This is a write up of my first presentation at KinkForAllNYC2 as well as a lot of peripheral information from my talk at Sex 2.0 DC.
See the KinkForAllNYC2 Schedule Grid for write-ups, video and pictures of other presentations.
Anonymity’s Effect on Online Sex Writing
I’ve been reading online erotica since there has been erotica online. Starting with BBS (Bulletin Board Systems), using a 2400 baud modem to dial up and log into places like Technet and The Unforgiven Board to scour the forums for hand transcribed copies of badly written stroke stories from magazines and pulp novels.
Even from this initial stage, online sex writing was been posted in anonymity. This is partly because of the geek/hacker influence on all aspects of online society from this initial point. Handles, nicknames and pen names were the norm and thusly all postings were anonymous or at least pseudonymous.
When the actual World Wide Web came along and the mixed blessing of AOL brought it to the masses, new worlds opened up as forums grew as new avenues of written smut appeared.
Usenet was the first real bastion of anonymous erotic writing online. When rec.arts.erotica appeared in the early 90’s my teenage mind was consumed with finding stories of unspeakable things and reading them over and over. It was not only that I found something arousing and stimulating, it also told me that my own prurient mind was neither unique nor alone. Other people had all kinds of fantasies and many of them had the desire to write them down and share them with people.
rec.art.erotica was a moderated group that always seemed to have a long queue of things waiting to be posted. An unmoderated group called alt.sex.stories rose and was even more chock full of everything from the sublime to the horrific.
There was a feeling of being able to read people’s minds when I read these stories because they were so full of unspeakable and even unbelievable things. Anonymity seems to bring out people’s most shocking fantasies.
In the mid 90’s came alt.sex.stories.moderated which was a great balance of the first two newsgroups and a.s.s.m. is still one of the biggest (if not the biggest) repository of amateur smut on Earth. a.s.s. and a.s.s.m. are still active and you can find an archive of the work posted on there (and more) on ASSTR.org.
One must remember that at the time when usenet and it can be said the whole internet was the domain of males. Not only specifically males, but male geeks. So the trends that dominated online erotica say more about the mind of the technically savvy western male mind than society overall.
In taking a look at ASSTR.org the most common plot lines are:
- incest (often underage)
- mind control
- interracial (specifically black male on white female)
- gang bangs/multiple partner/threesome
- non consensual/rape
Additionally various porn tropes as well as specific erotica stereotypes are very common. Black men have huge penises, all women secretly harbor the desire to be raped, &c (Here is a list of common erotica cliches)
Works were so pairing and activity driven that codes were set up to tell readers what kinds of things they would find in each story. MMF, for example would be a threesome with two men and one woman. Here is a complete listing of story codes.
As the internet has grown, so has one of the first genre’s of writing that is almost completely based on the internet. Fan fiction and slash specifically, got their start in printed and photocopied zines and newsletters, but only started to take off when it crept online. Fan fiction being stories written using previously published character and/or situations. Slash meaning stories of male on male (romantic or purely sexual) pairings of characters that are canonically not thought of as homosexual.
Star Trek was the first real fan fiction fandom, but it was soon joined by stories about every imaginable (and many unimaginable) show, movie, movie, comic book, mythology, band, historical figure, or what have you. Some of the largest fandoms through the years have been Star Trek, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter and Supernatural.
Anonymity played a powerful role in the growth of slash and het (heterosexual) fan fiction. Given the dubious legal status of fan fiction and copyright law almost all stories are published under pen names or anonymously. Also the writers and readers of fan fiction are often under age and are either hiding this fact or hiding their identity all together.
Slash is also important in that it brought a large number of female writers onto the internet. The writing of these new female writers brought their own list of tropes, cliches and plotlines, including but not limited to:
- male pregnancy (MPreg)
- older/younger (pediphilia)
- incest (and specifically “twincest”)
- male prostitution (rent boy)
Erotic fan fiction has been one of those most controversial forms of erotic writing online due to both the copyright issues and the fact that it often involves underage characters in sexual situations. As well the readership of slash is primarily 14-20 year old women and so many underage readers are exposed to more explicit writing than many of their parents would like. This has led to the shut down of many sites, specifically Harry Potter sites, as well as the purging of adult works from sites like fanfiction.net.
So as we have seen anonymity provides freedom to write about topics often frowned upon by society, or subjects and thought experients that the author would not like connected to their real identity. It also freed writers from (or at least helped them evade) copyright restrictions and expected age limits. More than these things I believe that anonymity has helped fuel a movement of amateur writing that explores sex in a free and open way that has no parallel offline. Normally the only people writing stories are professional writes or those who want to be professional writers. Online writing (and later blogging) told people that it was alright to just open up a word processing program and start writing about their fantasies and sharing it with people. I believe that trend has been a powerful help in the new sexual revolution that the internet has helped inspire.