Sexuality and Social Media

How is Social Media affecting our sexual lives? Some have reconnected with an old flame on Facebook. Others chase “#sexy” on Instagram, some are slut shamed on Twitter, others post naked naughtiness on Pinterest… Some find true love on eHarmony. Some lose their lives in the aftermath of the hacking of AshleyMadison.com. Some swipe right on Tinder…

This hub sets out to investigate the ways in which social media is changing sexuality, as it revolutionizes the ways in which we seek and select partners, it shapes the types of encounters we engage in, and re-writes our scripts for erotic action. There has been a massive explosion of social media, dating platforms and mobile dating and hookup apps in the last ten years. A lot has been said about how this is revolutionizing our sex lives. Some think these new technologies are positive and see them as catalysts for sexual liberation: they maximize partner choice, streamline and broaden access to the dating game, by connecting like-minded partners from far and disparate milieus; they also multiply possibilities for desire, beyond heteronormativity and monogamy. Others are woefully pessimistic and warn that we are on the verge of a “dating apocalypse” (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/08/tinder-hook-up-culture-end-of-dating).

Is technology changing the ways we are having sex? Is the sex we are engaging in thanks to technology fundamentally a different kind of sex? Or is technology simply facilitating access to sex and to the relationship game? Are we having more sex, better or worse sex thanks to Social Media? Are we sexually freer now, and masters of our shared destinies? Does the technology limit in any ways the way we think and do sex, effectively transforming and re-configuring our social relationships? Is the technological medium a simple conduit, or is it a “managed apparatus”, in which actions and options are shaped for us?

The term “social media” was first used in 1994 (Bercovici, 2010) but it did not reach wide circulation until about 10 years later, when Web 2.0 platforms made possible user generated content and revolutionized the internet (Baym, 2015). Marwick (2013) argues that this heralded a new online era, one that harnessed corporate investment to people’s desire to connect and share content with one another. If “openness” and the “facilitation of connectivity” have been at the heart of social media since inception, so has profit: Baym (2015) reminds us that social media platforms have been primarily funded by a small groups of young males, funded by venture capitalists, who may wish to improve our ability to relate to one another but fundamentally are interested in making money first. She states: “’social media’ is the takeover of the social by the corporate. ‘Social media’ happened when companies figured out how to harness what people were already doing, make (some of) it a bit easier, call it ‘content,’ and funnel our practices into their revenue streams” (Baym 2015, 1).

Online dating began with such dating platforms as Personals.AOL.com, Personals.Yahoo.com, Match.com, and eHarmony.com. It quickly evolved to service specific religious and ethnic niches, and jDate.com for Jewish singles, ChristianMingle.com, ChristianCafe.com, LoveFromIndia.ini, BlackChristianPeopleMeet.com, Amigos.com (for Latino singles), AsianPeopleMeet.com and Shaadi.com (for Indian singles) were born. The proliferation of dating platforms quickly evolved to include different types of encounters and service those that are not interested in romance or monogamy: Adult FriendFinder.com and AshleyMadison.com made their entrance on the scene; MeetUp.com targeted those seeking friendships. There were some early platforms representing the queer community, such as ManHunt.net, but it was not until the introduction of smartphones and the invention of mobile apps, that gender diversity and all sexual orientations gained full representation. Now there is a plethora of choices in the app store, for everyone, every whim, or desire: OKcupid, Tinder, Down, Hinge cater to people generally looking for a quickie; for the more adventurous there is 3ndr (for threesome seekers), or FetLife (if you are into kink); there is Bumble, for women who wish to avoid the “creeps”. Other apps, like Pure, Coffee Meets Bagel, Hitch, HowAboutWe, promise quality over quantity. Grindr and Scruff are favourites in the gay community, offering proximity location services to detect the closes partner; Her caters to queer women, and Thrust is a brand new dating app for trans and gender non-conforming people.

