Erotic Computing

EC 1.6 (7-13-94)


by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.

In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking -- but now, Heaven knows, anything goes.


My Managing Editor tells me there have been a lot of browsings of this column's Web page. That's flattering, but it leaves the psychologist curious about what those browsers were looking for, and what they thought of what they found (there's been a little fan-mail). Today we finally get to at least the edge of what many of you perhaps expected from "Erotic Computing": the plethora of explicitly sexual text material available through Usenet. I've noted that, when I mention my fascination with online BBS and newsgroups -- without a suggestion from me that there's anything risqué about these groups -- I often get told about "alt.sex.bestiality" or its neighbor "alt.sex.bondage." These in-your-face bad kids of cyberspace seem to attract the at least fleeting interest of most Net-tourists, and they are prompting much discussion in both the "real" and the virtual worlds about censorship and access-limits for the Internet.

In a recent column in Wired magazine (2.06), Richard Kadrey observes that the second of these groups, asb, in addition to being one of the most popular Usenet topics, "has been home to some of the most thoughtful, provocative, and extreme postings on the Net." I heartily agree, and I want to suggest why -- without acknowledging that as a Responsible Professional I would ever actually read any of this material -- I believe we have much to learn from it. I cannot offer a representative sample of asb postings and maintain my commitment to keeping these columns PG-13: much of the fiction posted to asb and its neighbor, alt.sex.stories, is of the sort once handed about in the boys' washroom in junior high -- and torn into tiny bits by any teacher alert enough to apprehend it. The literary quality (whoops!) of many posts is what sexist critics once called puerile, and many texts seem so rushed-to-screen that they have not paused for spell-checking, to say nothing of proof-reading. Or perhaps it's that, as online critics have been known to suggest, so much of the typing is done one-handed ( ;-}). Responsible posters to the alt.sex.... lists add labels to a given title to indicate that the story is, e.g., "Mf-nc-bond": male-dominant-over-female, non-consensual, bondage-oriented. Many of the authors are regulars, and many stories are serialized, with regular readers of the list offering critiques of recent episodes and almost audibly panting for the next. Most material is offered for free reposting -- with credit to the usually-pseudonymous author -- and many readers offer to email favorites from their own archives of erotica. Throughout, there is the most curious mixture of the obscene and the guileless, the jaded and the eager-to-please. "Thoughtful, provocative, and extreme ..."

The psychological questions addressed in recurrent non-fiction asb threads are interesting and important: Why are we here, perusing this material, rather than paying attention to that person in the foreground? Are we perverted? Were we abused as children? Are specific erotic preferences for this material -- and not just general sexual orientation -- hard-wired? How are erotic fantasy and practice related?

Next week I'll start addressing the psychological import of recurrent alt.sex ... themes. For now, consider this take-home question: Is the proportion of mind-control and overtly manipulative -- if not sado-masochistic -- imagery larger in word-processor-generated and electonically-posted erotica than in the genre as a whole?

Douglas Davis, Ph.D. <ddavis@haverford.edu>


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Copyright (C) Douglas Davis 1994. All rights reserved.