Sex and the Net: it's not always ugly and disturbing
Sex and Internet. In many people's minds, the two words are virtually synonymous.
Since its earliest days, the Internet has been notorious for the smut that it hosts, and pornographers were making money from the Web years before the term e-commerce was even coined. The online sex industry has developed a deservedly bad reputation. Type a few sexual terms into any search engine and you're likely to end up with thousands of links to the tackiest, ugliest and frequently most disturbing Web sites imaginable. When surveys warn that 86 per cent of American men visit porn sites, and that the workplace is under siege from pornographic content, this is what they're usually talking about.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Adult content can be erotic without being prurient. It can be informative without disturbing - and it can even be funny.
Probably the best example of what an adult site can be is Nerve.com. With barely a nipple in sight, Nerve.com was designed with women in mind - and not the silicon kind. Virtually every writer on Nerve.com is a woman, and the site approaches its subject from a decidedly different angle. The site is packed with columns, essays, news, reviews, fiction, poetry (ugh) and pictures. The latest issue includes an interview with cult filmmaker John Waters, essays by Martin Amis, Maya Angelou and Simone de Beauvoir, and a review of a novel about Chinese foot binding.
Nerve.com's closest competitor is The Position (www.theposition.com). Making an apparent effort to balance its content for women, men and other people, the Position takes a less highbrow approach to sex. The Position is a far less stylish site, and its navigation, which is not helped by placing its index on a revolving, 3D cube, could be a lot more user-friendly. Alongside sexual advice and stories, the site covers a range from Wonder Woman's role in emancipating women to prostitution in Cuba.
Most people I know visit Salon.com for its general news and entertainment features. But Salon's sex pages, at www.salon.com/sex, are big enough to launch as a site in their own right. The features share the well-written and researched style that Salon is renowned for, invariably interesting, and never straying into smuttiness. My one dislike of the site is that it is not downloaded with Salon's Avantgo edition for handheld organisers, so I have to read it in the office instead of the MTR.
For men who like their adult sites with less analysis and more humour, iVolt (www.ivolt.com) is the place to be. IVolt comes as close as it can to an old-fashioned men's magazine without descending into old-fashioned porn. The site features travel guides, jokes, cocktail recipes and gadget reviews, and there's not a trace of poetry or sexual identity angst to be found.
I shouldn't close this column without mentioning Playboy.com. Though most people pay their subscriptions to ogle naked playmates, a lot of people still insist that they log on for the stories. Honestly, some of the features really are good.