How does access shape the ways in which technology mediates our sexuality? And in what ways does access limit our knowledge and power? If we think that the majority of platforms rely on algorithms that filter access to material and influence content sharing, then we must ponder the fact that users may not be in control of the information made available to them. Users may be easily managed, having been given the impression of “openness” and “sharing”, when in fact they do not “see” the filters and algorithms that have been applied, and are unable to control them. Most importantly, they are not made aware of the interests of those who have created them. Baym points out that “platforms have take-it-or-leave-it terms of service that nearly always overreach. In times of massive surveillance, we never know where our data will end up, used by whom for what purposes.” (2015, 1-2).

This conference has a global focus; it aims to facilitate dialogue and spark innovative collaborations and discussions at the international level. We welcome papers from all disciplines, professions and vocations, going beyond the academic world and bringing together researchers, community activists and professionals engaged in work on Social Media and sexuality. From the academic sector, we seek representation of the many disciplines that work in the area of Social Media in relationship with sexuality: Mass Communication, Social Policy, the Humanities, the Social Sciences, Health Science, Community Development, etc. We welcome traditional papers, panels and workshop proposals, as well as other forms of presentation platforms (posters, video submissions, etc.) favoured outside academia, given that the conference aims to bring together academics, activists and other professionals, recognising that different groups express themselves in various formats and mediums. We seek submissions on any of the following themes:

• Theorizing Social Media and sexuality
• Social Media, eroticism and sexual fun
• The desirable body on Social Media
• Social Media and sexual content – sexuality, media authorship and media production
• Sex Work and Social Media – is on-line sexual commerce booming, are we experiencing a rise in escort agencies?
• Sexuality and affect – how did that hookup really feel? Empowerment/disempowerment narratives, ghosting
• Enforcing the normative on Social Media – “slut shaming” and other forms of denigration
• Multiple desires and pansexuality in the app world: does the proliferation of apps like Her, Thrust and 3ndr actually translate into sexual inclusivity?
• Social Media for dating and marriage, but not for sexuality – for example, Muslim dating platforms (like InchAllah.com ), where dirty talk and sex are not part of the interaction;
• Pansexuality in the App world: does the proliferation of apps like Her, Thrust and 3ndr actually translate into sexual inclusivity?(http://techcrunch.com/2015/08/19/thurst-is-a-promising-dating-app-for-queer-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-people/)
• Discrimination on social media – lessons from Grindr: “no blacks, no femmes, no fatties, no Asians.”
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jessica-joseph/hook-up-apps-are-the-wron_b_7963288.html )
• Managing risk – fake profiles, bad dates, the dangers of “proximity dating”, revenge porn, the AshleyMadison.com scandal, Snapchat and safeguarding sexual history and anonymity on line; risk management tactics; the ‘lurking predator’ and other moral panics (why you shouldn’t post pictures of your children on social media) ; Social Media scandals and the demise of public figures and politicians;
• Unplugging by plugging in – the deleterious effects of our social media habits on our currently lived intimate relationships
• Stratification by attractiveness and desirability – are the “few” are having all the sex?
• Gender wars and the double standard – are hookup apps leveling the playing field? Or do men still have the power to decide the level of relationship (“hit-it-and-leave-it” vs. “relationship material”). Intimacy issues: are hookup apps “destroying” intimacy? Is Tinder “good for women”?
•(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/03/tinder-women-reasons-it-works_n_3541428.html); (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peggy-drexler/-millennial-women-are-tak_b_6578116.html
• Social Media, sexual wellness and health; sex education and mobile apps;
• Teens, Social media and Sexuality – sexting, the criminal distribution of the naked selfie as child pornography, prosecution cases, alternatives to prosecution; ref to fandom, tv soaps and online forums; codes and neologisms (“Netflix and chill”)
• STI management Apps: the advantages and disadvantages of posting STI status on line
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/26/hula-std-app-hawaii_n_5032185.html).
• Sexual Performance measurements Apps – “Am I normal or above average?”; There’s even an app to find out if you’re good at sex at all
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/13/spreadsheets-app-good-in-bed_n_3748719.html).