Unless it is part of our job in the sex industry or for a thrill on dedicated forums where all identifying details are removed, why would we take our clothes off on the internet and thrust our naked form upon the unsuspecting? And why would we type out our every sexual thought to entertain and titillate random strangers?
Because sex sells.
It is one of the quickest way to get readers’ attention, especially in a culture where talking about it is still frowned upon; the more personal we get, the greater the chance of quick monetary reward even if our copy is clickbait.
But does the world at large need to know what we’re into in every intimate detail? Does the instruction manual to us, the sexual being, need to be on the internet like some kind of orgasm Wikipedia entry anyone can consult?
Letting it all hang out online in the most graphic language possible means there’s little left for a partner to discover, if anything. Mutual curiosity makes for meaningful and erotically charged sexual interactions with another human.
But when we’ve written out detailed instructions in installments online, intimacy becomes a public to-do list with a series of check boxes. Is there such a thing as a writer boner, maybe?
What about the symbiotic relationship between exhibitionists and voyeurs?
After all, sex starts in the brain so what could be more cerebral than writing and reading about it? Might exposing ourselves in word format to random strangers against money fulfill unmet sexual needs? What if hijacking attention with our sexual hijinks to get paid were both a huge turn-on and a form of sexual liberation?
For women who do it, sex writing calls for the ability to maintain a delicate balance between just enough disclosure and too much. It only takes a few details to humanize a story, leaving the reader keen to find out more.
Meanwhile, putting out in the headline and getting to third base in the first paragraph is the equivalent of going to sit on some stranger’s face, unbidden. Suddenly the internet is up close and personal with our nether regions because we couldn’t resist the compulsion to turn curious minds into unwitting voyeurs. Maybe we’re choking them, maybe they’re screaming but we’re so busy showing off we take no notice of them at all.
But doesn’t commodifying our most intimate moments dehumanize intimacy and sex? Is it possible to get so desperate for attention and validation that we’d sell off our privacy to the highest bidder? What about advocacy?
Sometimes, sex writing is the result of happenstance.
Dipping my toes into it was as tentative as it was accidental, the result of a cheeky friend asking me about masturbation in a mental health context.
One of the many crippling aspects of the kind of major depressive disorder that stalled my life for five years is that it annihilates your libido. And it can destroy your sex life even when you are married; it happened to me.
At the time, my curious friend already knew my becoming fully functional again meant documenting the destruction depression caused. Short of killing me, the illness shattered everything it came into contact with and turned me into someone who no longer knew how to do human. Writing about my dead bedroom — a source of intense shame — was a rite of passage that enabled me to level up to greater editorial fluency.
When it comes to mental health advocacy, the willingness to embrace the whole human is paramount. And because sex is a basic physiological need common to us all, it stood to reason I’d have to address the sexual dysfunction aspect of depression sooner or later.
In the spirit of service, I bit the bullet and almost spat it out right away. I may strive to be open and approachable in print but I don’t let many people in.
Because my privacy is not for sale.
Many of us use our own life experience to try and make the unspeakable relatable.
Approaching a universal predicament through a personal lens can go a long way toward undoing taboos. When we tackle a topic head on without fear of judgment, we send out the signal that it’s OK to speak up and join in the conversation.
Writing is an act of communication that implies an exchange of information between humans. We write for people, not at people. But what are we even supposed to do with one another’s personal inventory of favorite sex acts and fantasies?
Could we be witnessing a sexual revolution in print, a bone fide attempt to parlay the written word into a more cerebral version of Tinder? If so, should copy be a come on? But if we neither value nor protect our own privacy, are we capable of valuing and protecting another human’s when they entrust us with their sexual narrative?
Or will they be both flattered and turned on every time we write about them?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.