How To Flirt On The Internet

According to Emily Witt, who investigated the live webcam site Chaturbate, it helps if you’re a woman:

At first I avoided the most sexually explicit channels. I preferred to watch women, but not usually at their most pornographic. I watched when they were just doing things, chatting or cutting out paper hearts for Valentine’s Day or listening to the songs of Miley Cyrus. I watched the women because they were more interesting than the men, who invariably positioned themselves in a black computer chair at a desk in ghastly desk-lamp illumination, dick in hand, making the usual motions, unless they reclined in bed and did the same, with little in the way of creativity or gimmicks. It was amazing the diversity of what men wanted performed for them and how little they offered to others, except for a few of the gay guys, who seemed to understand that some form of flirtation might exhilarate the spirit and therefore did yoga routines in bike shorts or lip-synched to pop hits.

Witt goes on to consider whether “internet sexual” qualifies as a new orientation. She talks to Chaturbate performers Max and Harper – whose webcam performances have included a penis-in-ice-water endurance test as well as “puppet shows, and threesomes, and a food fight” – about how their ideas of sex have changed:

As Max and Harper have gone deeper into their online sexual exploration, they have learned that sex is no longer a thing either of them could define. “I know intercourse is definable as a thing but I don’t, like, believe in ‘sex’,” said Max. “I don’t think I could point to it, I couldn’t tell you what it is, because for some people, completely-clothed-just-pulling-at-your-nostrils-at-a-camera is sex, it’s a massive turn-on.”

Some people might look at Max and Harper, or anybody on Chaturbate, and disagree. They might think of clean sheets, a well-made bed, a clearly defined “partner,” and a closed door and think that they know exactly what sex is — loving, maybe; monogamous, probably; dignified by its secrecy; more authentic for not being shared; sacred because it’s not mediated through a cell phone. Spend enough time on Chaturbate and such a view starts to feel both rarified and unambitious. …

Right now I see being sexual on the internet as a bold and risky form of performance. I anticipate that in the future it will just be thought of as sex.