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Comes Naturally #7

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Tech Sex

Tech Sex: For Better, For Worse

As Lisa Palac, "queen of high-tech porn" and editor of Future Sex magazine, enjoys pointing out, every new technological achievement quickly finds its way, like water flowing downhill, to a sexual application.

When the photographic process was first discovered, one of its first uses was to create enticing images of naked women. When motion pictures were born, underground sex films immediately followed. One of the prime economic foundations of the home video revolution has been the sex video market.

Home computers have given rise to Macplaymat (Macplaymate until Playboy threatened to sue) and Virtual Valerie, primitive interactive erotic computer games. And the internet and usenet newsgroup computer bulletin boards have spawned dozens of sex-related computer networks through which information about a blizzard of sexual interests is exchanged not every day, but several times each second.

Sex-related computer bulletin boards have become so prevalent and popular that many institutional computer managers have begun screening them to keep them out of the hands of their employees. But this expression of pop sex culture has already been going on, virtually unimpeded, for years. Computer buffs everywhere -- at IBM and Apple, at colleges and universities coast-to-coast, at corporate offices large and small, at the IRS and the Department of Defense, executives and data processors young and old -- have been reading their screens and typing away at their keyboards, alternately creating and absorbing the utterly populist, uncensored, unscreened (and, of course, unverified) postings of the various (alternative sexuality) bbs, with such fetching names as,,, and many, many more.

A while back (November, 1991), I checked out a related bulletin board: rec.arts.bodyart. (Not even considered a sex listing, this network classified itself under the broad category of recreational arts.) I was amazed that there was such a bulletin board, and curious as to what I would find there. (I had written an introduction to a book that included one reference to piercing and tattooing. My publisher and editor considered this completely beyond the pale. I wanted to demonstrate to them that there were more than a few modern primitives, that they were just behind the times.)

I found that there were 13 entries on piercing and tattooing that had been posted in the previous three days alone. Here are some samples:

Does anyone know where I can get my nipples pierced in the NJ or NY area?

Response 1: I just got my nipple pierced in State college, but a friend in Philly is getting his done for 8.50 at a club called Cell Block. Look up the address. If I find out more I'll let you know.

Response 2: Try Gauntlet (with address and phone).

Response 3: I found the following names and addresses in a recent tattoo magazine. The info comes from ads. (Names, addresses, phone numbers provided.)

Hey, I may be stupid, but what is a traqi pierce? I am new to this list and probably too conservative to get a tattoo or piercing but still interested.

Response: It is not a stupid question, it is a strange part of the body. Put your right thumb in your right ear (go ahead, no one is looking). Your forefinger will now naturally wrap around the tragus. [The tragus is the piece of cartilage that sticks up where the center of the ear attaches to the skull.]

I am thinking about using an ear piercing gun to pierce the labia. It seems this would give me a quick, clean pierce, with a minimum of pain/blood/time. Has anyone else used a gun to pierce something other than an ear? How did it turn out? I imagine that the fold of skin to be pierced would need to be about the same size as an earlobe, so an inner labia might work (at least my inner labia is about that thickness).

Response: Everyone I know whose opinion on piercings I respect thinks that using a gun for any piercing other than ears is a Very Bad Idea (not that they're especially crazy about them for ears, either). A competent piercer will not cause you any more pain with the needle than you would have with the gun; probably less. My recommendation: have it done by a professional. If you don't live in a place where that's an option, get a hold of whatever [issue of] PFIQ [Piercing Friends International Quarterly] has the Pierce With a Pro [article] for labia and have a trusted friend with a steady hand do it. Good luck!

Why am I not surprised that there is a newsgroup devoted to body piercing? Sigh. For what it is worth, I have a Prince Albert -- thanks to Chris in Chicago.

I know that there are people, many of them women, who perform cuttings on themselves as some kind of release of bad feelings, anger, depression, etc. What is going on when a "cutter" gets into play/decorative cutting? Cutting has always fascinated me. I enjoy (physically, mentally, emotionally) the act of being cut or cutting. I once did a video/performance piece where I was cut with a shard of broken mirror (oh, we artists are lofty, aren't we?) and the horrific delight of the spectators was incredible to see.

Response: Hmmmhhh. I found myself lost in reverie following this. You know the feeling -- that intensity of focus -- where the body is so absorbed in the ritual of skin that the mind is free to wander, and follow its own depth -- clear like a deep pool. Afterwards is the time for numb where the world has receded as if behind veils. The edge of clarity is gone, and all is warmth. For a while all is still. It's easy to understand why one enjoys afterwards, as the enkephalins kick in. It remains yet to be explored, amidst all this talk of quick zap gorings, what one finds in the experience -e-x-t-e-n-d-e-d-.

Clearly, not all computer people were nerds. And most of these listings were from people in Cleveland, State College PA, and so forth -- body art, as I suspected, was much more than a New York/San Francisco phenomenon.

