Friday, June 13, 2008

LIVE BLOGGING EVENT - Sex on the Super Highway.

I'm currently at the Center on Halsted (Chicago’s GLBT Community Center) as an audience member about to participate in a live Feast of Fools podcast. The topic this evening is “Sex on the Super Highway - How is the Internet Changing Sex.” I figured I have a lot of experience in this area so this should be a fairly easy foray into a Live Blogging event. I’m going to attempt to report the news as accurately as I can and not interject my own opinions… here we go….

***Note, I was having problems connecting to the wireless network at the event so this was posted after the event.***

7:15 - Jim Picket is giving us an overview about what the event is and what's coming up. The next live podcast is July 23rd at Sidetrack. Remember you need to fill out the questionnaire (oh I love spell check). They're having a booty seminar later this year - not good booty - bad booty.

7:18 - Marc & Fausto of Feast of Fools make their grand entrance. Fausto stops at the piano and belts out their musical intro, those of us “in the know” smirk and giggle. The topic this evening is “How is the Internet changing our sexuality?” Three participants on the forum. Stephan Adelson, former GM of, Beau Gratzer who works at Howard Brown and Brian Mustanski of UIC - all online sexperts.

Marc & Fausto start off the fun by giving us tips on how to make the best internet photo – because “A picture is worth five words.” Fausto poignantly points out that “You can't smell people from a photo.” So you’d better take hints about how people present themselves. Uh oh, they’re gonna show us real life dating site photos (I hope they didn’t find mine). OOOHHHHH Scary eyes. Some helpful hints:
- Don’t hide yourself in the photo. Like a hat pulled down over your eyes that says “Beer nuts.”
- Be awake in your own photo – no one wants to date a sleeping beauty.
- Learn Photoshop – at least the basics, like cut & paste.
- Don't go crazy with Photoshop – are you a leopard or a boy?
- Do not be afraid to ask for help from your friends - Spooky mirror shots aren’t good for anyone!
- Be mindful of where you are - There's a guy standing next to a huge cactus that looks like a penis. The cactus is way more interesting. The boys close the segment by reminding us that we've been alone too long

Stephen takes the seat, he’s the former GM from Manhunt.

What made Manhunt so special? Timing – AOL and the other sites had already worn themselves out by the time Manhunt came around (2000ish) and they were far too mainstream to handle such a sexual topic, they couldn't handle the adult content. The community on AOL faltered and collapsed in on itself and because of the way that they were funded (large national corporation sponsorships) they couldn't promote themselves as gay because they were afraid of losing their sponsors. Manhunt didn't need to do that. Manhunts money came from membership fees instead of advertisers, so they didn’t have to worry about pleasing their advertisers – only their clients.

What happens when things go wrong? Safety is a big issue, regardless of where you meet someone. The interesting thing about the internet is that you can get 20 men in 20 minutes. It's true that doesn’t even happen at a bar when you pass out and people step over you. Regardless of where you meet someone you have to be careful, especially when there are other "things" involved like sex & drugs. Drugs can cause a lot of problems because someone could get into trouble and be afraid to call the police because they don’t want to get in trouble themselves. The one thing you need to remember though is the Police are there to protect you, don’t be afraid to call if you get in trouble.

Here are some safety tips:
- Check the website your on and see if there are any tips – read them!
- Meet in public
- Make sure you're compatible with someone, a 5 minute IM conversation doesn’t count.
- Leave a screen name by your computer
- Make sure you're honest on your profiles kids, you don’t want to get beat up because you lied.

Why do people post online? Some use it as a tool to be a tease, they may post hot pics (maybe not even of themselves), go through all of the steps and then never follow through – just being an internet tease. Others use it as a way to boost their self-esteem, to post pictures and have tons of hits. Stephen admits that nothing shocks him - not even 2 girls 1 cup. Carrie Underwood is a Fat Cow. (Ricky made me say that because he keeps looking at what I’m typing - I don't even know who he is).

Why is Online Sex So Easy? Now we're being exposed to gay sex all the time via the internet. Before it was a lot of sensationalism – Richard Gere with the Gerbil or S&M, you had to imagine what it was like. But now you don’t need to pretend, the Internet has made it super easy to find whatever you’re looking for. Sex is more public than it has ever been before, and it’s ok to have those feelings.

Manhunt was the first site to include HIV status online, at first they didn't include it because they didn't feel that the community was ready for it. But in 2003 they were the first ones that allowed users to disclose their status online. Stephen said that his goal was to increase the conversation around HIV it's not just a field in a box. He does think though that if he had it to do over again he would get rid of the absolutes (Yes/No) and instead add an option like “Presumed Negative” and add a date of your last test.

Beau from Howard Brown, director of HIV and STD Prevention, joins the boys on the couch. He is responsible for online outreach. They've been doing Online Outreach since 1999 and they're looking for volunteers. The biggest question they get is “how safe is oral sex and HIV” and “where can I get tested.” Beau said that in the first chatrooms, most of the people that were dispensing advice or health information were not qualified and lots of times passed along wrong information. He says that their biggest challenge is getting people interested.

Manhunt was the first site that took the lead in promoting the conversation of HIV and STD’s. One of the big things that HBHC did was create policies and procedures so that they could go to other sites and show them that they had policies in place and they knew what they're doing.

