How Reddit Can Help Your Sex Life: An Interview with an r/sex Moderator

You're sitting there typing into a box on the computer not really considering how much you could be affecting someone’s personal life.

BY KELLY BOURDET

It's impossible to overstate the influence the internet and internet-dependent technologies have had on our personal relationships and sex lives. Reddit--the notorious forum space that has caught flak for "misdeeds" as various as encouraging the sexualization of young teens in the r/jailbait subreddit to misidentifying the suspects in the Boston bombing--rarely gets credit for what it does right. The internet has powerfully expanded sexual education for those who might not otherwise be able to access information, and the r/sex subreddit is a closely moderated, smart, and non-judgmental source of all kinds of sexual information. 

r/sex moderator Maxxters chatted with us about her experience on reddit. She is a former high school teacher who became discouraged with government mandated sexual education in schools. She's now finishing up a degree in Family Relations and Human Development at a Canadian university, but when she has the time, she's moderating r/sex, making sure people have the online access to sex education they might not always get offline.

How long have you been on reddit and how did you become a moderator?

I joined reddit only two years ago and at first it seemed pretty boring. My friend showed me the front page, but then he took me to the sex subreddit and I loved it. I just started posting in it often.

“Patientpolyamorist” was the main mod at the time and he asked me if I wanted to be a mod, but I was nervous that it would change how people in the community related to me. But then they asked for nominations and there was an overwhelming response from users that they wanted me.

Reddit gets a lot of bad publicity for elements of misogyny that exist in certain subreddits. Does the discussion of gender and sexuality here make this kind of behavior more or less prevalent?

Well, it's hard because it is a male dominated space. On reddit in general you get rape jokes, sure. And people who just think this stuff is jokes in the comments, telling the woman to go make a sandwich, for example. You see that in many subreddits, though that type of language gets deleted in r/sex. I've also had claims that I must be sleeping with “patientpolyamorist” to have gotten to be a mod. A lot of the things that are "free speech" we do censor, but only when they become sex-negative. Obviously trolls exist everywhere on reddit, so we really push for members to report any abusive stuff. 

However, sort of conversely, the focus on r/sex is often women and how difficult [sex] is for women. I feel that sometimes a focus on men is actually lost. Yes, women have body image issues, issues with slut shaming, issues with orgasm; but men do have problems, too. 

Sex in our society is difficult to navigate and a lot of that is because of poor sex education and shame; it's not about who has it worse but making it better for everyone.

So do you have to ban people often? What does it take to get banned from your subreddit?

We ban trolls immediately for extreme violations. There's a general trend on reddit to call people "fag". If people do that then they get a warning and the post is totally removed. We haven't really had any huge troll-related explosions because they're reported pretty much instantly. Personally, I've been attacked constantly, especially now because we're doing a push for this safe space because we’ve reached 300k users. We know that with a bigger subreddit comes trolling; we're trying to be more like r/science. 

And does the constant trolling get to you?

I’m human; it definitely gets to me. I wish it didn't. Honestly, sometimes I get down and I have to take a day off of reddit, but I have to focus on the hundred of PMs (private messages) I’ve received about how much I've helped people. 

When you're sitting behind a computer screen, it's very easy to say a bunch of shit. You can say all the hate-filled things that you might have in your mind. But it's important to remember that you're talking to another human being—you're talking to thousands of them—your words really have impact. You lose the human touch and the empathy that you would ordinarily have for other people. 

Right, the anonymity of the internet leads to a feeling of empowerment when insulting people, but I would think that especially for sex, that the anonymity of the internet might be a good thing. Do you find it allows people to explore topics they perhaps wouldn’t be comfortable talking about otherwise?

Yes! I believe the internet has the potential to save sexuality. Sex education for teens can be very disappointing. I was a high school teacher for four years and I saw how bad it was. The internet allows for freedom of education. Whether you were raised in a religious household or with abstinence-only education in your school, you can get whatever information you need from the internet. 

You also get so many more perspectives because of the sheer number of people contributing. Even for me, someone who has been involved in r/sex for a while, every day there's at least one or two posts of issues I had never heard of or people expressing new opinions on things that I hadn’t thought about. In r/sex, it is a sex positive space. You're not going to get told you're gross or slutty or bad. The best way to be comfortable with sex and sexuality is to be exposed to it, not necessarily to accept all aspects of it in terms of what you yourself would be comfortable doing, but just to be exposed to these different ideas and interests and understand there's nothing wrong with this stuff.

Right. I mean, the simple way to push back against that idea, and what I think sexually conservative individuals would say, is that being exposed to something you might not otherwise have seen can alter your sexuality. What would you say to people who claim that the internet encourages aberrant sexuality or sexualizes people at too young an age?

Just a few days ago we had a post about a German sex education book that dealt quite explicitly with sex; there was a good deal of controversy regarding its use in young children. So this is a case of young kids being exposed to sexual material. However, study after study says that after comprehensive sex education, females especially, will delay their first sexual encounter. And when they do become sexually active, they know how to do it in a safe and healthy way. Certainly, simply being exposed to ideas doesn't mean that you necessarily act on them.

We also don't allow porn and erotica and we remove any links to this sort of stuff. We want to keep it educational and discussion-based.

Recently there’s been interest in the no-fap community on reddit, a subreddit dedicated to the idea that masturbation often “weakens” individuals and that many people benefit from quitting entirely. Does r/sex have an official stance on this? 

Just today there was a question about our opinion on r/no-fap. Our official stance is that a small number of men do probably benefit from not masturbating. We do find some of it quite extreme and sex-negative. I personally have views on the no-fap community’s views on porn -- they say it changes the brain and they're trying to make these connections between drug addiction and porn addiction. We don't have any conclusive evidence. It's all hypothesis-based. I don't buy into it as something threatening our culture. 

You’re obviously very devoted to the subreddit. How long do you spend on reddit on any given day?

[Laughs] It's the very first thing I do when I wake up. I check the moderation queue. Because of where all the mods are located, there’s usually about seven hours where no one is really moderating. I want people to see we're on top of things. How much time I spend on reddit really depends on how much work I need to do on my thesis. Some days I only get to spend an hour, sometimes it could be seven hours, if there's a thread that’s really going nuts. I've had days when I've gotten over 500 messages. 

In all honesty, just now thinking about it, I would say I've learned more from r/sex than I have in two years in grad school. I think this is the best learning opportunity that you can get on human sexuality, though it’s a very different kind of learning. 

What’s the reaction like to you on reddit? What’s the positive side of all this, the things that keep you putting in so much time?

I've gotten a few private messages that have made me cry. It's just so heartwarming to hear how much of a huge difference that you've made. You're sitting there typing into a box on the computer not really considering how much you could be affecting someone’s personal life. I’ve gotten messages from people talking about how before they weren't even able to look at themselves naked and now they're able to be comfortable being naked with a partner. 

I've had some men and women tell me that I enabled them to have their first orgasm by techniques or just lessening shame. That's the only reason why I do this; to be able to help other people. My goal is to be in sex education. And the internet is a powerful tool for education.

 

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