perspective on masturbation as an asocial
or even anti-social danger prevails until the 1970s, when masturbation begins to be taken
up by the feminist movement. The right to control one’s own fantasy now becomes some-
thing to ght for and ght with. The possibility to imagine alternative forms of sexual rela-
tions becomes a political tool. Finally in the 1990s, masturbation becomes an important
business. Through the diffusion of the Internet, masturbatory fantasies could be shared,
collectively produced and augmented by a booming Internet porn industry, to ultimately
feed into an equally successful industry for the manufacture of various props and tools. In
true Tardian fashion, the explosion of Internet smut served to make companies like Doc
Johnson, the largest sex toy manufacturer in the US, go from a turn-over of $ 8 million in
1990 to $ 45 million in 2000, or Beate Ushe, their German equivalent, to increase sales
by 50 per cent between 1999 and 2000 (Laqueur, 2003:78 not to speak of the turn-over
of the actual porn business itself, cf. Cronin& Davenport, 2001, Lane, 2000). It is telling
that as the Internet realises the hidden potential of the masturbatory economy, fantasies
become interactive. True, a lot of online porn sites are about the simple provision of con-
tent. But, the growing trend is to provide spaces for interaction be this a blog, an interac-
tive strip-tease, or biographical information on models that makes possible identication
and an intimacy that extends beyond the strictly carnal. This is particularly evident in
new forms of amateur pornography, where users are invited to follow the models around
as they ‘masturbate and water the plants and walk the dog and take college classes’ thus
approximating a form of consumption that builds on ‘the abolition of the spectacular in
favour of other models of relationality’ (Pattersson, 2004:112, 119, cf. McNair, 1998).
This interactivity has been pushed yet another step by the emergence of blogging. There
are at present blogs for most erotic specialities, that combine postings, ction and other
forms of ‘user-produced’ content with links to commercial and non-commercial content
sites. Some commercial ventures, like, has realised the potential in this en-
hanced interactivity: constituting itself as a platform that links different users and their
different activities (bloging, dating, producing ction, posting photos) into a community
which is not only highly educated but also actively involved in their topics of interest (‘all
things smart, sexy and culturally important and entertaining’). Advertisers are invited to
weave their messages into the environment of the site, to place their products as part of
the context within which communication unfolds.
Sites like are thus an excellent example of the tendency to put to work the
capacity for interactive fantasising that computer-mediated communication promotes.
It utilises the dual capacity of network information technologies to function both as a
means for enhancing desire and as a means for channelling and managing it. Indeed,
in the absence of old Fordist institutions (like the family, the state and the party), desire
tends to be directly organised by media circuits. This way, value and prots come to de-
pend, as Daniel Dieuaide (2006) argues, on the ability to control such ows of desire.
The productive power of capital becomes an organising capacity that extends far outside
the individual rm. This is particularly clear in the diminishing boundaries between on-
line porn and real life sexuality. One no longer simply produces a pornographic lm.
One invests in a particular fetish ‘scene’ that comprises online content, blogs, spaces in
SecondLife and communities on MySpace, and importantly, a lived ‘scene’ with clubs,
bars, shops and professionals, where the particular form of desire is lived out. This way
the hyper-reality of porn with its streamlined fashions and standardised practices is
incarnated in the ethically signicant, affective reality of real life: porn becomes sex. In-
deed, in this way the economy of fetishism profoundly resembles that of the brand, the
perhaps paradigmatic capitalist institution of the information economy (cf. Arvidsson,
2006). The brand (perhaps the original fetish, pace Marx) also accumulates value by
pre-structuring and programming circuits of desire. Like the commercial fetish it does
not command the desire of the user, but empowers it in a particular way: want a pair
of sneakers? These are the ways you can be with them and relate to what you do with
them. Feel like S/M, these are the costumes, whips and scenarios… This form of power
is distinctive, as Žižek(1999) suggested, it says not ‘You Must!’ but ‘You May!’ It is ulti-
mately based on the fusion of media and life, and the plasticity that this entails.
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Arvidsson, A. (2006) Brands. Meaning and Value in Media Culture, London, Rout-
Cronin, B. and E. Davenport (2001) ‘E-rogenous Zones: Positioning Pornography in the
Digital Economy’ in The Information Society, 17(1) pp. 33-48.
