Love & Sex

How Sex on Tumblr Will Change Media

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Sex in the media goes from pornographic to pretty.

American journalism has a beginner's complex when it comes to fucking. Gawking instead of touching, overthinking instead of cozying up, giving tips instead of giving tip. One in five Americans view porn, and between a quarter and a third of all global Web searches are for porn. Yet magazines and newspapers keep sex at a gigantic arm’s length. For an industry stuck at second base (specifically, side boob), there’s finally a foreshadowing of journalism’s sexy coming of age. Thanks to foreigners, porn and women. But mostly porn, in the hands of women.

The foreigners are key. Relentless, fast, dismissive of America’s tormented sex drive. Canadian-born, New York-based Vice investigates Swiss brothels, tests out homemade sex toys and runs an entire Not Safe For Work section next to Travel and Tech. Gawker Media, founded by a British-Hungarian, launched, ran and released Fleshbot, a blog with more ass-fucking than “Before Night Falls.” Its Jezebel site is always talking sex and publishes gems like the “March Madness Sex vs. Chocolate” competition, a clever play on the annual month-long U.S. college basketball tournament. (Blow jobs easily beat hangnail fingerbang in the first round.) Ten years ago, Vice and Gawker were considered journalism backwaters. Now they’re valued at $1 billion.

Sex should already be everywhere in American journalism. The media are part of a sensual family of artists, singers, musicians, novelists, writers, filmmakers and poets. Every song is about foreplay, fucking or fallout; “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the latest bestseller and a painter’s raison d’etre is the nude. I remember in Dorothy Allison’s “Bastard Out of Carolina,” the leading lady, Bone, masturbates against a tree limb at 12 or 13. That’s honesty you’ll never read in a newspaper, which is ironic, because papers are supposed to reflect the public’s interests. Journalism’s always been tied down by two prude dudes: America, who decided that political gossip and violence stories are more acceptable than naked booties. And advertising, who always bows to political heat or gets up in arms when an ad is placed too close to sex. As if a Chevy is more sacred than fucking. Scram, guy!

Then the Internet came, tsunami-style, to rearrange the madness. Conservative as an ism is suddenly floating upside down in a bottomless sea of everyone. Every second, another voice, another layer, another site, a billion times over. The Internet unmoored civilization’s three deepest anchors: Money’s no good here, everything’s free; assault is impossible; and property doesn’t exist. The Web is generally a very  kind place: LOL cats conquered the world without displacing a soul. We get a much more beautiful equilibrium between masculine and feminine tastes, especially when it comes to sex.

By 2010, one in every two-and-a-half Web pages was porn. Two years later, hard core is giving way to more sensual porn, women are taking over the director’s chair and sites like Viv Thomas, X-Art and Hegre refine the pace. A narrative based on physical domination is being replaced by the primal strength of an erotic woman. “Sexiness,”says German photographer Ellen von Unwerth, is “saying something secretive, something in her eyes that’s almost animalistic.” The secret is the explosive distance between a sexual woman and getting her to share with you. Von Unwerth’s women drip with sensuality but never offer a route to obtain it. The unrequited eroticism is ferocious, and in photos, women can freeze that moment and let it hang into infinity. It’s exactly the opposite of masculine sexuality, displayed in porn as an unstoppable force that inevitably moves from, “Hi, how do you do?” to the money shot in 10 minutes.

Women aren’t just the dominant subject of the Internet, they’re increasingly the controllers. Ladies make up more than half of the U.S. social media population: 58 percent of Facebook, 64 percent of Twitter and 82 percent of Pinterest. They post, share and comment more than men. Like never-ending nesters saying hi, hello, hugs, kisses. They gravitate toward photo-heavy sites and contribute more visuals, which frequently brings them back to naked women. Women love fucking, too, doncha’know? Love seeing themselves as erotic focus. Love seeing themselves reflected powerfully. As von Unwerth puts it, women are there to be enjoyed. 

A third of ladies say they watch porn, and 46 percent of young women say they've had anal - twice as many as a generation ago. “Giving up control is just as liberating as wielding it,” writes Nadia Cho, a Berkeley college student, in a recent column about BDSM. “Getting slapped in the face is a nice masochistic addition to your sex routine — it can be a lot more erotic than it sounds.” The Internet’s ubiquitous sexuality melts away the idea that getting fucked means giving up power. Or that viewing and sharing naked pictures suggests depravity or neediness.

The moral neutrality and the huge rise of women’s voices means a more balanced, and much larger, erotic representation on the Web. There’s no better example than on Tumblr, where women are showcasing their sexual voice. And, more important for traditional media, they're finding a casual blend between sexual and commercial desire. Justify-Sexy, a sexy Tumblr run by a 20-year-old Romanian, Gabriela, is a prime example. She curates pictures of urban landscapes and clever quotes next to half-naked tattooed men. Beautiful cars and delicious sandwiches next to women in lingerie tugging down their panties, touching themselves provocatively. Curating sexuality is empowerment, not objectification.

We’re starting to see a similar style in the United States with women-led journalism companies like Live Fast Mag. The newbie run by a pair of women recently launched a sex column to go along with beautifully curated lingerie showcases and interviews with fashion photographers. Live Fast and Gabriela’s Justify-Sexy answer the question of how women’s sexuality will enter the journalism mainstream: through fashion. A recent British study showed women think about fashion more than sex, and there’s no doubt American women would produce similar statistics. The beauty of it is that clothing and the body are inextricably linked, a bond that will bring ladies into the limelight on their own accord.

A version of this article appeared originally at Kosovo 2.0. Republished with permission. 

Greg recently launched Imagination in Space, a brand-spankin'-new journalism company helping give away 10,000 pink balloons in Kabul. He builds pop up with Openhouse, too. Say hi @gregtspielberg.