Sex on The Internet, The Realities of Porn, Sexual Privacy & How Search Affects Them All by Violet Blue (Full Transcript)

Transcript – Violet Blue discusses sex on the internet, the realities of porn, sexual privacy & how search affects them all at Google Tech Talks conference. (October 12, 2007)

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Introducing Speaker: Thanks everyone for coming and it’s my pleasure to present Violet Blue.

Violet Blue – Author, Sex Educator

Hello. Thanks for coming and piling in here. This is really packed and it’s really, really awesome.

Before I say anything, I just want to let you know that there won’t be any explicit sexual imagery up here. I’m sorry. Everyone’s over 18, right? But there is going to be some frank sexual talk. So, if you’re uncomfortable with frank graphic, explicit sexual talk, now is the time to probably leave. I saw some of you brought luncheon. You might want to finish that up, probably a good idea.

So, if you look at the posters that were so sweetly put all over the Google campus, you’ve an idea of sort of my résumé and what that basically describes is that I’ve been a sex educator and a writer for almost 10 years. I have over 20 published books in this form, the print form and I have some e-media as well. I have audio books and some e-books coming out soon. The stuff that I’ve written is all non-fiction, so it’s all how-to information on sex which stems from being a sex educator, working in the field, lecturing, doing peer to peer support, peer to peer counseling and working with sex information hotlines, San Francisco Sex Information that’s sfsi.org which is basically we take anyone and everyone who has some kind of crazy emergency, sometimes non-emergency or just sort of Am I normal? question about sex and talk to them, and I lecture to the students. So, I’m actually at the point now where I educate the educators.

And when I worked at Good Vibrations, I helped developed their educational department. And what I did there was I also developed their outreach department which was sending teams to places like planning parenthood and teaching them about sex toys, and sending teams to places like halfway houses for developmentally disabled adults and teaching them, you know, about good sex and bad sex and being able to sort of navigate their life as adults and things like that. So, I have a pretty wide repertoire. I have a lot of experience – a lot of online experience with sex and searching for sex. Not just because I’ve had a blog for a long time and I’ve been doing pod — sex podcasting for a long time but also because I’ve been working for a site called fleshpot.com for the past several years.

And Fleshpot is a Gawker Media site. However, we’re sort of an island onto ourselves in many ways in that it’s been run by one person. It’s been run by John O for a very long time and I was the second person that he hired to come on. Partly because he was re-blogging a lot of stuff that I was blogging and then we started talking and we’re like, “Hey, we should just do this together,” but he also wanted to bring in inclusivity to the site. So, it’s a site, you know, that’s for — it’s primarily targeted toward a heteronormative audience, so like a straight male audience if you will about porn, run by a gay man, administrated by someone like me. So, and then — since then we’ve hired a bunch of other bloggers so that we can have a really — cover a really diverse spectrum, all genders in all orientations and sort of also get in a little bit of a perceived message that there’s isn’t just one kind of sex out there.

So, the title of this talk is Sex On The Internet, The Realities Of Porn, Sexual Privacy Online and Search which actually wasn’t the title that I picked. That was my editor in front row. So, I came with a subtitle which is Cataloguing All The World’s Information Even If It’s Taboo. As you can see I have someone looking for Ceiling Cat and if you’re unfamiliar with Ceiling Cat, it’s an online little cat mean Ceiling Cat is watching you masturbate. So, the joke is that Ceiling Cat is watching you do naughty things which I think is a great analogy for things about sexual privacy online.

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And I’m going to be doing a bit of reading here because I’ve done — there are a lot of things in here called facts that I want to make sure that I get right, so believe it or not.

The Internet has changed human sexuality forever as we know it. I think that we have yet to see the effects of how the Internet has changed the way that we express ourselves as human beings. Basically, sexual information has been locked down, commodified. It’s been held in certain channels. It’s been presented in certain ways. Sexual information and pornography has been held to controlling interest due to government influences, due to personal opinion, due to religious influences and also due to distribution influences. Distribution influences primarily being people like booksellers who want to sell books about certain sex topics which is why a majority of my books are with independent publishers so I can talk about sex from an all genders, all orientations perspective which means stream sex publishing is still scared to death of. Even though they’re trying to negotiate with me for books, they’re still like super afraid that I talk to gays and stuff like that. It’s amazing how backwards they are.

But the Internet has sort of leveled the playing field for what I see is a democratic dissemination of sex information and being able to sort of talk to everyone about that. Basically, it’s sort of like a free market approach to sex. People are being able to sort of look for what they want and find what they want. Working on a site like Fleshsbot, I’ve been able to see and see stats and look at stats and what people are actually interested in. I’ve been able to sort of play with and test with looking what, you know, people have been looking for — well, and not just on Fleshsbot but on my site and other sites as well.