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Capitalismo Cognitivo, Roma, Manifestolibri.
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London, Routledge.
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Le Bon, G. (1896[1991]) Psychologie des foules, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.
McNair, B. (1996) Mediated Sex. Pornography and Postmodern Culture,
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Erotic/pornographic sites (from now on: X-sites1) are among the most popular on the
Internet and form one of its constitutive moments. Worldwide there are, depend-
ing on the estimation, between two and ten million of them. They signify a phenom-
enon of important dimensions, whose economic, societal and cultural consequences
are hardly surveyable, but that surely are and will become gigantic. At the same time,
old taboos concerning sexuality are evidently active even under cyber-relations: of-
ine, the theme ‘eroticism on the Internet’ is largely ignored and with traditional so-
cio-economic surveys such as Kinsey2 one only obtains highly distorted results. In the
following article, we choose a different, more useful approach, as we will analyse the
interrelations between search machines and X-sites; in particular, we evaluate the re-
quests made at various, usually German, search machines. There are neither taboos nor
interview-effects here, but simply the naked truth concerning the desires of the user.
The search forms an elementary human function, and in all likelihood plays a role in
many universes. Like many elementary human functions it can be formalised: besides
the human (“Where are my glasses?”), the search has, in the last decades, been notice-
ably expressed in software; maybe most prominently so in the UNIX-command ctrl F (=
nd), even though that does relate only to the search within a document. With the In-
ternet emerged the so-called search machines, necessary software to retain an overview
within the ow of netdocuments, and to nd just those documents related to the theme
one is actually searching for. There are currently attempts underway to develop search
mechanisms that directly search for images, but for the time being they are still based
Manuel Bonik and Andreas Schaale
on text as it can be found on HTML-, DOC-, PDF- and other pages as well as in their
Metatags. From this has developed in the last years a full-blown search-machine-indus-
try,3 which is currently most prominently represented in the public sphere by the name
and business of Google. Others include: AltaVista, Look Smart, Inktomi, Infoseek and
Fireball. Even though Google currently seems to possess almost a monopoly4 in the
public perception, search machines are also subjected to fashions. Yesterday it was Alta-
Vista, today it is Google or Yahoo, and tomorrow another search machine might be the
new star for whatever reason. Even Microsoft has recently entered this business with its
MSN Search and clearly possesses the capabilities to increase its market share in this
eld. In the area of open-source, Nutch5 can be mentioned.
Whenever the search is mentioned, most people will probably think of search machines
such as Google or Yahoo. Yet, search machines are not the only eld in which search
technology6 is being used; one need only think of the fact that some of the most popular
and successful websites are based on search technology, such as Amazon, EBay, iTunes
or the dating-site, Adult Friend Finder. Many websites incorporate their own search
masks (‘sitesearch’) and on the intranet of businesses, for example, there are numerous
search-applications in relation to databases and content-management-systems.7
On the other private side of applications, there are now various software applica-
tions that perform a ‘Desktop Search,’ the search on your own computer(s). Desktop
search returns home to a certain extent the search technology of the Internet and it may
be expected that it will also transform the dealings with information there: no longer is
there any need to save data within hierarchical and sensible structures, instead one can
leave data at arbitrary locations on the computer and crawl through these data when-
ever needed. It must be said, however, that we do not necessarily rate the applications of
Google and Yahoo among the best8 and in relation to desktop search we would currently
advise Copernic.9
Whenever starting a request in a search machine, many people probably believe that
by doing so they trigger a search of the complete intended database, for example the
Internet. That is not the case, or at least not in real-time to the actual request. In prin-
ciple, such (almost) real-time requests are possible, but usually reserved for those tech-
nologies that are much more elaborate and expensive than popular applications such as
Google. In practice, search machines do search the Internet and send bots, spiders and
other agents to crawl through the databases of sites, but they do so at various rhythms,
and for various reasons, and therefore not in real-time. With the information collected
by these agents, indices are built that contain the information of/about the visited sites
in condensed form, simplied and searchable according to algorithm. These indices are
saved on the servers of the respective search machines which then make the connection
with the site containing the referenced information (hopefully still there since the last
spider-visit). Currently (August 2005), the index of Google contains approximately 11.3
billion documents; Yahoo almost twice as many 20.8 billion documents of which,
according to Yahoo, more than 1.6 billion are images and more than fty million are
audio and video-data.
