When my sister, searching for images of her favorite British pop stars, accidentally typed “Spicy Girls” into Yahoo, the search results made her run, shrieking, from the family computer. “It is probably no coincidence that this sea change comes on us at a time when AIDS lurks in the alleyways of our lives,” a writer for The Nation mused in 1993.
Months later, the New York Times reiterated the point.
But the ambiguous setting of these cyberdates made many people nervous.
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“The driving source behind sex in the 1990s, whether you’re partnered or single, is the human imagination,” Levine declared. The place where imaginations go wild, anonymity is the rule, and desire runs amok.” Like earlier safe-sex educators, Levine used multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questionnaires to help readers take stock of what they wanted. The chapter “Overcoming Sexual Inhibitions,” for instance, started with a quiz intended to help you assess how uptight you are. If your best friend started unexpectedly talking about his or her sex life over coffee one day, you would:a. A service called Tri Ess connected heterosexual couples who were into cross-dressing.
She placed more emphasis on expanding your horizons than on safety. The chat abbreviations that Levine lists — like ASAP and LOL — now seem so obvious that it is hard to remember that they once needed defining. Decent webcam technology and the bandwidth needed to transmit high-quality images were still a few years off.
I cannot have been the only child of the Clinton era to have stumbled on the porn site doing social-studies homework.
I remember furtively clicking on thumbnail after thumbnail in an “Interns of the Month” gallery, watching spray-tanned haunches and balloon-taut breasts of girls posed around Oval Office interiors materialize, bit by it.
Without family and friends hovering over you, you could be yourself and frankly express your feelings. Early on, mental health professionals started observing that meeting strangers online often had a similar effect.