This article was originally featured in an edited form on Subversive Press.
Thinking of a late night rendezvous to pass the time on the summer nights? Here’s a heads’ up to save you the trouble; I’m sloppy, lazy, lacking in rhythm and haven’t shaved – probably just pushing a two out of ten at best.
Perhaps. Maybe I’m actually a sexual dominatrix who’ll show you the ride of your life? I might have a foot fetish, boobs like a supermodel or scream the digits of pi to 10 decimal places when I climax, but here’s the catch – you won’t be finding that information on Facebook.
During the last month, social networks have witnessed an explosion of “Rate A Shag” pages, where users are actively encouraged to rate their partners’ performance for all to see. As one page for the University of Kent, now banned, asked: “Have any stories about your conquests? A ‘mistake’ you need to get off your chest? Or just want to give credit where its due for a job well done? Well here is your chance!”
It’s simple: just send a private message with the full name of your unsuspecting partner, a rating out of ten and any other notes you wish to add. What could be simpler? The page admins will even keep your name anonymous to spare any unwanted embarrassment. Don’t worry about feeling guilty for divulging private information either – it’s only “bantz, a bit of harmless fun” one student explains to me. Except sexual humiliation simply isn’t funny.
Whether you see sex as part of a long-term loving relationship or simply a recreational activity to fill time on a Sunday afternoon, there’s no denying that it’s one of the most intimate acts possible between two humans. It leaves us almost entirely exposed; and not just in terms of flesh on show. Making love, bonking, getting jiggy with it… Whatever you call it and whatever the circumstances surrounding it, sex is unquestionably an agreement of privacy and trust between two people. It leaves us at our most emotionally vulnerable and, for the most part, what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t talk about sex; on the contrary. Frank and open discussions about intercourse and its implications provide a clear benefit to society. Malicious online shaming, however, does not. One student I spoke to about such pages was aghast. “It’s absolutely disgusting. Firstly there’s no way to prove that somebody has ever spoken to or seen a person, let alone slept with them, and even then it’s a vindictive way of verbally abusing someone.”
Indeed, the whole system is inherently biased towards abuse. Protecting the name of the writer offers a further cloak of cyber anonymity and a clear opportunity for misuse. Of course we should all be free to be as liberal as we like when discussing our own sex lives – but not at the cost of someone else’s dignity.
And sexual humiliation can have devastating consequences. Charities and police forces alike have reported countless calls from “hysterical” teenagers, upset at rumours posted anonymously online. One 22 year old told the BBC she was even approached at work following an online “slut shaming”. She said: “There was a boy who had the webpage up and pointed at me and said, ‘Oh, so if I gave you twenty quid what would you do for me? My main worry was that my dad saw it. The moment he would have seen my name and the word sex by it, I knew that it would have caused uproar. He would fly me to the rest of the family in [the middle east]. It would be all over. I would never see England again and that would be how I’d live.” The girl even said she considered taking her own life.
While the main bulk of sites linked to universities have been shut down, the problem is far from gone. Copycat sites spring up in seconds and the Facebook staff themselves admit they’re having trouble keeping on top of the problem. Perhaps more worrying, however, is the internet culture that is creating and feeding these sites and millions others like them.
The web may offer countless opportunities, but its very nature distances us from real life and morality. In the cyber world we’re all one step removed from our own identities – we can be whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do – and crucially we’re one step removed from the consequences of our actions. The internet doesn’t come with tangible faces, voices or feelings, leading to a dangerous breeding ground of abuse, cruelty and humiliation that’s all too tangible for the victims.
So before you press enter on that “hilarious” picture of the weird looking guy to the “Spotted in _____” page, or reveal all on last night’s encounter, stop and think for a second. Would you really drag someone up on stage in front of millions of people to yell that they are crap in bed? Didn’t think so.