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No Strings Attached – Does Web 2.0 Aid Sexual Liberation?

In the modern society, norms in courtship rituals are defined by the media. For those who are not ideal consumers – such as obese teens who do not fit mass-produced clothing, isolated individuals who do not belong to predefined subcultures, desperate  adults who have lost the ability to communicate, or alienated professionals looking for instant passion – these rituals sometimes become impossible to negotiate.

How does Web 2.0 change these social rituals?

1) Does it facilitate sexual liberation by providing an alternative public space that:

a) De-complicates these rituals or make it possible to bypass them altogether to initiate a ‘real-life’ sexual encounter?

b) Enables alternative sexual simulations involving humans, machines and fantasies to allow encounters that are more meaningful than real life?

2) Or does it create a new set of rituals that, in turn, also alienate some users?

I will work in one real and one virtual environment:

I will post and respond to ‘Casual Encounters’ ads on Craigslist adopting various identities and record the responses I receive. And I will participate in the IMVU virtual world using various real and fantasy personas to woo other users. In both cases, I will use trial and error as well as any help I can get online to increase success rate and determine what norms are being carried forward from real life and what new norms are arising or evolving.

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9 Comments

  1. juliette b 10:03, Mar 2nd, 10

    Really interesting.
    Actually I would be interested to know if the Web 2.0 provide an opportunity for new sexual practices for everybody or if it only concerns a specific audience aka as you defined it ‘those who are not ideal consumers – such as obese teens who do not fit mass-produced clothing, isolated individuals who do not belong to predefined subcultures, desperate adults who have lost the ability to communicate, or alienated professionals looking for instant passion’
    Therefore the Web 2.0 would have a social dimension by reducing some inequalities…

  2. Harris 10:11, Mar 2nd, 10

    Yes Juliette, that’s pretty much what I mean to figure out – does it reduce some inequalities or does it create new ones?

  3. Leslie 11:14, Mar 2nd, 10

    I agree with Juliette- I would definitely be interested to hear what type of people use these services and why they decided to use them.

    This isn’t meant to be a dating site, but I find it pretty intriguing how those who play World of Warcraft end up sometimes dating other players through the game. Here’s a good article about it: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/article7039871.ece

    The girl interviewed in the article explains that, “as her real-life relationship deteriorated, she started developing feelings for guild-mate Nicky. ‘We spent every night sharing photos and talking on webcam.’” Maybe those that play World of Warcraft are also some of the same people on dating sites like IMVU, where they can again pretend to be someone/thing completely different than their selves?

  4. Harris 11:58, Mar 2nd, 10

    Very interesting story Leslie. IMVU is not a dating site per se, which means what you say is all the more correct.
    I’ll try to dig more into user demographics of IMVU and will obviously try and interview as many users as I can about why they think they’re on it.
    Will keep everyone posted.

  5. nadine 12:12, Mar 2nd, 10

    Would be interesting to link your investigation to thesis #10 in the “Digial Given” article. Is the Craiglist dating feature helping to develop these complex digital identities? What do you think about the Open-IDs?

  6. niharika 13:02, Mar 2nd, 10

    @ Leslie, I have also read about people dating or hooking up via gaming communities and websites, people even adopt their gaming persona as an alternate identity (or role play).

    @ Harris, in response to your questions – I definitely think that Web 2.0 is transforming many offline social rituals, whilst creating new ones simultaneously. The social cues and motivations, and codes that govern these alternate spaces on the web both alienate and facilitate users, in my opinion!
    Whether or not these alternate identities and realities translate into real-life sexual encounters would be intriguing …. yes we have all read the stories of people meeting their partners in internet chat rooms / websites, but how does real, human interaction, without the constructs and walls of the web play out?

  7. DanJee 14:09, Mar 2nd, 10

    I find your topic interesting and hope you will be able to find some interesting results, but I disagree with would make a counter-argument on your presumption on “Norms in courtship rituals are defined by the media. For those who are not ideal consumers – such as obese teens who do not fit mass-produced clothing, isolated individuals who do not belong to predefined subcultures, desperate adults who have lost the ability to communicate, or alienated professionals looking for instant passion – these rituals sometimes become impossible to negotiate.”

    I would argue that this is not driven by a social norm and pressure to conform, but rather driven by individual motives themselves. From an evolutionary psychological point of view, it is only natural for a person to feel attracted to the person most likely to be the dominant player in the society. In other words, I do not think it is the media that defines these boundaries at all, but the people themselves even when they are not under the influence of media.

  8. niharika 15:46, Mar 2nd, 10

    Dan, I disagree with you to an extent … in the past few decades media, be it film, tv, magazines and now social media, has directly or indirectly influenced human behavior!

    While it is a psychological and innate human need to be drawn to the dominant player, or someone who is our complete opposite,etc the reality of such situations is very different. It is in the absence of such realities playing out the way we would like, that these alternate spaces and identities have drawn people in … and whether we like it or not, the media does reinforce certain stereotypes and notions and rituals that we conform to(eg – the hype around the rituals and ‘traditions’ that form Valentines Day)

  9. Ryan 16:01, Mar 2nd, 10

    What do you mean by, “De-complicates these rituals”? Could you elaborate on what types of rituals?

    Also, I think that it offers a shallow alternative to real-life meaningful relationships. Although, I am placing a value on these “casual encounters” where people can find sexual fulfillment (I would question that) in meeting random people who they have no prior relationship to. Yet, I would remiss if I did not say that I also feel that these individuals use the web 2.0 > Craigslist per se > to cope with their own underlying insecurities or issues, whatever they may be. I don’t see how individuals can find a “long-term” fulfillment from something of this nature. It’s merely a quick addictive fix on the sexual desires that we all have.

    I’d be curious to see what your results are from immersing yourself in this environment.