The user’s search request is decisive for determining which links appear on top of the
list of results. One can search for ‘cuckoo clocks,’ ‘tits’ or ‘images with blue dildos, but
without men,’ and receive a list that might contain a few million results. Only a minority
of users even takes a look at the second page of the list that which is not on the rst page
does not exist for them on the Internet. In this regard, ranking-methods that determine
the rank of a site on these lists are hugely important. Various criteria have been developed
to measure the relevance of a site, such as the pagerank-method of Google or the vox
populi-algorithm.10 Traditional ranking-methods function on a strictly algorithmic basis
and measure, for example, the frequency of keywords on websites or the amount of links
from acknowledged, ‘serious’ websites to the concerned site. On webcatalogues, on the
other hand, sites can be recommended for inclusion in the list and it is a (human) edito-
rial staff that checks these recommendations by hand.11 Finally, there are commercially
oriented methods, where positions in the list can be bought, and all possible mixtures
between these methods.12
The sale of positions on the list of results is of vital importance to the business model of
Google it is here that advertising revenues are earned. Many struggles are therefore rag-
ing on the Internet for these positions: under the keyword of ‘search-optimisation’ (legal
and illegal) ways are sought to improve the position of websites in the lists. Among the il-
legal methods one can count ‘linkfarming’ or ‘Google Bombing,’ and considerable invest-
ments are made in the development of search algorithms etc. to counter these methods.
Lately, since the 2004, stock exchange public offering of Google has a wider public
been shown how important search machines and search technologies actually are.
‘Googling’ has in many countries become part of colloquial language. Meanwhile, the
search-market is very dynamic and heavily fought over. In June 2005, according to the
press agency AP as well as Spiegel Online, the market share of Google was 36,9 percent,
and before Yahoo with 30,4 percent, and now the newly launched search of Microsoft,
MSN Search,13 is doing well in business.
Google is so successful that its actual core business, the search for texts, hardly prom-
ises any further growth. This is why Google (and its competitors) are currently continu-
ally developing new segments of business, such as the already mentioned desktop-search,
the library-full-text search Google Library, or most recently, the satellite-image-software,
Google Earth, which enables zoom-travels across a virtual globe.
Furthermore, image-, audio- and video-data increasingly come in the search ma-
chines’ eld of vision. At the end of August, Yahoo launched a special audio-search that
also includes online music stores and enables price comparisons of titles. Of course,
this especially the search for music is momentarily a particularly sensitive issue; one
need only recall Napster and, of course, more topically with a smirk, the panic reactions
of western music-industries when it comes to the Russian search machine
Pornography has, as is well known, not emerged with the Internet, but the Internet has
merely increased its spread and, as one may suspect, its effect. Images of naked bodies
are part of ancient statements of human culture. One need only mention here the Ve-
nus of Willendorf (ca. 25.000 BC) or the frescos of Pompeii.
In the history of art, the nude, in particular the female nude, has played an important
role from the very beginning, and up to this day: merely taking a look at the yearly survey
of the art market on the most heavily dealt works of the year in the Frankfurter Allgemei-
ne Zeitung,14 shows that a substantial amount of these are female nudes. Pornography as
an autonomous genre came into being at the latest with the emergence of photography
around the mid-nineteenth century, which created new possibilities of real-time-portray-
al; its multiplication and reproduction created new routes of distribution. A lot of people
could now see what previously had been reserved to those privileged strata that could
afford art.15 Pornography became part of popular culture, although a very special part,
since it touched upon ancient pleasures and fears and long-standing complex systems of
rules that people have constructed in the area of sex.
In similar and at the same time non-comparable ways, did the experience of Inter-
net pornography bring new quantitative and qualitative dimensions (and the other way
round)16, and this time the cultural break seems to be of an even more dramatic nature.
This is not necessarily to be judged in a negative fashion, either from a conservative-mor-
alist or a Foucauldian17 point of view. One need only think of the damage that has been
done (and in Islamic or catholic countries still is) by religious sex-controls to be grate-
ful for the contributions of X-sites as a form of education: the story of the stork will no
longer convince contemporary youth. However, one does not know how their sexuality
will develop when they are, from a tender age, only a few mouseclicks away from sexual
content of all possible qualities and thus maybe moulded by less welcome role clichés.
