Intimacy 2.0: Decoding the digital age of sex and relationships

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Words: Tess Hardy (she/her) 

Content Warning: Sexual violence and pornography 

‘You look lonely, I can fix that…’ – Joi, Blade Runner 2049 

As the cosmos of tech exponentially engulfs every aspect of our lives, the behaviours most intrinsic to human nature struggle as they are being overridden. Our innate lusts to mate and find companionship links back to our primal instincts, our base code. Human consciousness is grounded in this desire, our existence built around socialisation. The monogamy of humans is subject to debate; with varying perspectives on hetero/homosexuality and polyamory. However, the simplicity of mating and love in the animal kingdom is far less complex than humans. Thanks to our consciousness, the abstract ideas of sexuality, fetish, the patriarchy, and sexual freedom have implicated the difficulty of finding our “perfect match”. This complex issue of intimacy has puzzled humankind for centuries; portrayed in plays, music and paintings. Now we have found a new piece of software to decode: the internet. 

Thanks to Zuckerburg and the Silicon Valley brotherhood of “Tech bros” who sought to connect us through social media, the opposite effect can be argued to have been achieved. Facemash was Zuckerberg’s first project at Harvard, giving him the building blocks for what would become Facebook. The website was used to rate the “hotness” of women on campus against one another. He built it by hacking into the school’s student directory and stealing women’s ID photos for the site (and we wondered why he was ok with selling users’ data to help Trump and Brexit?). Zuckerburg testified before two U.S Senate committees in 2018 relating to his connections to Cambridge Analytica and the role he played in destroying democracy in the 21st Century. When asked about the initiative behind Facebook, the hailed genesis of social media, he casually replied ‘No, Facebook wasn’t invented to rank hot girls –That Was My Other Website.’ 

As the helpful and joyous aspects of tech developed and we were able to message relatives overseas, connected in a way never before seen, so did the taboo and dark aspects of the internet and technology. The most central social aspects of our lives were built by white men with elements of centuries old misogynistic ideals at their core. The relationship between tech and the patriarchy is undeniable. The increased commodification and sexualisation of women in the 21st Century has been born out of the rise of fringe social media sites: QAnon, 4Chan, Reddit, and 

The Porn and Camming Industry can most notably be identified by platforms like Pornhub and OnlyFans. They have become recognised as part of the user’s everyday life, just like Facebook and Snapchat. Pornhub was founded by web developer Matt Keezer in 2007 and while on the surface this direction brought porn out of the pages of playboy magazines and into our hands, a sea of controversy lies beneath. Pornhub has been involved in numerous lawsuits regarding non consensual material, child pornography, theft of online property, sex trafficking, and unpaid labour. This infamous industry aiding in the upholding of rape culture resulted in the call for “ethically sourced porn”, birthing sites like OnlyFans. This discourse produced by the Feminist Sex Wars seemed to be partially solved by a site like OnlyFans creating sexual empowerment for sex workers. However, the risks of cyber security and exploitation are unavoidable in the enigmatic matrix of the internet. This digital screening of intimacy impacts our understanding of sex and consent, resulting in damaging effects on the human brain leading to habits of addiction that we are still trying to decrypt.

These developments aren’t contained to the online world as the development of digital sex toys, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are feeding into our hunger for a new age of digital sensuality. Sex toys have advanced from “Cleopatra’s bees in a box: DIY Vibrator” as female sexuality has entered the mainstream. The intersections between tech and male focused sexuality centralise around the combination of women and commodity. This has become a fantasy of the techno-industrial empire, to reduce women to a consumable good. While the extremes of the Japanese originated sex robots, A.I cam-girls, and Hentai illustrate this, it’s evident in simpler parts of our lives.

Think Siri. Your humble personal assistant that goes with you everywhere, confined within her machine and submitted to a life of servitude. Your wish is her command. So, while the impact of tech has influences over digital sexuality, it has IRL consequences. The prevalence of the perfected female android is a fantasy ingrained in our consciousness produced by big tech: EVE, Ex-Machina, NPC Live Streams, and Joi from Blade Runner. The perfect merging of production, tech, and sexuality. One we must now navigate by regaining our connection to the motherboard of reality. 


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