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London - We are living in a world obsessed with “Sharing”. From liking a photo of a friend's dinner to tweeting pictures of our pets, every moment of our lives can be recorded on Vine, shared on Facebook, tweeted, Instagrammed, Pinned, analysed on Google +, debated on LinkedIn, and even put on MySpace (yes, it's still going).
But there's one aspect of our personal lives we're still reluctant to lay bare, so to speak, until now. Sex may well be the final frontier of our online social experience, and many of us would like to keep it that way, but several taboo-busting sites are now looking to encourage us to put our undercover antics on show.
“My mission is to socialise sex and make it as easy to share online as any other activity,” says Cindy Gallop, the forthright founder of makelovenotporn.tv, a website for people to share and watch videos of real-life sex. It is not porn, says Gallop, a former advertising powerhouse whose TED talk on the site caused her ethos to go global, because contributors are vetted to check they are genuine couples (not porn actors), who simply want to share sex tips using the “show not tell” method of teaching.
“Back in my day, a marriage proposal was a very private, intimate thing,” she says. “Now there is a generation expecting a video camera to be there. Think about all those engagement posts on Facebook now... we are covering that last final area of personal relationships.”
But how many people would want to put that area of their relationship online? Gallop says the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. “The desire to do this lies much closer to the surface than I would have first thought. A woman wrote to us saying she had lost her libido and looking at our site brought it back. Another woman who made a video wrote to us and said: 'This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.' She said the sex was hotter than ever! We hadn't thought that the experience of [making the video] would be transformative for a relationship, but it is.”
Gallop is not the only one tapping into this new market of social sexual sharers. The new app BangWithFriends launched last month, making it possible to tell if someone on Facebook might want to be more than just friends. You can add the app without anyone knowing and it will only let the person know you fancy them if they have also got the app and have said they fancy you. It saves you the awkwardness of the old-fashioned way of sussing out whether a friend likes you by getting drunk and “accidentally” brushing your hand on their knee/bicep/breast to see their reaction. But once you've both agreed you'd like to “bang” in a comfortable virtual world, you're still left with the reality of... reality, where tapping your friends is never just as simple as tapping a screen.
One of the three BangWithFriends developers, who wish to remain anonymous, says the app came about because they were “lamenting the dishonesty of online dating and how people like us wanted to be less ashamed to look for what we want. We think that sex shouldn't be taboo and that it's awesome to be more honest and safe with our pursuit of sex.” The app creator, whose name on email is “Online Pimp”, says BangWithFriends will “add more dimensions to relationships. And we recognise that plenty of relationships are created from sexual desires and that's not a bad thing.”
While BangWithFriends has clandestine elements (you can choose whether to let people know you are using the app or not in your privacy settings) Gallop is working out more ways to ensure her site's sex videos will be publicly seen by lots of people. “The next manifestation was to take all the things in social media and integrate them. So my mission is to socialise sex and make it easy to share on Instagram or Facebook.” She also plans to add gaming elements to the site to encourage users to expand their sexual horizons. “Every time you step outside your comfort zone you get an 'explorer' badge, for example,” says Gallop. “You will soon be able to introduce this on your mobile device too.” You will also be able to create playlists of your favourite videos for different occasions. “We are hoping that you will build a sexual profile on the site that you can use to say 'this is who I am sexually'.” But will people be keen to share their sexual CV? “One of our users actually tweeted his sexual profile. I was thrilled! It can become the modern equivalent of a sex tape... you can even send it, with our gifting capability, to someone you're dating.”
The problem with sex tapes, of course, is they can fall into the wrong hands. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist, scientific advisor of Match.com and founder of chemistry.com, has been working on a study of sexting (sending saucy text messages) and found that on average two out of five people who have received a sext passed it on to other people and two out of every three of those that passed it on, passed it on to four or more people. “As you can see, your bedroom activity can be seen by other people. It's fine if you are showing someone what you like in bed, but what about when your boss sees it? They are looking with tunnel vision if they can't see the potential for mis-use,” says Fisher.
Although both endeavours claim to help with relationships, Fisher highlights some reservations. “In a good relationship, sex is good for you. It increases heart rate, lowers blood pressure, drives up dopamine - which can sustain feelings of romantic love - and oxytocin and endorphins. It's also a good antidepressant... So it's the privacy that's the issue, it's not the sex. It might not improve your relationship; people may be using [the videos] as advertising and trying to pick up a better mate.”
Paul Saffo, a futurologist who studies online trends says “as a general rule, the greater the potential for something to be embarrassing, the more likely it will find its way out onto the web”. He also has a theory of “retroprobium” - the judging of acts not when they are committed, but at the time and context when they are viewed. So you might be happy to share a sexy video now, or hook up with someone using the app, but what about explaining it to your children in 10 years' time when they ask how mummy and daddy met (by using a sex app, sweetie), or when they come across your video and want to know who the strange man is kissing mummy's neck (or worse)?
Despite these concerns, Gallop feels her site will pioneer a new dialogue on sex.
“This is all part of the taboo that Makelovenotporn is trying to take on. The community is showing us what real sex is about. We want people to talk about real-life sex and the ultimate corollary of our success would be that no one would be embarrassed to have their boss or anyone else see their videos.
“We want it to become part of our everyday conversations.” - The Independent
* Cindy Gallop will be speaking at the Oxford Union debate “We Are All Feminists Now” at 8.30pm on 14 February. oxford-union.org