But to know this is not the task of this text: for one attempt to understand X-sites as a posi-
tive utopia, we refer to the Crash Conference paper “Pornographic Coding”18 of Florian
Cramer and Stewart Home.
According to some estimates, more than fty percent of Internet-trafc is generated
by pornography- and eroticism-sites (including peer to peer networks); more conserva-
tive calculations start at thirty percent (thirty percent of the top 100 keywords in Ger-
man search engines are sex related19). In a 2004 study, the rm Secure Computing20
has researched how X-sites are distributed between the various country-domains: .de21
amounted to 10,030,200 sites; second place was the United Kingdom with neverthe-
less still 8,506,800 sites. In addition to these, there are many times larger amounts of US
sites, but these are usually registered under .com22 and are therefore not encompassed
by this study. At the same time, these gures need to be reduced by considerable dimen-
sions, since only a part of these X-sites actually offer content themselves, whereas other
sites are either indexes or search-machine-sites or are fakes anyway. This last category
includes linkfarms and other types of sites that carry all sorts of searchable terms in their
text and/or metatags, but these merely serve the purpose of generating trafc and do not
actually offer content or links to content. Since such spam-sites are particularly active
within the eld of eroticism, it is only possible to give a very rough estimate of ‘real’ do-
mains with adult content these might amount to anything between two and ten mil-
lion sites worldwide.
Taking a look at the ranking compiled by the Alexa ranking-system for international
websites - installable as a plug-in for your browser one doesn’t nd any X-sites on the
top of the list, but as expected sites like (Alexa-rank 1), (8) or Mi-
crosoft (11). Even before Apple (69), however, is already ranked the dating site Adult
Friend Finder23 with an Alexa-rank of 45. Within the three-digit range X-sites are often
to be found, such as the Dutch site (775) or (866). An X-site
such as all in all achieves with approximately 3.5-million search requests
per day (self-advertisement) rank number 1.953 and a large amount of the four- and
ve-digit rankings are actually X-sites. This is comparable to non-X-sites such as Wash- (207), the Süddeutsche Zeitung (, 2.983),24 the US gov-
ernment (, 6.159) or the German government (, 90.219). has a ranking of 5.032.530.25
Interesting among the X-sites is (Alexa-ranking 2.576), the Alt Sex Sto-
ries Test Repository, since this is not a commercial pornsite, but a real community-site.
Here there are no images, but solely stories written by community-members and offered
online for free. The asstr-archive momentarily contains around 250.000 documents.
Wanting to psychologise, one could argue: X-sites are in many ways immediate (sexual)
wish-fullments. For many, they may constitute a far-reaching although not necessar-
ily a hundred per cent substitution for (sexual) relations with real human beings. One
can surmise that quite some men spend their overtime in the ofce before the computer
screen with their hand on their very own joystick. No wonder that he feels overtired and
is not in the mood at night to gratify his real wife or girlfriend with intercourse. Maybe
X-sites have something to do with the low birth rates in the advanced industrial nations?
Or is the collapse of the New Economy connected to the sexual weakening of its man-
agers? But, all these are speculations and, seen from a more positive side, it is still better
that man masturbates than develops a lust for war.
The millions of X-sites on the Internet are available around the clock. Contrary to the
expensive porn magazines, pornography on the Internet is largely free of charge. And con-
trary to the magazines, one no longer has to visit the kiosk, the sex shop or the peep show
to get access to pornography; one can simply download it anonymously (whatever ‘anony-
mous’ may signify on the Internet) at home or in the ofce and ‘enjoy’ and that means
without control of concrete persons toward which one ought to be ashamed. The uses range
from the mainstream-user to the Otaku, from the woman who followed the link in one of the
women’s magazines and nally would like to know what is going on there, to the pervert; to
what extent X-sites are used by two or more people together is something we can not assess.
