Possibly the first form of pornography shared online was through ASCII art. Before computer graphics became mainstream, early Internet users in the 1970s and 1980s figured out how to arrange slashes, dots, and lines on a screen into images of body parts much more complex than average.” (.) (.)” Someone might have gushed in an AIM chat once. another in the third grade. as a technical journalist Samantha Cole She writes in her new book, How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex: An Unexpected History, “Anyone can do raw ASCII breast or pin stick work—but it takes a patient artist to make something with realistic detail, line by line, like weaving on a keyboard loom.” Which means: During each phase of the Internet’s history, people have become progressively more creative about being passionate about the main one.
When I called Cole a few weeks ago to chat, Elon MuskThe Twitter acquisition has just become final, and we’ve talked about how her book’s thesis — that we owe some of our greatest online innovations to the ever-changing, ever-evolving needs of adult content — already carries major implications for at least one of Musk’s reported schemes: to create an unsubscribe-protected video service. Paid on Twitter. Also relevant: the subsequent exodus of Twitter users who began looking for a new place to live, which Cole noted is perhaps the only predictable characteristic of online life for anyone on the Internet, but especially for sex workers and adult content creators that Its digital migrations often revolutionize everyone’s technology along the way.
Below, Cole speaks with Vanity Fair About the Internet’s long and tumultuous relationship with sex—and how, despite all of today’s technological advances, we still need the fastest and best Right Connection.
Vanity Fair: Your book begins with all these stories of the primitive Internet—the time of bulletin board systems, geo-towns, and ASCII porn. What was research like in that era when the Internet was so fleeting? Like, how does the Wayback Machine come back?
Samantha Cole: Not as often as I would like. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the Internet Archive. It’s hard because a lot of it is backtracking. Link rot is very real even from week to week. Then you look at, like, 30 years ago and try to find conversations people were having in the forums.
Is there anything that stands out to you among all these Internet traces?
There is a story that I really liked on Usenet, where people were talking about how they had sex while diving. That conversation ran from 1997 through 2020, and it may still be going on on Google Groups. I thought that was really funny because it was something that people kept picking up on like year after year.
Stacy Horn, who actually founded the Echo New York BBS in 1989, told me how Echo users would become really close friends. People would kind of use it like a dating pool, because it was all New Yorkers. Some of them got married and had children, but others were going to separate. And then they wouldn’t be able to use Echo anymore, because it was so sad seeing their previous posts. There was no way to mute or block people. So she was like, I’ve had to remove people who ask me so often, saying, “I’m so sad to see such-and-such a post.”
Seeing Your Ex Online: A Problem Since The Dawn Of The Internet!
A very essential part of the internet.
There have been some big recent developments that could hold ramifications for the future of online communication. The first thing I want to ask you about, of course, is Twitter. Of the many, many things that Elon Musk is said to be toying with for the future of the platform, one of them is potential Paid adult video feature. Basically OnlyFans, but on Twitter. Could that really happen?
This is definitely something I watch. I don’t think anyone suggesting these ideas has seen the extreme difficulty adult websites have to even simply survive on adult websites without engaging the under-18 mainstream audience.
If they were to try it, they would realize very quickly that things like discrimination from banks and Square all these payment processors that people are taking advantage of in the mainstream are not friendly to adult transactions. They’ll have to think about, like, FOSTA/SESTA [the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which became law in 2018 and amended Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, making websites liable for hosting content that facilitates or promotes prostitution]. They’ll have anti-trafficking people everywhere. It’s just a Pandora’s Box that folks in the adult industry have been thinking about and working on, calling out these issues for a really long time. Unless Elon miraculously decides to hire and seek advice from people in the adult industry, which, I doubt, will probably hold up.
But you know that Twitter is already under attack from people who hate porn and hate online sex in general. This is a real danger for him. And it’s a really shame that we’re opening people who use Twitter up to this risk – people who use Twitter to advertise for OnlyFans or their clip locations and meet clients, things like that. Twitter is one of the last places where you can only post adult content where you’re in with everyone else; It’s not like the adult section of Twitter. Expose you to everyone, with the caveat that Twitter is heavily downrated for porn. Like 13% of the site is porn or something, so it makes sense that he would want to monetize that. He’s in a world of issues that I don’t think he’s prepared for. But that applies to everything he does.
The other big story in the news is that the announcement may have been timely Tumblr brings back nudity—though not necessarily all NSFW content. Are these two shifts related in any way?