Saturday, June 16, 2007

Naked on the Internet

Naked on the Internet

I remember discovering that Audacia Ray is hot.

The possibility first dawned on me one afternoon as she stood framed in a doorway, describing in great detail an arcane legal code designed to identify as a streetwalker any single woman alone in a city after dark.

I listened, scribbling notes now and then. About twenty minutes into her extemporaneous lecture, I looked up and absently-mindedly thought, gosh, Audacia’s got such a strong physique. Must’ve been all those years of riding horses.

I’d never really noticed. She played down her physical appearance, wearing frumpy sweaters and baggy jeans. Anyway, I was mostly concerned with her mind—she came up with sharp insights based on research illuminated by sparks of clarion inspiration. She matched her passionate zeal with an orderly, fastidious reasoning that lead to observations that were nuanced and, in her favorite word, awesome.

In short, she was a nerd.

One night a couple of years later, Audacia stopped by my place for drinks. She had spent the summer hiking around Europe, and I was eager to hear about her adventures.

We hugged and bussed cheeks at the door. She stooped to put down her bag. When she stood, she turned slightly to look around my apartment.

That’s when I noticed it.

“Oh my God, Audacia. What happened to you?”

She smiled. “I got hot.”

I shook my head, stunned. “No, I mean, yeah, you really did. How on earth . . . ?”

As we shared bourbons that night, Audacia brought me up to speed on her life and her plans for the coming year. She had continued to be a serious thinker about issues of sexuality—particular women’s sexuality—and was, as ever, an advocate of participant activism.

Along the way, she had decided to put her body where her mind was. She was not content to ponder bisexuality, sex work, modeling or publishing as an academic observer. If she was going to address women’s sexuality in a serious way, she was going to experience women’s sexuality in a serious way.

She reasoned that achieving that goal would be easier if she were hot. A summer of walking and a few shopping trips later, she was transformed.

That decision led to the experiences she describes in the introduction to her new book, Naked on the Internet She reveals her early excitement in online hookups, discusses her emergence as a sex worker, talks about her career as a model and alt porn producer and describes the exposure of blogging her sex life.

She then puts that aside.

The book, she tells us, will not be about her. It doesn’t have to be, as so many women share similar experiences, while others are doing things that are outside her own personal interests or abilities.

For the remaining pages, Audacia relates the tales of women for whom the Internet has become an instrument of their sexuality in ways that can be personal, commercial or—especially in the penultimate chapter—directly physical.

In language that is so accessible as to be conversational, Audacia takes us into women’s bedrooms and workplaces to listen to stories of relationships, businesses and orgasms.

As I read, I nodded along in recognition as she covered subjects with which I am well acquainted, such as blogging or online hookups. I found myself underlining passages and making marginal notes as she covered subjects less familiar to me, such as women-produced alt porn or cyberdildonics.

In approaching material new to me, I was impressed by the reportorial tone of her narrative. Throughout, Audacia doesn’t seek to pontificate; rather, her goal is to make coherent observations about a moment in flux. She allows her subjects to speak for themselves. When she has an opinion, she expresses it as such. Were it not for the identifiable voice and underlying scholarship, you might at times forget that Audacia is in the room.

But it was in reading material closer to home that I was most impressed, for Audacia often put me in the room with people I already know.

I was not an interview subject for the book—disqualified, alas, by the whole “being male” thing—but a number of my friends and lovers were. Sometimes, they talked about their relationships to me or to my blog. Reading those passages (okay, I’ll admit: I flipped ahead to read these immediately), I was struck by Audacia’s sensitivity to her subjects and their stories.

I know these women, and so I could affirm that their thoughts were accurately conveyed and fairly reported. It can be awesome to see one’s life written into a public narrative, as my friends and lovers find when they appear in my blog or when they write their own. It can also be dreadful, as jealousy comes into play, commenters race to judgment and stalkers shove misery into inboxes.

The vulnerabilities of sex blogging lead some—including, at this very moment, Meg, who is represented in the book—to question the entire enterprise.

Audacia’s objectivity regarding people I know well gave me confidence in her treatment of those I do not. This in turn led me to want more. Her interview subjects do not represent the full range of women’s sexuality, as she makes clear—by its thesis, the book is focused on women with access to the Internet and whose use of it is generally public. It is difficult to quantify the impact of the Internet on women who do not make their experiences known.

I would also have appreciated more on women who may use the Internet to pursue agendas not consistent with the culture we’ve come to describe as “sex positive.” Audacia writes well on abortion opponents, which highlighted my sense that many of her subjects happen to share my personal politics. Given the book’s ability to fairly represent diverse points of view, I found I wanted even more of Audacia’s guidance in understanding those with whom I might not agree.

It gives away nothing to give away the end of the book. Audacia reminds us that the book, once published, is dated. The relationship between women’s sexuality and the Internet will continue to evolve, she notes, and so she refers us back to her blog, inviting readers to leave comments and send emails as she continues to follow developments.

That is a mark of Audacia’s mind at work. The project is never over so long as there is more research to do, and more observations to make. Naked on the Internet is a great contribution to all of us who are affected by or participate in online sex; for her, it is yet another moment in her ongoing dialogue with sexuality.

Naked on the Internet is essential reading for those concerned with women’s sexuality online. If you are a regular reader of sex blogs, dude, you should already be reading it. You can support independent booksellers when you pick it up here.

1 comment:

Dacia said...

aw, shucks