Pornography constitutes, as delineated above, a large factor on the Internet and a full-
edged industry. Its turnover can, similar to the amount of ‘real’ X-sites, only be es-
timated and this is to an important extent the case because much of the X-business
traditionally takes place behind the scenes. For the year 2004 estimates range from at
least ve million to twenty or even thirty billion US dollars. Serious X-sites, those with
their own contents, offer a large part of these contents for free on pages with series com-
prised of some dozen images (galleries) or a few brief videoclips that function as teas-
ers for possible subscribers or that are simply there to generate trafc (with which one
can also earn money). Subscribers receive passwords and/or dialers and are then able to
advance to the ‘secrets’ of the site: series of longer duration or higher resolution or spe-
cial services like webcams or livechats with porn actresses/actors.26 In general, however,
subscriptions seem aimed at inexperienced Internet users,27 since an extreme amount of
pornography is available for free and often the various offers on the opening pages con-
verge with the content of the subscribers’ pages i.e., there is actually nothing ‘more’ to
see here.
‘Real’ X-sites often have a consistent aesthetic: from amateur-sites with rough vid-
eo-resolution recordings (and such an amateurish suggestion can very well be con-
sciously staged by professionals to conjure up authenticity) to high-end sites such as
Playboy. And many content providers have consequently also developed a specialisa-
tion on specic genres, such as Most Erotic Teens with soft focus photographs in the
tradition of bilitis-lms or Blacks On Blondes with interracial hardcore (mostly a white
woman and one or more black men). At Captain Stabbin they’re humping on boats,
at Backseatbanger in driving cars (after offering supposedly accidental passers-by a few
dollar notes that are then also shown and the amount of which is willingly mentioned).
To these ‘real’ X-sites one normally gains access through specialised search machines
and webcatalogues it is these that will concern us here in more detail. Before doing
so, it needs to be mentioned that ‘real’ X-sites have to be seen alongside vast numbers
of ‘unreal’ X-sites, i.e., contents are suggested in order to incite inexperienced users to
download expensive dialers. Something similar is aimed at by the all too known spam
mails; ‘real’ X-sites tend not to send spam. ‘Unreal’ X-search-sites offer pseudo text-links
or suggest, with images stolen from somewhere else on the net, access to contents. Usu-
ally, however, they are merely there to generate trafc and effectively do nothing more
for the user than starting pop-ups and/or leading the user to further ‘unreal’ X-search-
sites; viruses are easily spread via these kinds of sites. Finally, there are those mixed
forms of X-search-sites in a way of ‘hybrid seriosity’ that partly leads to real content
and partly to fake pages. Apart from that, though, there might be users for whom surng
from fake to fake is already sufciently satisfying.
In principle, those searching for cybersex make their way to specialised X-search-sites.
General search sites such as Google or Yahoo hardly play any role here. Although they are
for many X-searchers the rst contact points, since 2004 they largely suppress the theme
(and with it regularly also those sites not meant erotically at all, such as gynaecology-
sites) and also do not admit any bought rankings or banner ads. That is necessary, since
otherwise they would very likely drown in pornography considering the sheer amount of
X-sites, their massive web ‘presence’ and the resulting amount of applicable keywords, as
well as the programming effort undertaken by many X-entrepreneurs to gain a high rank-
ing in search machines. Whenever rms make public the most frequent requests at peri-
odic theme-rankings, they simply lie and keep silent about ‘the naked truth.’ At,
it is simply not possible to turn off the family lter, but this merely functions as a g leaf,
since two thirds of the German requests at Google are dealt with by anyway.
Insofar as results are delivered here, it usually involves links that lead to fake sites.
Among the X-search-sites one has to distinguish between those that operate sim-
ilar to traditional search machines those that offer a search mask in which one
can start a freely formulated request28 and X-webcatalogues that offer a search ac-
cording to xed categories and are either based on text-links, thumbnails or both.
Here as well, there are many hybrids; for now, our concern is the X-webcatalogues.
On many X-sites one nds similar categories that classify the offered contents, in par-
ticular the images; some are however also specialised in videoclips, others offer in each
category the choice between the search for images or videos. Mainstream-sites typically
address a male audience and usually offer images of / with women (men mostly appear
here merely as decoration, very much in the tradition of mainstream pornmagazines).
Besides these, however, there is also an adequate amount of sites that specically cater
to a male homosexual audience and further below we will nd that mainstream-sites
only play a relatively minor role within the overall supply.
