Digital sex lives: a cyber-criminologist’s tips and thoughts

Lockdowns may mean digital sex if you don’t live with a partner. Even before Lockdown 2, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews about trying to improve our now digital sex lives, focusing on how to make the most out of them and how to stay safe online. With a PhD thesis examining online abuse and a relationship that was mostly digital during the spring lockdown, I thought I’d put my thoughts about this hot topic into a blog post with my tips and thoughts on staying safe while enjoying digital sex.

Digital sex and why it matters

I remember in February, pre-lockdown, I was listening to a guest lecturer speak to my criminology students about online and image based sexual abuse. I was quite shocked to hear this woman, who researched on different forms of sexual violence, say: “Well, the best thing to do is to just never send nudes.”

The room went very quiet. The sentence in itself sounded quite victim blaming – if you send pictures, it’s your problem – and it completely disregarded the fact that sending nudes and having digital sex is now very normal. Younger generations increasingly communicate online, and are accustomed with nudes. Couples living apart, or enjoying digital play, send nudes regularly. It just seemed odd and anachronistic to hear this from a digital researcher.

Of course, putting your nudes out there or engaging in digital sex is risky. As Myles Jackman, aka the Obscenity Lawyer, told me in an interview earlier this year, when you put your naked body online there are very little legal protections to look after you. But, in a year marked by lockdowns, different forms of digital sex can also be a way to feel a connection.

Just like any social media behaviour, it’s fair to say that online nudity, digital sex and sharing nudes are now here to stay. Rather than focusing on how to stop them, it’s worth talking about how we can enjoy and engage with these behaviours safely. This is what this post will be doing.

Digital sex opportunities: digital gadgets and good communication

I don’t think it takes a PhD in rocket science to find out that having no human contact during a global pandemic sucks. But despite the sucky bits, I’ve found some pockets of joy and even some opportunities in digital sex.

Communication

Communication is one of the opportunities Covid gave us. Whether you’re in a relationship or in the first stages of dating, or even just looking for a hook-up, the closeness of a partner, and the horn caused by making out, foreplay, and sometimes too many glasses of wine, can hinder your communication, resulting in a disappointing, or even upsetting, experience with sex.

Before I became a pole dancer and started oversharing my ass and my life on the Internet, I wasn’t particularly good or brave enough to talk about my needs and my desires with partners, whether they were boyfriends or one-night-stands. Poor communication on my part resulted in disappointing or even traumatic experiences, because I wasn’t stopping to think about or set my boundaries. This wasn’t my fault, by the way. Female pleasure wasn’t such a hot topic until a while ago, and I wasn’t educated enough about it to discuss my likes and dislikes, because society likes women better when they’re silent.

Now, because of lockdowns, most of us are having to date online. For those of us living apart from our partners, before the support bubble days, online communications was all we had to keep the spark alive. For me, this has resulted in conversations surrounding what’s important for me in a relationship, where I see the relationship going, and in really interesting discussions about digital sex. For instance, are you ok with having your genitals on camera? Are you turned on by video or digital sex? What makes you feel safe in a digital sex scenario? These are all conversations we may not have had offline, when the speed of a hook-up or the shame of saying something out loud might have stopped some of us from having safer, better sex. But now we’re having to have them, because our online presence leaves a permanent mark, and it’s essential that we protect our digital selves as much as our offline ones.

Digital sex ‘aids’

Lockdown was the time when many of us discovered a variety of apps to keep us satisfied even when isolating. While these may not replace offline sex, for me they became a nice addition to it that I wouldn’t have tried if it wasn’t for lockdown.

Remotely operated Bluetooth sex toys were one of lockdown’s mind-blowing discoveries for me. Even though I tried a variety of toys and apps, nothing has so far beaten the Satisfyer Connect app, which I’ve been trying with the Satisfyer Love Triangle gifted to me by Spider PR.

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The Love Triangle is an air pulse technology vibrators that stimulates the clitoris using pressure waves and vibrations. It’s one of the most powerful toys I’ve ever tried, and results in long, intense orgasms. While the Love Triangle is fun to use on your own however, it’s way more fun to use when controlled by a partner – remotely or in the same room – through the Satisfyer Connect app.

The Satisfyer Connect app allows for encripted communications and, even more importantly, it allows you to audio or video call while your partner is controlling the vibrator, at the same time. You can chat, add some music to your masturbation session and regulate different vibration intensities all within the app.

Through apps like Satisfyer Connect, digital sex feels safe and, even though it doesn’t replace offline sex, it provides a helpful alternative when you’re separated from a partner in lockdown. Plus, at least for me, it’s become a fun game even when I could see my partner face-to-face, something I hadn’t considered or used before Covid.

You can buy Satisfyer Connect enabled toys from Self & More, using my code: bloggeronpole for a 10% discount:

Self & More are running a promotion offering free shipping for orders over £30, so if you’re in the mood for an extra Lockdown 2 pick me up, this is it!

Things to watch out for when having digital sex

Let’s be clear: once you’ve decided to put your picture out there on the Internet, it’s there and there’s not much you can do for your own protection. So that is a real risk, particularly if your pictures end up on some forum, or are shared publicly.