Some of the deterrents to having Public Health Outreach on sex sites felt that people go to sex sites to escape the everyday things and that having Howard Brown there reminding them of HIV and other STD’s they were actually pestering their clients – I mean, who wants to think about that stuff when all you want to do is get hot and horny. When clients would come in to get tested and have a positive result, HBHC started tracking the sites that people reported they “hooked up on” from there they started contacting those sites first. The biggest problem that HBHC had was there were hundreds of sites and only one of them, and there were other Public Health Orgs across the country trying to do the same thing.

Whats the difference between a website and a bathhouse – They’re both used for sex, right? So why does a bathhouse have to promote safe sex practices, yet websites don’t? It boils down to the difference between a virtual location and a physical location. With a bathhouse you have to make a conscious effort to go there and in the virtual world it's just a click away.

What are some sites doing to promote safe sex? MySpace & Facebook actually have a lot of health advocacy but it is geared more to the teenage crowd (Chlamydia, Syphilis, etc.) the difficulty of it all is that people need to seek out the information. HBHC and others have Facebook pages and sex site accounts, but they can’t actively go out and “minister” to people, people have to be interested and seek the counseling out.

There are some websites that are promoting the use of technology, like which is a Partner Notification site. Users can go there and with simply an email address they can notify a partner that they should go and get tested. Partner Notification sites are important as it gives people anonymity and the ability to discuss something that’s difficult to discuss. The worst thing that can happen with a Partner Notification site is that someone goes and gets tested for an STD.

Brian joins the boys on the couch as the talk keeps going. Brian works for of UIC keeps his focus primarily on GLBT Minority Youth. The Internet has really given a voice to these individuals. It provides an outlet for education, going back to the earlier discussion of “being able to find anything via Google” it allows youths to get educated. Sex education barely talks about sex, so it’s even more difficult for youths to come to terms with themselves and provides a way for them to link with the community. They can be reached in a way they could never be reached before. It’s easy to “come out” on the Internet, all you do is set your profile to “gay” and suddenly everyone knows, whereas before you had to actually “come out” to everyone.

Poor Marc got de-friended on Facebook! I can’t believe that, but it must be true.

How is Internet addiction like other addictions? It's so easy, for example, you get that instant gratification of grading someone and going onto the next one, the ability to look at one hot person after another, before you know it hours are gone.

Why do people sit in front of the Internet for hours? Well, people sit in front of the TV for hours. Finding something on the internet makes people feel like a hunter. They google it, find information and keep going. Sex is even easier, you look at profile after profile of sexually explicit photos, each one hotter than the other, you’re on a quest and you’re going to follow through with it. People enjoy that state of arousal they get from the internet, and it can go on for as long as they like.

What’s the next thing that’s hitting sex on the Internet? 2257 Laws – These laws require that primary producers of adult material maintain records that the person in the material is of legal age. Legislation is trying to pass these 2257 Laws onto secondary producers (websites like Manhunt, Craigslist) to make them responsible for their users content and verify that it is age appropriate. Since primary producers need to keep the record, attempting to roll it out to other adult sites is a way for the government to enforce it without actually having to acknowledging. They’re attempting to take on any website that has adult content. Their “goal” is to affect people’s behavior.

The final though is “You might be able to get people to not run a stop light if a cop is standing there but if he’s not there enforcing it, people are going to do what they want.”

Q&A is next and my fingers are tired, I’ve been typing for way too long.

The podcast isn’t up yet, but as soon as it is I’ll give you a link so you can go hear it for yourself.
I hope you enjoyed this Live Blogging Event!

Check out these great sites:

Feast of Fools
Center on Halsted
Howard Brown Health Center
Life Lube
Life Lub Blog


the zak said...

A thought experiment... the strategy of "Let's get tested TOGETHER BEFORE we have sex, for A VARIETY of STDs." A sexual health checkup reduces ambiguity and can be like anything else potential sex partners might do TOGETHER.

Feast of Fools said...

That's great Michael. Nice write up of the event. I'm glad we could all learn something and have some fun doing it.

Pete said...

that's some nice bloggin'

jim pickett said...

What a great job on this! Thanks for such complete and detailed coverage of our forum - very cool and quite impressive :) I myself HATE taking notes... Please do come to our next forums (live blogging or not) - on booze in July, then booty in November. You can find out about each on FoF and LifeLube...

oh, i should tell you the hot links to the center, howard brown and lifelube are all going to the same spot...

Anonymous said...

zak - who in god's creation is going to hook up with someone online at 2:45am and go to the STD clinic at 3 to get tested together before they get it on? hello, it's not even possible. dumb idea.

Michael said...

Jim - Thanks for the notice, I've updated the links!

Michael said...

Jim - Thanks for the notice, I've updated the links!

the zak said...

          > who in god's creation is going to hook up with
          > someone online at 2:45am and go to the STD clinic
          > at 3 to get tested together before they get it on?

Almost nobody--until home test kits become available. Even then few people will do this. Now you know why the epidemic and deaths will continue into the indefinite future.

Andi said...

Just had time to sit and read this! Great job Michael, I actually felt like I was sitting next to you. Very detailed, informative and interesting too.

Anonymous said...

The Feast of Fools is the best podcast! Marc and Fausto produce the best content.