The material on offer is multifaceted; there are classications along the lines of age
(teens, matures, grannies), hair colour (blondes, redheads), clothing (latex, bikini), prac-
tice (toys, fucks, blowjobs, groups), race (Asians, blacks, Latinos), body features (hairy/
shaved, small/large breasts), gender (gay, transvestites), etc.29 Hustler Platinum, for ex-
ample, advertises with “Pornstars, Amateurs, Teens, Grandmas, Lesbians and More!!”
Nationality is a rare criterion, although Russia and several states of the former Eastern
bloc are to some extent represented, which probably corresponds to the actual produc-
tion circumstances of pornography: Asian usually means Japanese and less often Thai,
Chinese or Korean; Latin stands for all South American countries, particularly Brazil,
but often also includes US sites.
Sometimes the genres converge and overlap; when a series from Hardcore becomes
a series from Blowjob or when in a dildo-session the dildo can be left out. These main-
stream categories have produced a number of technical terms that are nontheless fully
understood by millions of laymen. Thus one will rarely nd within the mainstream links
to real child pornography X-sites; categories such as Lolita usually mean in all aspects
Teens and often enough the depicted real Teens are in actuality Matures (although not
Grannies). Many images that are used in advertisements for Lolita-sex have been circulat-
ing since years (on fake-sites). Search requests for ‘children’s sex’ have to be taken literally,
however – around ten percent of all requests with ‘children’ are meant sexually.
What is however so astonishing (and what gave the rst impetus to write this text) is
the circumstance that beyond these few categories of the mainstream X-sites, there are
substantially more categorisations being undertaken., to mention only one of
the many X-catalogues, earns its money apparently with advertisements for dating, and
carries according to its own advertisement 804.925 galleries in its database and presents
these in four hundred (!!!) different and alphabetically organised categories; each cat-
egory offers a choice between images or video. Here merely the letter B: Babe, Backseat,
Banana, Banging, Bath, Bathing, Bathroom, Bbw, Bdsm, Beach, Beads, Beauty, Beaver,
Bed, Belly, Bigcock, Bigtit, Biker, Bikini, Bimbo, Bisexual, Bitch, Biting, Bizarre, Black,
Blindfolded, Blonde, Blowjob, Bondage, Boobs, Boots, Booty, Boss, Bottle, Bound, Boys,
Braces, Brazilian, Bride, British, Brunette, Brutal, Bukkake, Business, Busty, Butt, Butt-
fucking, Butthole, Buttplug.
One notices that a (usually illegal or in any case dire) category such as Beasts (sex
with animals) doesn’t show up at all. After clicking one of those categories, one receives
(completely analogous to Google), a list with short descriptive texts, which contain
the requested keyword. The descriptions are delivered by the content-providers, as for
example “Blonde young bitch fucking a bottle”; one thus gains access to this specic
gallery through several keywords and it is therefore able to ‘satisfy’ more than one pref-
erence. A category such as Bizarre isn’t dened in any clear-cut fashion, but can con-
tain punkgirls as well as groupsex with whatever abstruse masks. It is clear that some of
these categories are synonyms, Boobs and Tits for example; most of them are not how-
ever (leaving aside the fact for the moment that Tits are also offered in various sizes).
It can be assumed that the various porn categories have developed in the way they did
and that by doing so they reect to some extent the wishes of the users. Meanwhile, as we
have established, the categories are varied and in that respect one also has to assume a
variety of users. Even the mainstream can already offer anything from twenty to over one
hundred categories; the underground many more. This variety is not only astonishing,
but from a quantitative perspective also overwhelming. And those searching for ‘normal’
mainstream eroticism are more likely to be part of a minority: it is striking that the search
is not just for the horny girl next door or blonde Playboy-beauties, but that the extremely
specialised sites have to be seen alongside an equally specialised spectrum of users.
