Public or private? Facebook and bath houses

Sex on Blogday

Matthew Kirschenbaum/Staff

Imagine you sit in a bathhouse, nude. You are awkwardly trying to cover up with skimpy white towels the staff gives you. Eventually, eye contact is made with someone really cute. They begin to approach you. Some seemingly sly gestures are made, and they excitingly follow you back into your private room. And your sex-filled night commences.

Public sex is a turn-on to many, whether in Memorial Stadium, a parking lot or a bathhouse. The risk of being caught while being so naughty is definitely a turn-on, at least for me. It’s hot, fresh and definitely exciting. But there’s a difference between complete publicity in sex, say in a crowded parking lot, and semi-publicity, let’s say in a sex club. Although both are public, both have the allure of anonymity’s power.

A strange quasi-public essence exists in the bathhouse, one might find, and that same quasi-publicity can just as easily be found online.

From the heteronormative drama on UC Berkeley Hook-Ups to its response, the sometimes too politically-correct UC Berkeley Consent, to also what you read on Sex on Blogday, Cal students are obsessed with putting our sex lives on display. Although the pages aren’t necessarily deemed as public sex, how do these kiss and tell pages reflect the collapse of the public/private binary and the creation of its spectrum?

Some bathhouses ban sexual acts in the public (i.e. in the halls or spa facilities), only allowing people to engage in sexual acts within private rooms. Facebook pages such as the aforementioned are like bathhouses: When sex is public and people can be identified, it is not acceptable; when sex is behind doors and partners decide if they want to identify themselves, it then is acceptable.

But I find it problematic to “anonymously” contribute to an online discourse of sexuality when it exposes sexual partners to a perhaps unwilling surprise of identification. I might feel comfortable hooking up, but when do I give my partner permission to anonymously write about it? When people post stories so descriptive that others can identify the supposed “anonymous” hook-up, where do public rights come into play?

I don’t mean to say that one can equate public sex to Facebook exploitations per se, but I do mean that there is a lack of privacy in our day and age when it comes to sexual discourse. One can’t hook up anymore without fearing that their partners will share an embarrassing story to then have friends Facebook tag them in. Think of revenge porn: After breaking-up, we now might fear that our ex will leak photos us to the web. It happened to Scarlett Johansson, and it could happen to you. What if I like sex to be private and non-identifiable? I don’t think we can remove ourselves from technology enough to maintain a dualized distinction between public and private.

Scandalous hookups on Facebook are no longer light-hearted kiss and tells, but rather discursive chalkboards. Many find an innocence to hook-up pages due to their supposed anonymity and resulting explicit nature. While I agree they can be fun, entertaining and quite frankly addicting, how fun is it when someone doesn’t consent to having their name publicly tagged to an embarrassing situation on one of these sites? I don’t mean to be a party-pooper, but the discourse surrounding sex via Facebook is flat-out trashy and exemplary of a lack of consent, whether sexually or identificatory.

Once something is on the Internet, it never leaves. The rising popularity of these confession pages highlights modern dependence on technology and the transition from the bedroom to the message board. I recommend not contributing to these threads, that is unless your partner has expressed consent to their possible identification. If you have something to share, make sure all parties are aware of what you put out on the Internet.

Contact Matthew Kirschenbaum at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @mpkirschenbaum.