What’s really afforded people the opportunity to start to make choices about developing what I see as their own sort of sexual operating systems because I come from the belief that everyone’s sexuality is as individual to them as a fingerprint and we sort of take in information from different places and we assemble what works best for us. And I think that it’s a constant assembly. I think that, you know, if the first version didn’t work, say, it was beta, and do it again.

So, basically what’s affording people the ability to do this is being able to go online and have what they perceived as sexual privacy. It used to be that you need to go to the porn store or you would go — you would get an Adam and Eve catalogue with a very limited range of things to choose from that, where sex toys weren’t even necessarily chosen because they’re made of healthy products but because they’re made of cheap products and put together by people who don’t really care about the sexual health, the sexual pleasure or what’s going on with people that they’re selling these products to.

Well, like I said the Internet has changed that to make these people to have privacy. Of course, the problem is that people aren’t as anonymous as they think.

Who looks for sex online and what are they looking for?

What I want to talk about first, I want to talk about the user first and it’s who looks for sex online and what are they looking for. Well, I think the first obvious answer to all of that is that people are looking at sex online to get off. And I know that it’s horribly taboo to talk about but basically what we’re talking about is masturbation, people jacking off. There are a lot of perceptions about people who are interested in sex. The idea of anyone being interested in sex other than for usual mainstream media reasons is quite taboo. The idea of looking at sex or being interested in sex purely for the sake of pleasure is something that a lot of people just simply don’t want to talk about.

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And the presumptions of people who are doing that tend to get shoved in the corner of the guy with the raincoat, you know. It’s that sort of stereotype where it’s like, “Oh, well, if you’re really interested in sex or if you’re searching for or looking for it you must immediately be doing something immoral or be thinking bad thoughts.”

Who else is looking for it? Well, people who are curious, anyone who is curious about sex. I’m sure pretty much everyone in the world at this point has opened up a browser and typed in sex just to see what’s going to come up because we’re curious, we’re monkeys. It’s true.

I think another group of people who are looking for sex online are people who are seeking accurate, non-bias, non-judgmental sex information. Sometimes, that information that they’re looking for is urgent and I’ll go into that in a second.

Another subset of people who are looking for sex online are people who are seeking community. People who feel alone, desperate, isolated and even folks who just want to know if they’re normal or not which is pretty much the most common question “Am I normal?”

Role of Search

A couple of quick points which I’ll develop later as well is the role of search in all of these. First of all, I think the role of search in sex, the strongest role is fighting spam. It’s a big, big problem. It’s a big problem for people like me who want to get accurate information out there and I just can’t even imagine what you all go through dealing with spammers because they’re just — they’re pretty insidious. Unfortunately, they’re not like trolls because trolls are stupid and easily defeated. Spammers tend to be a little smarter which is a bummer.

Also in the role of search I think is understanding perceive sexual minorities or people who are perceived as sexual minorities, their practices and especially their self-labeling. Seeing active with the current online taxonomy for the terms that perceive sexual minorities and I’m talking even about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Seeing current with that taxonomy that they use to self-identify with is really tricky because it’s changing all the time.

I recently did a series of pieces where I was data mining Craigslist and I data mined Craigslist because I just wanted to see like who was looking for what at any given point, any given time and any given neighborhood in San Francisco and it was pretty interesting to see who is into what in the different neighborhoods. Some things were fairly predictable like the, cliché of the businessmen looking for the quick blowjob in the hotel district that’s pretty obvious. But I came up with some other surprises as well.

What I really came up with that surprised me which I didn’t develop into a piece was what I started figuring out when I was dating mining Craigslist and I’m talking about just the quick and dirty personals, is when I started doing it out on a nationwide level because I started to unearth taxonomy that even I was unfamiliar with that people were using those terms to search for and to connect with each other. So, I think that part of the role of search is kind of keeping up with those terms and maybe even having community liaisons who can help explain with these terms mean and demystified these terms.

One piece I wrote, well, I was at South by Southwest. I got this email from an F to M porn site which is Female to Male transsexual. And they were having a hard time with their Google AdSense words where words that they considered respectful and that they used to identify themselves in a way — there are a lot of disrespectful terms that are used toward these sexual minorities, especially transsexual people. And the terms that they used to self-identify were sort of getting put in the wrong bucket and ending up coming up as ads for things that were really insulting, degrading, disgusting and even illegal. So, they appealed to me for help. And I just sort of made some noise about it and I think it sort of raised the level of awareness of how people are labeling themselves.

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