I was amazed and delighted. Here was technology being used to provide sex information, person to person, without the intervention, approval, or direction of the powers that be, public or private. No need to convince some TV talk show producer of the relevance of ectopic sexualities -- and then suffer the ridicule and distortion of the talk show/sound bite/audience pie throwing ritual -- in order to gain access to corporately controlled networks of information dispersal. No need to appeal to the sensibilities of sex-phobic editors at the New York Times, USA Today, People, Cosmopolitan, Ms., Playboy, or New Age Journal: just post whatever information, thoughts, questions, anecdotes, ethical philosophizings, or jokes -- whatever you want on your bulletin board of choice. If you wanted, you could even start a new board of your own, if you had a topic that no one had thought of yet and wanted to bring some curious souls together.

People able to find out what other people really thought, did, desired, and imagined about sex -- enhanced by the anarchic freedom and possibilities of total anonymity (each person gets to be listed under any name they want). Confirmations for everyone that they are not alone. Connections outside the dominant paradigm. Talk about democracy! I had images of the normalcy monolith shattered into a pile of dust slowly being dispersed by balmy afternoon breezes.

Maybe someone logs on to that they get off thinking about being forced to fuck their college professor while their mother's boyfriend sucks their toes and every past lover watches and jerks off. Eight different people report that they have had that very fantasy, or something close. Nine fewer person feel weird about themselves, and the hundreds or thousands of others who read the messages without responding get to have their own erotic imaginations spaded and watered.

I am told that 250,000 people a day log on to the various networks, that it's the most accessed single category in the newsgroup system. (Why am I surprised? X-rated videos, after all, are the most popular category of home movie rentals.) All this, mind you, on an information exchange system maintained and managed at public expense by none other than your and my Department of Defense....

Virtual Dancing, In and Out of Bed

It's a wonderful warm afternoon. It's spring. I'm driving along the coast, windows down, enjoying the sunshine, listening to National Public Radio. Linda Wertheimer is interviewing a man named Fred Davis about a new development in virtual reality technology. It's a circular pad, 3- 1/2 feet in diameter, that you put on the floor. You stand on it and dance, wearing an audio-visual headset that provides you with music and a holographic dance partner of your choice. Your partner responds to your body movements with movements of his/her own. Twelve infrared sensors follow your body, feeding your movements into a computer that programs your holographic partner's responses.

Davis, a virtual reality enthusiast, notes with a playful matter-offactness the "obvious" erotic possibilities of this device. It takes, he says, pornographic movies to a new level of interactivity.

Ready to play, not to say openly flirt, on the air, Wertheimer doesn't miss a beat. "I like your idea of taking pornographic videos to new highs, or shall I say new lows," she laughs. For a moment they muse together about the delightful possibilities of virtual sex, like new acquaintances at dinner laughing together about what they might do later on in bed. In my car, in the sunshine, I am one of several million NPR listeners from Bangor to Phoenix who get to eavesdrop on their lightly erotic te-a - te.

Wertheimer is intrigued but Davis wants more. He says what he's really waiting for is the next level in virtual reality sophistication: a VR body suit that would allow a program to interpret and respond (however the user would like) to every subtle nuance of body movement, head to toe. Everyone tuned in to NPR understands that he's not talking about a more sophisticated virtual dance partner.

It will be expensive, of course -- the relatively primitive floor pad costs, if I remember correctly, about $3000 -- at least until everyone feels like they have to have one. But worth the cost, dear consumer, worth every penny. Just think of the possibilities!

At last a technological solution to the technological problems of traffic congestion and smog. (The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.) Once we can program perfectly configured dream lovers to have perfectly programmed dream responses to every subtlety of how we (imperfectly) move our bodies, no one will ever leave the house except for non-modem-related work and emergencies. Crime will disappear. City streets will become safe and quiet, not to say deserted.

Why settle for real sex with real people when you can have virtual perfection? Why get rained on in Chicago when Palm Springs has 75x sunshine day after day after day after day? Why risk disease, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration, and heartbreak when you can program an ideal partner to satisfy you ideally?

As erotosoftware maven Mike Saenz says in Future Sex:

"People want to remove excessive human contact. Especially as the planet becomes overpopulated. They want that distance, and I think that [virtual reality] sex could actually give them that.... Having too many intimate relationships can foul you up, you have a lot of ghosts in the background..... I think VR sex will free up some people and give them sexual adventure without... the trappings of actually having a relationship. And that's what sex fantasy is for us now.... We don't have to wake up in the morning next to [our partners] and have breakfast."

By 2013, will all well-to-do Americans have access to virtual sex nirvana? Will we be shooting up synthetic endorphin spinoffs that generate mind-boggling orgasms a dozen at a time while we actually "feel" the caresses of our imaginatively programmed, stunningly gorgeous, obedient, undemanding virtual sexmates and laugh about the bad old days when people had to worry about all the messy complications of partner sex?

Just think: A sexual world with no AIDS, no herpes, no performance anxiety, no awkward come-down conversations, no unpleasant body odors, no wrinkles, no shit, no piss, no blood, no restimulated memories of childhood abuse and adolescent humiliation, no sexual harassment, no power imbalances, no unwanted pregnancies, no national discord about flushing foetal pre-humans, no infidelities, no jealousies, no hurt feelings. Clean. Tidy. Blonde.

Ah, brave new world, struggling to be free. Sieg heil.

Spectator, April 30 , 1993

Copyright © 1993 David Steinberg

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