Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Tales My Browser History Could Tell

Around the year 2000, I had a job working overnight at a switchboard. Not much went on during the night shift, and I became well-versed in various methods of staying awake. Books didn't work as well as one might think. The best method, besides constantly drinking coffee, was using the Internet-connected computer to entertain myself. I played countless games of free cell, but this was the time in my life when I really learned what kinds of stuff I could find if I searched the web. Of course, I mean sex stuff.

I don't think I understood about browser history at the time and I shudder to think what sorts of things were visible to any supervisor who decided to see what I'd been up to. In the wee hours of the morning, alone in an out-of-the-way office, I foolishly felt safe enough to indulge my various burning curiosities.

And I do mean burning. At that point, I'd been in one muddled, confusing, screwed-up BDSM-ish relationship (I say "ish" because we used the toys but had no understanding of the psychology of what we were doing). I'd felt unsafe, ashamed, and ridiculously turned on. I had sworn to myself that I would Never Do That Again, and yet I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I have no idea what search terms I used. I probably accessed the stuff I found through something old-school like Lycos. However I got there, I wound up at (I just checked and it is now defunct, but at the time it was a store that sold BDSM gear accompanied by pictures of the seller using the stuff and stories about what that was like). It was so pink and pretty and happy-sounding that I couldn't believe my eyes. I was pulsing with arousal, but also my mind was utterly boggled by the cheerful-sounding Autumn.

I regret to say that I didn't trust what I was seeing enough to make any purchases (and I didn't have anyone to use them with if I had), but I went on quite a chain of searches from there. I distinctly remember discovering the concept of mummification and being insanely excited by descriptions and pictures of it.

From then on, this was my dirty secret. At first, I didn't look at this stuff online very often. I had a binge and purge cycle. I felt disgusting when I started these searches, but periodically (sometimes with years in between) I would give in. I didn't own my own computer until 2006, so until then I was always sneaking an illicit dirty search session somewhere, with all the accompanying thrill and panic.

I remember masturbating in the student lounge in grad school, knowing that I shouldn't be looking at kinky stuff there, but so pent-up with need that I couldn't stop myself. And it was need. I was in deep denial, had no one to talk to about what I wanted, and was suffering miserably in my sex life. I went to psychologists to try to cure my fetishes. I went to confession. I swore off masturbation only to change my mind and feverishly indulge for hours on end.

But a funny thing happened, somewhere around the time I found a site called Journey Into Submission (also defunct now, it was a "BDSM love journal" by a blogger who went by Gray Lily). I came for the descriptions of sex acts and stayed for the psychology and the blogroll. My God, the blogroll. It was by following a trail that began at Journey Into Submission that I found my way to Remittance Girl's blog, and from there to the ERWA, and the rest is history.

I could write many words describing all the intricacies of what happened, but basically my dirty secret turned into something that introduced me to a community of erotica writers and kinky people, as well as to resources that allowed me to explore my fetishes and sexuality without feeling so fucking ashamed all the time.

A lot has changed since then. Despite writing about sites like the sub-shop, I no longer identify as submissive—even though I was convinced for some time that my kinks boiled down to submission. I've now written stories that use words I wouldn't have dared to whisper five years ago. The main point, though, is that without the Internet—without technology—I don't think I would ever have received the education I needed to start coming to terms with my sexuality. I'd picked up books here and there but nothing ever got through to me the way sex bloggers did. There was something about the dailiness of their writing, being able to watch them struggle and think and change their minds, that shaped my view of sexuality and allowed me to see it as the messy, ever-changing thing that it is for me. I needed that model to get some sense of what to do with myself.

I've enjoyed and appreciated the posts people have been making about skill with technology, trust and distrust and so on. I have my own love-hate relationship (don't even get me started on how I feel about trying to manage FetLife, keep up with my blog, or whatever). But what it boils down to is that without the Internet I think I'd still be going to confession to ask the priest how to stop wanting the things I want. I think I'd still be trying to write in genres that don't really work for me. I think I'd still be frightened, isolated, ashamed, and certain that something was terribly wrong with me. So I'm grateful to technology for introducing me to points of view that would never have otherwise been available to me. I'm still far from figuring it all out, but I don't know what I'd do without all the things I'm now hooked into.


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  2. The huge pond of the internet allows us to customize our own interests, understand better how sex affects others, and makes us not quite the horrible people that much of society insists we are.

  3. Interesting post. I discovered the Erotic Readers Ass'n (as it was called then) in 1998, and discovered Remittance Girl there. Getting a computer that I could use at home expanded my world a lot. And that was after I had done several stints in the real-life sex biz!

  4. 1998!! I had no idea ERWA has been around for so long!

  5. It was founded in 1996. I think it was a spinoff from a romance writers' group. Adrienne Benedicks would know. She founded it along with another woman who had several pen names.

  6. My early forays into the online world (about twenty years ago) involved science fiction and fantasy, not erotica, and I think I vaguely assumed that internet sex was all cheesy porn for men. Plus I shared our only computer with my teenaged son, so we both were rather careful about our browser histories. Once I started writing erotica, about 15 years ago, what the technology did do for me was related to e-mail contact with other writers, especially a couple fairly close to where I live who introduced me to the world of play parties and a BDSM group for women in the Boston area. Very educational indeed. I did a lot of driving the two hours to Boston and then back for several years, and I still pay my dues to the group (MOB is their name) but when gas prices went up and my situation changed in various ways I eventually stopped going. I was always more of an observer than a player, although I did learn some hands-on skills. Technology for me has been more a matter of an easier way to do things I might have done anyway, the way word-processing has made it easier for me to write, even though I would have done it anyway.

    1. "Technology for me has been more a matter of an easier way to do things I might have done anyway"

      This is really interesting. Technology has definitely been that way for me as far as the word processor. Maybe in the case of information it did make it easier for me to pursue interest I had anyway, but in this particular instance that distinction of ease/difficulty is the difference between being able to do something and not doing it at all.

  7. What an inspiring post, Annabeth! Anyone whining on and on about porn and sex on the Internet should read it. Actually, I suspect your story is not all that uncommon. The Internet has allowed so many people to come out of their closets of misery and gain both self-understanding and self-respect.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, and agreed! I'm sure I'm far from the only one who's had this sort of experience. I think the really incredible thing is that the Internet provides access to such a multiplicity of perspectives. That can be a problem, of course, when it leads to something really hateful. But it can be a godsend when, for example, it leads to a kink-friendly psychological perspective when one's own town only contains psychologists who think kink is a horrible perversion.

      And all the doomsaying about porn on the Internet and how it's making people kinky or something (paraphrased in an imprecise way because I disdain the position) is really missing the point, I think.


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