Yet, particularly during the pandemic, there’s a shared need for some form of sexual interaction online, and those needs may upstage the need to stay safe. So you should navigate these activities with knowledge that sharing certain images and conversations requires a lot of trust, so I would recommend “vetting” the person first, talking to them for a while and figuring out what they’re about. If after having spoken to them for a while something feels off, or creepy, I would avoid sending anything no matter the horn. 

Safe sexting tips

Sexting can be a great opportunity to communicate sexual likes and sexual dislikes, and that can actually be a prelude to the ‘sexy’ action, so it’s really important to think about what you like offline, and to communicate it. 

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Communication is key when sexting, not just because you’re communicating in a sexy way, but because when something feels jarring, it can become really obvious because you see it, right there, written down. So people who are new to sexting and video dating should reflect on their triggers – e.g. “I don’t like talking about this stuff because…” or “I don’t like to refer to this sexual practice because…” – and communicate them to the person they are dating or sexting with.

Reading the room here is essential. It’s really awks when you’re in the middle of your hoovering and suddenly you get a text saying: “Hey babe u up I wanna nail u real hard.” You can either ask for consent – e.g. is it ok if we talk about sexy stuff now? – or, if the conversation is already headed that way, you can try and push things a little further when it feels right. But as I said, communication is key to set boundaries and to ensure consent is obtained.

It’s worth remembering that any pushing to do something you’re uncomfortable with should be a red flag. If people try to tell you you’re boring or not in love enough for not sending nudes, I would consider this as more manipulative than sexy.

If you feel violated you need to say it as soon as possible. This is because the feeling of violation can only grow if the person continues further with their behaviour without being told it’s not ok. By saying “Please don’t do that because it makes me feel X and Y,” you’re not only preserving your relationship with the person, you’re also educating them to your needs and to similar social situations. So it should be seen as growth and kindness rather than awkwardness.

If the person persists in behaviour that you perceive as negative after you’ve told them it makes you uncomfortable, they are effectively violating your will and negating your needs, and it’s your right to interrupt communication. 

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Protecting yourself while doing sexy things online

As I’ve already discussed in a different post, a good way to engage in “sexy” activity is to use encrypted apps like Wire, Telegram or Signal, which are more careful with your data than your Facebook or IG account. These apps have “self-destruct” or “view once” options for images, which are very helpful for sending nudes. I’d also recommend taking pictures that do not show your face or any identifying mark – e.g. a tattoo – and deleting these both from your picture folder and from your phone’s bin. I would add that, apart from using these apps allowing encripted technology for digital sex, it’s important to create safe passwords, set up two-step authentication and be tidy with your social media login-practices to prevent hacks and leaks.

Sadly however, there is no way to know whether the other person will screenshot those pictures. This is why, personally, when I engage in this type of activity with my partner, I share pictures featuring an aesthetic that I already post on my IG, but making sure they are pictures I don’t post, and that are for him only, making the process safe but more personalised. 

I think the trade-off of personal images is way sexier than an average crotch shot, so if someone is pushing you to show a particular body part or to take pictures you feel uncomfortable with, consider whether the person is interested in the exchange or just in the image itself.

To conclude – and this sounds very horrible – remember that if you’re both sharing images and sexy conversations, you’re both “equally blackmailable”, so if things go south, that may provide some leverage.

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The problem with the ‘social media’ vs ‘real life’ comparison in sexting scenarios

So you’ve read how digital sex can provide both opportunities or challenges to your sex life, but you’re still thinking: “It’s not real life tho.” And you’re right: sexting is not the same as having sex. You don’t feel a person’s touch, you don’t feel their arms around you. But if we get into digital sex during a pandemic to fully replicate offline sex, we’re in for a disappointment – and we’re likely to get into tricky waters when it comes to upsetting or abusive online behaviours.

Believing that social media are not “real life” may lead some people to overstep others’ boundaries online. Public perceptions of social media, forums and other online interactions have historically had this clear split about online and “real life” from the word go, maybe because we expected people to just create a different avatar on World of Warcraft and Second Life, and those seemed very far removed from everyday life. But really, particularly now during Covid, the Internet and its surrounding platforms are real life.

Through social media we interact with our loved ones and promote ourselves. Through the Internet we work, pay bills, study, engage with public life and with politics. What’s more real life than that?

But this social media/real life split, and the fact that you don’t really see users’ expressions or reactions through a screen, have made some people act as if certain behaviours are ok online, or not as upsetting as their offline counterparts. Online interactions mean that some people react either through deindividuation – so pack or mob behaviour if in a group – or through disinhibition, given by the potential anonymity and distance provided by platforms. It’s very clear with threats: why isn’t an online threat taken as seriously as an offline threat? Similarly, if I don’t wanna see your penis yet offline, I will not want to see it online. This is why we need to accept that now, our sex lives may be largely digital, and we have to handle them with similar care as offline sex – if not with more care, due to the permanent, publishing-like nature of social media.

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