Here, the search is quite obviously for what ephemeral acquaintances or ‘normal’
(love) relationships between two people do not have on offer: fetish-sex, sex with ani-
mals etc. The majority of users searches for such specialised sites, only ten percent for
‘normal’ sex. No theme is remote enough, no fetish too exotic, for it not to be searched
and it doesn’t matter if one is dealing with Bukkake (apparently a Japanese invention,
in which a number of men, either with preceding gangbang or merely after jerking off
in groups drop their sperm on (usually) the face of (usually) a woman30) or boxing (rub-
ber-) nuns. During talks among men at least this has happened to one of the authors
a number of times if they even address the topic of Internet-sex at all, the site Fucking
Machines is sometimes discussed, an X-site where women are being fucked by various
dildo-reinforced machines. On Vulis-Archives one can see women in various sports dis-
ciplines, basketball or swimming for example, in any case nude; on the ‘alternative’ X-
site (female) models take photos of themselves; it is not very easy even
to imagine an erotic category aka fetish for which there is not one specialised website.
That what is not given away by the categories of the X-webcatalogues has to be provided
in another manner. The variety of the (veriable) X-categories is confronted with the
open (and endless) variety of freely formulated requests of the users. The categories of
sexsites are varied, but do not exactly reect the interests of the users, since there are
simply too many and too many specic fetishes for all of them to be conceived by edi-
tors of a webcatalogue. That does not mean, however, that there are no X-sites that cater
to these highly individualised wishes, sometimes merely by accident, sometimes actu-
ally by specialisation, sometimes even in surprisingly high differentiation.
In pure webcatalogues, the searchers have to adhere to the existing categories. If
their special fetish isn’t there, they might click on a different category that is similar to
the one wished for. Statistics of webcatalogues can therefore only be the statistics of
norms, which they themselves have based on the frequency of requests constructed.
On the one hand, a search within search masks freely formulated requests, and on the
other, shows the actual wishes and its distribution. Contrary to studies such as those of
Kinsey without wanting to denigrate its achievements these kinds of studies do not
have to deal with any kind of interview-effects. Conventional socio-empirical studies have
to restrict themselves to the questioning of several hundred or thousand persons and of-
ten enough produce artefacts.31 With searches one is often dealing with several million
of requesters and even when one does not really know if behind a specic IP there is a
human or a bot, a female or male or some other ‘gender,’ one thing is clear: here no one
is lying, here the truth is naked.
One example would be the data provided by the Keyword Datenbank,32 where the
goal is to determine which keywords are requested most often. One can nd here (al-
though not for free, but only after payment) the data of two hundred million requests of
various (German) search machines33 and months. On a yearly regular basis, erotically
connotated keywords, besides some more obvious candidates such as ‘Google’ or ‘Aldi’,34
are part of the front-runners.
On an average day, in this instance, 3 April 2005, the Keyword Datenbank registers
no less than 1.798.979 requests that are clearly aimed at X-sites. They can be divided
into about 2500 different requests that were made at least ten times a day. Lonely leader
among these keywords is, with almost 300.000 requests, ‘Erotik’ (‘eroticism’ or ‘erotic’),
followed by ‘sex’ (142.251), ‘Sex Bilder’ (‘sex images,’ 64.741) and once again ‘erotic’
(54.726); all this is hardly anything surprising. It becomes more interesting at ranking
eight with ‘FKK,’ in other words ‘Freikörperkultur’,35 since such a request tends to be
made not by friends of nature that want to know where they can nd a nude beach, but
more genre-specically from people who (also) want to see nude children. Rank ten is
taken by ‘bondage’ (28.580). On eleven one nds ‘erotische Geschichten’ (‘erotic stories,
24.278), on twenty ‘Sexgeschichten’ (‘sex stories,’ 12.903), in other words, literature. Po-
sition number fteen goes to ‘Swinger’ (19.753), position nineteen to ‘Sexkontakte’ (‘sex
contacts,’ 13.327), twenty-one to ‘Swingerclub’ (12.520),35 clearly attempts to reach ac-
tual sex through virtual sex. The list goes on and on one can also mention ‘Kamasutra’
on rank twenty-six (9.436), ‘gaychat’ (28/8.595) and ‘’ (30/7.980), ‘Parkplatzsex’
(‘car-park sex,’ 70/3.207), ‘Hängetitten’ (‘soggy tits,113/1.813) and ‘Omasex’ (‘granny
sex,’ 181/1.044), ‘animalsex’ (137/1.405), ‘Inzestgeschichten’ (‘incest stories,’ 139/1.404),
‘Haarfetisch’ (‘hair fetish,’ 207/871), ‘Gummipuppen’ (‘rubber dolls’ 216/816), ‘Titten-
grabscher’ (‘tits grabber,’ 227/783), ‘Kinderporno’ (‘child pornography,’ 299/623), ‘hors-
esex’ (309/614), ‘deutsche Stars nackt’ (‘German celebrities nude,’ 320/599), ‘Windelsex’
(‘diaper sex,’ 409/448), ‘Britney Spears nackt’ (‘Britney Spears nude,’ 436/413).
