Let’s Get Naked on the Internet

Cartoon by Ford Patterson.

In the year that I’ve known Audacia Ray, she has written and published her first book, produced and directed her first porno movie, completed her Master’s Degree, edited several issues of her magazine, and curated an art exhibition. And that’s just the stuff that I know about. It is her book Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration that is the topic of this post, as I am a proud participant in the book’s blog tour.

Naked on the Internet is a highly readable work of cultural history and criticism that examines the avenues for sexual expression and experimentation that have been opened up for women by the Internet. She begins with a brief introduction to her own experiences of everything from Craigslist hookups to DIY porn to posing nude for alt porn websites. Her net credentials established, she moves briskly through an informative overview of women’s history with computers and the Internet.

Then Ms. Ray launches into a subject dear to my heart and loins: online dating. Gentle reader, Goldslut met her beloved C through an online dating/hookup service, and is an enthusiastic advocate of this method of meeting potential loves and lovers. It was over six years ago that I sat late at night, downstairs in my parents’ house, laboring over profiles that expressed the real me, and carrying on furtive email conversations with potential dates. I was about to move and was in a crazy transitional limbo that freed me to experiment and put myself out there in a way that I’d never had the courage to before. And the Internet provided the medium. I pored over websites for sex parties, and considered attending. I experimented with my profiles, making them increasingly more focused on sex. I looked at tons of free Internet porn! I even remember searching for male escorts that serviced women, something I was dismayed to discover was damn hard to find. After many unsatisfying email exchanges with men who either disappeared, creeped me out, or just fizzled, I made a date with an intriguing one. I was upfront from the first communication that I was leaving the area shortly and was looking purely for “short-term fun.” That suited him fine, and our first date lasted half a day, most of which was spent in bed. Two weeks of similar pleasures followed, and despite my move across the country, our sparkage grew. We fanned the flames via email, of course, and eventually dealt with our geographic disadvantage with another move (his). I will be forever grateful to the wiles of the Internet for seducing me into such uncharacteristic behavior. Or I should say, for helping my true character to emerge. Thank you Internet for helping to nurture the delightful slut that I’ve become!

Ray’s book continues, in a frank and personable style, with engaging chapters on female sex bloggers, woman-owned and operated porn sites, opportunities for sex workers on the Internet, women’s online health resources, and a fascinating chapter on developments in cyberdildonics and other forms of virtual sex. She finds just the right balance of serious analysis and commentary with anecdotes and asides, so that one enjoys the intimacy of an engaging voice while learning. The voices of the dozens of women whom she interviewed for the book (Goldslut being among them) also speak with an immediacy and humanity often lacking in works of cultural theory. I was particularly struck by the stories of the first cam girls, young women who decided to let the world into their life via an inexpensive camera broadcasting live on the internet. As chronicled by Ray, the evolution from the early 24/7 life webcams (such as JenniCam, established in 1996), to the more structured home camshows of iFriends cam network (1998), to corporate cam studios where dozens of women pretend that they are in the intimate privacy of home in a manufactured setting, makes a gripping story. The reader experiences the adventurous spirit of these Internet sex pioneers, and appreciates the important distinctions made between independent female innovators and the male-dominated world of corporate online sex. Ray does address the dangers of connecting to sexual partners through the Internet, but she tempers them with a reality check that these concerns are not only the realm of online communities but larger human issues.

If I were to make a criticism, it would be that in attempting to provide the broadest range of experiences and points-of-view on each subject, some sections become overwhelming with an almost dizzying amount of information. In this, I think Ray expresses one of the most frustrating experiences of life on the Internet: information overload. I can sit down to read through my RSS feeds and look up hours later to feel the pressure of time lost and not be able to articulate anything of value that I read. This multiplicity of information and opinions is the Internet, for good and bad.

Ray’s book chronicles women’s travels down the sexier paths of the Information Super Highway, bumps, wrong turns, joyrides, and all. I urge everyone to read Naked on the Internet, the first of a new wave of women’s cultural history that uses the idiom of Internet culture to examine the importance of Internet culture.

Published in: on June 24, 2007 at 2:01 am  Comments (3)