12 Ways The Internet Has Changed Our Sexuality, Because It's More Than Just Porn

Ben and Sarah met on Match. After a few messages back and forth, they took their conversation to email. Pics were exchanged and soon they were talking on FaceTime every night and their conversations got, well, a little more “R” rated. Ben was in New York and Sarah was in D.C. but they decided they’d meet up for a weekend in the City, where they did all of the romantic things: walked in Central Park, drank overpriced cocktails, ate delicious food. Their friends saw their selfies in front of brownstones in the Village and kissing on the Brooklyn Bridge throughout the weekend and then, when Sarah was back in D.C., the started playing with the app-controlled sex toy they’d bought at Babeland in SoHo. They were fully, totally, awesomely in love.

And 10 years ago, they never would have met. Or fallen in love. Or had any idea WTF “selfie” meant. While “Ben” and “Sarah” are fictitious, their story is an easy amalgam of so many love stories in 2015. The internet has thoroughly changed almost every aspect of romance and sex, from how we meet to how to we fall in love to how we have sex. It is without a doubt the largest force to change human sexuality since we went from being nomadic to agricultural and started thinking of each other as property. We are in the midst of a fantastic transformation in human sexuality and there’s no way to tell where we’re going to end up.

It’s a little scary, isn’t it? The kind of change that the internet is bringing to us as a society and as individual sexual beings is so rapid that it can be hard to even get a grasp on what’s happening before it changes again. To help you find your feet in this ever shifting landscape, I’ve catalogued 12 ways that the internet has changed our sexuality, so far. Some are good, some are not so great, and others just are but all together, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There is definitely more to come.

1. Cyber Sex Is As Varied As IRL Sex

Sexting. Dirty talk over messenger. Video chat sex. Camming. All of these options for getting down are new with the advent of the internet. We’re figuring out awesome new ways to get each other off via our computers and smartphones and that is hot. With these tools, people are discovering things about their sexualities that were straight up impossible to know 15 years ago. That’s pretty damn cool.

2. We Have A Significantly Wider Access To Porn

This is perhaps the most obvious change but also one of the most influential. While pornography used to be available only to people over the age of 18 who were willing to go through the embarrassment of buying it in the store (or people who found it hidden under mattresses and stuffed in the backs of closets), it’s now available to anyone, any time, at any age. The internet has driven down the value of porn, created new genres, and widened accessibility — and that has brought on a whole host of changes.

3. We View Our Bodies Differently

Running tangentially to the explosion of internet porn is the increase in popularity of plastic surgeries like labiaplasties, which let women change the shape of their labias so that they look “better.” But how the f*ck do people have a standard for what a labia “should” look like? The only possible answer is porn, which is full of pretty, plastic vaginas.

While labiaplasties are undoubtedly at the extreme end of the spectrum, mainstream porn features depressingly few body types. In addition to the onslaught of unrealistic body standards that both men and women are faced with from non X-rated sources, we now have the perky, enhanced, naked bodies of porn stars to contend with. Ugh.

4. We Perform More During Sex

Porn has also influenced how we behave in bed. When you see how sex is “supposed” to look over and over again, it will inevitably seep into your own sexual encounters. Former ad exec Cindy Gallop created her company MakeLoveNotPorn for exactly that reason. In her now notorious Ted Talk, Gallop explained that her younger male lovers were mimicking actions they’d seen on the screen as porn became more and more accessible. Gallop’s response was to create a website where “real world sex” is highlighted so that there’s an alternative out there to the performative stuff that most people are watching.

5. We’re Exposed To Other People’s Sexualities

On the positive side, the proliferation of porn means that we’re being exposed to a wider range of sexualities, interests, and kinks than ever before. While magazine-based porn was largely heteronormative, fairly vanilla, and very white, the internet offers up any kind of possible gender/race/kink combination you could dream of. Sure, it might take a little searching but curious minds will and do seek out different kinds of sex. 

And yeah, some people probably do it for the ew factor, but others might discover a new interest or even develop a deeper level of understanding for people who are different from them.

6. We Have Access To More Dating Partners Than Ever Before

While the dating pool used to be limited to the people you worked with, friends of friends, and the randos your mom tried to set you up with, we now have access to an almost infinite pool of potential romantic partners. On one hand, that’s awesome: who doesn’t want more options? On the other hand, it’s the worst: more options can make finding someone special even harder. For example, there’s the “too many fish in the sea” phenomenon, where we reject partners for certain characteristics because we know there’s always the potential of someone better out there. Pre-online dating, folks were forced to deal with those differences and, yeah, settle sometimes. Like I said: it’s a pro and a con.

7. Technology Enables Us To Be More Promiscuous 

More access to more partners who are not in our social circles means that people are more willing to sleep around. It’s like how everyone is way more slutty when they’re abroad. When you’re away from the judging eyes of your community, it’s easier to let loose and do what you want. Same things happens when you meet a rando on Tinder. We still have a long way to go but people are stepping away from traditional social mores around sex and that’s awesome.

8. Sex Work Has Changed

Cam girls are a whole new kind of sex worker that rely completely on the internet to do their work. Performing on camera for paying customers, these ladies have total control over their careers and are safer — from both STIs and assault — than any sex workers have ever been before.

The internet has also changed how more traditional sex workers conduct their business. Escorts, for example, are able to advertise online, cutting out the traditional middle men (and women) that cut into their profit margins. The internet has also made it possible to solicit and vet customers much more safely than a sex worker who is on the street ever could. 

9. It’s Changing How We Talk About Sex

Sites like this one you’re reading right now are blowing open the way we talk about sex. Rather than hiding it in a dirty corner, we’re talking about it openly. The sex positivity movement didn’t start online but it has definitely grown with the help of social media and blogging. Women and men — but women in particular — are breaking down centuries-old taboos and claiming our sexualities in public. It is so badass and so awesome.

10. Sex Ed Is More Widely Available

Once upon a time before the internet, a kid in East Nowhere, Arkansas, had to swallow whatever shitty sex ed their school offered up. That could include lies like “condoms cause pregnancy” and “homosexuality is an illness.” These days, a kid in that same town could just look up whatever he wants on his phone. While there’s undoubtedly a ton of misinformation on the web as well, increased access to information in a country that still promotes “abstinence only sexual education” is definitely a good thing.

11. It’s (Hopefully) Making Us Better At Sex

Teens can fact check their sex ed and grownups can find out anything they want about technique online. Want to give better head? Figure out how to have anal? Explore pegging? There are thousands of articles and diagrams and demonstrations to help you expand and improve your sexual repertoire online.

12. Sexual Minorities Can Find Their Communities

A gay kid in East Nowhere, Arkansas, might not know any other gay kids IRL but he can go online and find whole communities of them. Same with kinksters looking for people to play with or folks with a very specific fetish. No matter what you’re into, you can use the internet to find someone else who’s into it too. 

Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our latest video on sex positions for small penises.

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Images: Giphy (13); Gabriela Pinto/Flickr

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