From Issue 2.3 - December 1995/January 1996
It seems that no sooner does a new technology make its appearance, then someone figures out how to use it to pursue their sexual and/or perverted desires.
Today the cyber-realm is growing explosively. It is estimated that some 14,000 people per day join online services (such as American Online and Compuserve), not including the Internet, which likely has some 30 million users (census surveys are out of date as soon as they're reported) in some 90 countries -- a lot of potential playmates!
Probably ever since the inception of the Internet in 1969 as a government-sponsored research network called ARPAnet, intractable sex fiends and perverts have been putting computational resources to unintended uses. Now that many more people obtain net access outside their school or workplace, sex-related interaction is even more brazenly pursued.
Cyberpervs have found many ways to cruise the net. IRC (Internet relay chat) and the "chat rooms" of commercial online services allow instantaneous, interactive communication. MUDs, MUSHes and the like are multi-user environments (originally "dungeons") where groups of people create shared fantasies that are often elaborate, often ongoing, and often have something to do with sex.
There are also less immediate options. BBSs (bulletin board services) were among the first sites of online social and sexual interaction, and still exist as thriving communities outside (although increasing connected to) the Internet. On BBSs and newsgroups, users post messages to a common repository or "bulletin board" from which any interested party can read and reply to them. Usenet newsgroups number in the tens of thousands, and many of the most popular have to do with sex. From the original alt.sex newsgroup, Usenet's offerings have become subdivided into ever more specialized subgroups. Alt.sex.bondage (a.s.b.) is a heavily-trafficked newsgroup dealing with topics related to SM, bondage, and fetishes. More specialized still are alt.sex.fetish.feet, alt.sex.spanking, and alt.femdom (for dominant women and their admirers). The best bet for a "newbie" is probably to find an internet service provider with a broad-ranging newsfeed and easy-to-use newsreader software and just start to explore.
For those who desire a more controlled experience with (hopefully) fewer "flame wars" and a higher signal-to-noise ratio, there is a slew of mailing lists, many of which are administered through automatic mail server programs (listserve, majordomo). Lists with kink-appeal include gl-asb (an off-shoot of the a.s.b. newsgroup intended -- depending on whose interpretation you accept -- either for gay men and lesbians, or for people of any orientation to discuss male-male and female-female play) and kinky-girls (for leatherwomen).
The most explosive growth area of the Internet right now -- and the most hyped -- is the World Wide Web. The web's expanding graphic, audio, animation, and video capabilities are allowing net denizens to enter new realms of cyber exploration (see "Kinky Web Sites," this issue).There are many BBSs, newsgroups, mailing lists, and websites for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, sex workers, bears -- probably every erotic minority imaginable (and no doubt some that never crossed your mind!). Sex radicals of all sorts seem to have found a particularly welcoming home in cyberspace. The culture of the net has historically favored individuality and diversity, and frowned on censorship. The net allows people to acknowledge forbidden desires anonymously and explore scary fantasies from the safety of their own keyboards. Online interaction allows both gender obfuscation (one can present in a non-gendered or genderless way) and gender fluidity (many users "try on" other genders as a lark, as a pick-up ploy, or as a means of self-exploration).
But cyberspace is far from free of intolerance. As soon as perverts figure out how to use a new cybertool for pleasurable purposes, a prude or a censor is likely to be following closely on their heels trying to stop them. Those with little understanding of the technology and capabilities of computers have been swept up in the recent media frenzy about online porn, especially as it affects children (see "Book Burning on the Electronic Frontier," this issue). This is an area that will require constant vigilance, as will issues of computer privacy and security.
As was once the case with the telephone, it is hard to predict how computers will shape our lives, including our erotic interactions. Some people find much existing online discussion to be a waste of time (see "A Bunch of White Guys Sitting Around Typing," inside). Some are concerned that the net remains the realm of the privileged (mostly male, mostly white, mostly middle- and upper-class), although this is changing as online services and Internet providers compete to make their services cheaper, more accessible, and easier to use (no more Unix!). Others wonder if maybe cybersex and cyberplay are becoming too much of a substitute for "real life" interactions.
Yet others find that for them, online interactions
and cyber-communities are real. They provide a forum for solidarity,
for learning, for activism, and for finding playmates and
partners. This can be especially valuable for individuals in areas
that lack local leather or queer or sex radical communities, or where
being out about one's proclivities can be dangerous. These online
communities supercede geographical boundaries as groups of net
perverts come together from across the U.S. and world at events like
science fiction and computer conventions. There are more than a few
cyberpervs (including some of us at CU!) who became active members
of in-the-flesh SM communities after meeting like-minded souls online
and discovering that such communities existed. Onward to the future!
Cuir Underground's WebMistress, got her first internet account in 1986
and now has seven. She believes one should be wary of all stories
about computers that overuse the prefix "cyber."