What does technology tell us about what we hide and what we want? What’s the difference between privacy and secrecy? How does technology complicate or encourage our sex lives?
The finale of the summer panel series hosted by Bryony Cole, creator of the Future of Sex podcast held attendees, ranging from college students and sexperts to ex-military personnel. We mingled before and after the panel discussion, sipping rosé in Williamsburg’s squeaky-floored 5th House. Each panelist brought their own expertise to the evolving world of sex, with research, data, or drawing on their own lives.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz gave a quantitative look at both our worries and fantasies, as a former Google data scientist, and author of the New York Times bestseller Everybody Lies, which examines what our internet searches and social media habits say about what we want in bed, in the workplace, and elsewhere. Google knows more than what it regurgitates from the web; it knows your deepest fears and burning desires, and it seems Stephens-Davidowitz, who came armed with search statistics, does too.
Yael Eisenstat drew on her experience in the CIA and life afterward to shed light on the fine lines a woman walks in a male-dominated workplace- be sexy, but not too sexy; speak up for yourself, but don’t be a bitch. Besides being a professional in global affairs and national security, Eisenstat knows how to live a double-life, thanks to her time in the CIA. As you can imagine, that level of secrecy makes the dating world even harder to navigate.
Dr. Holly Richmond, certified sex therapist and somatic psychologist, scripts “Virtual Sexology,” a chance to “rewrite porn” as both educational and entertaining, produced by women for women. This is all while helping clients balance issues of desire, arousal, and fantasy- the three most popular concerns she encounters in her practice.
Darius Journigan, an actor in New York, highlighted his personal accounts, like having to come out to his parents as gay exactly two-and-a-half times. Journigan emphasized the community aspect of technology like apps, support groups, and forums. However strange you think your fetishes are, or how awkward your inquiries (especially when it comes to sex), you can find plenty of people online who are wondering the same things. You can catch Journigan in the play, The Sex Myth this weekend in SoHo.
Technology is what we think of when we think of the future. Dr. Richmond explained how technology can make “secrecy and shame less intertwined,” because it can be used as a conversation starter in many ways. Sharing fantasies via apps or messaging can be less intimidating than sharing in person. However, as the rest of the panel chimed in, it’s also easy to hide behind technology or use it as a crutch. Plenty of articles warn that your smartphone can get in the way of intimacy, and that screen time often overpowers face-to-face time.
Stephens-Davidowitz knows not everyone finds data analysis as thrilling as he does, but we can still learn a lot about others just by typing a question into the search box and seeing what Google suggests. For example, women ask Google, “is my husband gay?” more than they ask if their husbands are cheating, depressed, or alcoholics. And this worry isn’t one sided, Stephens-Davidowitz says, “gay test” is the #1 non-porn-related search by men following searches for gay porn. Leaving these men wondering: “If I watch gay porn, does that mean I’m gay?” But of course our fantasies and desires are not necessarily intertwined, and as Dr. Richmond put it, “what you want and what you watch are two different things.”
To keep with the theme of her podcast, Bryony Cole always poses this question to her guests: what does the future of sex look like to you?
Dr. Richmond claimed that the future is “distinguishing between what is education and what is entertainment.” Though understanding that difference may not happen for another decade. Prioritizing sexual education and media literacy in schools is a long shot, especially in the current political state, so I asked her if there are any small steps we can take towards that change. This inspired a post-panel discussion with a few other attendees on the importance of women creating the kind of porn they want, and more variety in porn in general. In a “world of sexuality where variance is normal,” Dr. Richmond reasoned that variety will make more sexual preferences less taboo and easier to talk about. Refining our vocabulary will give us the tools to do so, she added, if we first define terms like “sexual health” and “sex positive.”
Stephens-Davidowitz pointed out that we rarely identify ourselves with what we want. Try to find a Tinder bio that says, “looking for a girl with oversized nipples,” (yes, he said this is a real trend), or “I prefer anal to vaginal sex, swipe right if you agree!” He continued to say that that preference isn’t far off either since heterosexual vaginal sex is only about 20% of all porn watched these days.
If you’re too afraid to tell your partner that you want to have sex more often, you can find an article that boasts benefits of an active sex life. If you want to experiment with sex toys but feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic, follow toy companies on Instagram, subscribe to their email lists and forward that to a partner. Technology often aids the “show don’t tell” educational philosophy- If there’s something you want in bed but don’t know how to word it, find a porn video featuring what you want and switch to it after your Netflix date. Or if you’re not ready to show them, send it to them– via text, Snapchat, Instagram, WickrMe, share the link on a Google Doc; really the options are endless!
Similarly, Journigan also had an optimistic prediction for technology: easier access to more information leads to more understanding, and understanding leads to empathy. If technology can help us all understand each other better, I’d say that’s a pretty promising prognosis. Dr. Richmond backed up this prediction, because based on her 23 years of journalism and experience in sex therapy, “technology allows more dialogue, and dialogue gives way to permission.”
Whether you think technology hinders or helps our social lives, it’s up to us as consumers to take advantage of the easy access, but avoid hiding behind avatars and social media perfection. Maintaining a private personal life is one thing, but keeping your real personality, sexuality, and relationships secret become a psychological burden. Just imagine how much we could learn if we talked to each other the way we talk to Google.
Weigh in, everyone! Do you believe technology to be beneficial or detrimental to your sex life? We would love to hear your thoughts. Comment below!