This is the first in a two-part series aiming to help you with tips on how to survive social distancing, without entirely giving up your sex life. The second , with practical suggestions, can be found here.

I’m watching my social media feed as events drop like flies. What was shaping up to be the busiest month in my calendar has rapidly dissolved into a wasteland of cancelled trips and major doubts over refund policies.

Under other circumstances I’d be delighted because the suddenly free time opens up all manner of prospects for meeting partners for fun playtimes. However,the need for social distancing to slow spread of Covid-19 infections makes even a trip across town to see a regular play partner inadvisable if not outright banned (correct at time of writing). Am I putting them at risk by seeing them, how do I get there? Is a sparsely filled underground train better or worse than a moderately full bus? Just how far am I prepared to walk to see someone? How potent a transmission vector is someone’s dick?

Sex and the internet, before ‘sextech’ existed

I was at university at a time when having your own laptop was certainly commonplace but not yet ubiquitous. I and many other students made extensive use of overcrowded computer rooms with long desks crammed with CRT monitors and tower PCs.

Watching porn was absolutely out of the question, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other ways to have fun. This was back in the days of the ‘blogosphere’, an age when cyber sex meant typing text messages to someone in an online chat room. These chat rooms were strange, erratic and often noisy places, where trying to engage with another user in an intimate and sensual way meant having to mentally block out user ‘BAZNOB69!‘ and his repeated insistence of “I’m sexing you, I sex you so hard!”

This was an environment where being able to craft words really set you apart. Good sex chat is like an exercise in collaborative storytelling, bouncing ideas off each other, remembering the improv rule of “yes, and…” but also responding fluidly if the other side doesn’t like the direction the conversation is going. Knowing how to set up a “private cabin” and invite only specific users gave you untold powers. Even knowing what syntax to use to distinguish between speaking aloud versus describing what you do were helpful signals for who might be more fun to create a scene with.

For many of us these spaces were also liberating because of their simplicity. In text you have no gender or sexuality save what you put out into the space. Many people first began exploring who they might be outside of the presumptions they’d grown up with through chat rooms. I never really knew who it was at the other end of those messages, but on a really profound level it didn’t matter, and it was beautiful. It was also very hot at points.

Part of the joy of these encounters was that, by their nature, they were slow-burning – waiting for each new message to appear. Unlike a quick ‘service wank’, cyber sex could take an hour or more, elevating otherwise relatively simple and sedate messages to a point where they are thrilling revelations to be pored over time and again while you type your response. I recall one time sexting with a friend of mine using email. This stretched the encounter all the way through a late night train journey home and added the additional thrill of not wanting to refresh my inbox too frequently, lest the server kick me out as a suspected DDOS attack.

A later innovation was a text-based predecessor to ChatRoulette, text chat rooms that would connect you to a random person to have a conversation. Sexting on these platforms was a tricky and time-consuming business. Not least because, unlike with many other platforms, you couldn’t pre-select to be in a space that’s predominantly full of other people looking for sexy fun times.

Then cameras came along and made everything better – and worse.

Just 5 years ago…

“If you want we can just back out now?” said the text. I smiled and hit the camera button to start the video call. They appeared, a little grainy and the audio was clipped and gurgly in places, but there was a person at the other end of the line. This was about five years ago. We’d worked our way up, through direct messages, emails, then moving on to phone calls and now finally face to face, or near enough. And even through a low-end camera running off a mobile data connection, the difference was profound.

There’s something a little intimidating about video calls. Compared to text or chat rooms, or even emails, they afford no room to compose your thoughts and present yourself in the best light. On top of that there is a sort of performance pressure. You’re not just casually popping round, the focus is on you. How much on you? Well your face is literally filling their screen so it’s easy to feel the weight of expectation. Gone is the wondrous feeling that you can be anybody, replaced by the feeling that you’re interacting with a very, very real human being, and they with you.

Fast forward a few years and ‘the game’ remains the same but the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Now, when I connect I see the person I’m playing with in sharp detail, their audio even through headphones comes through loud and clear. And when I tell them to start lubing up the butt plug I can literally see them blush.

Today we have sex toys that you (or perhaps more importantly, someone else) can control from anywhere in the world. Shared online calendars act as a vital tool for people in polyamorous relationships but can also be a fantastic playground for people in kink relationships setting unexpected tasks, reminders and alarms.

Even budget smartphones have the kind of video capture and editing capabilities that professional pornographers would have been desperate for a decade or two ago. At the ragged edge are what we’ll affectionately call the ‘horny bodgers’ and creatively minded kinksters gleefully abusing APIs and Arduinos, Raspberry Pis and RFID chips to play in ways most others wouldn’t attempt.

Nonetheless, more often than you might think, I still find that thumbing words together in simple text (with maybe an occasional emoji) is one of the most satisfying ways to make a connection.

Maybe technology can’t completely fill the void left from cutting out human contact but technology is better at enabling all manner of horny fun than it has ever been before, especially if you have a mind to use it creatively.

Oh, and don’t forget to stay home, folks.

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