These are, as already mentioned, merely the requests on one day. Many requests aim
at similar directions or might differ only by one letter or by the fact that they are written as
either one or two words. A clearer picture emerges when they are rated: eight percent of the
requesters are interested in BDSM/Toy Sex, in other words, areas that go beyond the so-
called ‘Housewives-sex.’ Seven percent is searching for homosexual X-sites, contacts or loca-
tions. Two percent searches for paedophilic or incest-contents, one percent for sodomistic.
Our gures would be even more exceptional if one could compare them with ofcial
statistics. A comparison, however, is not possible since these statistics are fraught with
a high amount of estimations and are therefore basically unusable.36 We therefore dare
to assert that these numbers of search statistics are the rst that are actually resilient and
convincing this is the ‘naked’ truth.
Translation: Bas van Heur
1 In principle, blogs, chats, MUDs, newsgroups, UMTS-applications etc. can be part
of this category, but these will not be discussed in this article.
2 That said, even Kinsey already noticed that the majority of sex is experienced
alone. Cf.:
3 See for example
4 That is, at least in the West. In Russia, for example, Google hardly plays a role.
6 Quite a good, although not really well-edited overview of the informatics’ concepts
of search machines is offered by: Michael Glöggler, Suchmachinen im Internet:
Funktionsweisen, Rankingmethoden, Top-Positionen, 2nd Revised Edition, Berlin,
Heidelberg, etc.: Springer-Verlag, 2005.
7 See for example
8 The search is, seen from a mathematical viewpoint, still a relatively young eld
that will, as might be expected, further develop; the question of the ‘relevance’ of
documents itself will see quite some formalisations. And despite its popularity, the
algorithms of Google are by no means the non plus ultra of development. Those
interested could take a more critical look at his or her search results and pay atten-
tion to how many of x-thousand results are plain doubles.
11 Reference is made to Jane’s Guide ( where X-sites – and
besides X-sites even erotic poetry and ction, photo books, artists’ pages and more
- are even discussed as well as ranked by the editorial team.
12 See for example
14 The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is the major conservative newspaper within
15 Reference can be made, for topical reasons, to the exhibition ‘Spirit’ of Rémy Mar-
kowitsch; for example as part of the collection Coninx in Zurich, of which a con-
siderable part belongs to appropriate genres: female nude, atelier-scene, nude with
long hair, jeune femme devant son lit, boy at brook, nymphes au bord de l’eau etc.
See: Also cf. chapter 3.2.
16 Interestingly enough there is very little cultural / technological-historical research
on the question of to what extent pornography has supported the emergence and
spread of new mediatechnologies. For photography it is obvious that without por-
nography it would not have become the historic media-power that it now is in a
similar manner; and as many other media the Internet would not exist in its current
form without pornography.
17 A reference that one probably hardly needs to mention among the readers of cut. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction,
New York: Pantheon, 1978.
18 http://cramer.Netzliteratur.Net/writings/pornography/london-2005/
21 Counted are also artistic sites such as But, naturally, the name of
national top-domain does not say anything about the actual location of the server.
22 To the commercial sites also belongs de hippie-porn-site,
whose operators support projects in favour of rain forests. Greenpeace, however,
has rejected to accept money from them.
23 www.adultfriend There are quite a number of X-sites that merely seem to
exist to generate trafc for this dating-site. See for example:
24 The Süddeutsche Zeitung is another major and more liberal German newspaper.
25 All data are from 29 August 2005.
26 To what extent subscriptions play a role at illegal sites (child pornography) and what
kind of services are offered there is something we cannot and do not want to assess.
27 And it is only to these users that illegal dialers might constitute a problem.
28 See for example
29 In this list, that so strangely recalls the divisions into minority-labels, the only things
missing seem to be disabilities and religions; for all that,