The internet has answers to every question. Tutorials, FAQs and forums are the oracles of our times, sexual consultation services included. Websites like make-love.de and omgyes.com mark the dawning of a new era. Better sex: just watch and learn.
Licking, fingering, banging, blowing, fucking—thousands of orgasms a second. It is said that the internet is two-thirds pornography. This is actually a misconception. In fact, only one in six websites are pornographic. But over 40 percent of searches are in pursuit of pornography, according to an internet porn poll conducted by the independent comparison site Netzsieger.de. One in two men use virtual stimulation, especially in middle age, when the body’s own testosterone can begin to diminish, and relationships falter because things stop working in bed. Women also look at porn sites, to see how they might get that spark back. Thirteen percent do it at work, where their boss might catch them, but not their partner.
Seen from one perspective, pornography provides a sort of sex education. If we don’t know how it works, we can find out just by taking a look at the never-ending cascade of images. Many teenagers and adolescents access porn websites, more boys than girls, and the youngest are eleven years old. But what are they learning?
And what about us, the grown-ups? Constant hard-ons and killer heels, it would seem, are the standard fare, while performance anxiety and sexist clichés are served up for free. Mainstream porn caters to men; feminist porn offers alternatives—sexual fantasies for women and the LGBT scene.
But people who don’t care at all for porn—internet or otherwise—can get their share as well. Hollywood offers its own tutorials, giving the impression that real passion is to be found in the elevator, standing (the kitchen table seems to be obsolete these days). But bed sheets are also getting ruffled on German prime-time TV. Of course, the woman’s always on top (it’s better that way, and not just for the camera). But in spite of this rampant sexualization, 49 percent of all women and men are unhappy with their sex lives, according to a groundbreaking survey of over 51,000 people conducted by the University of Göttingen. Perhaps, then, it would be a good idea to look at how sexual pleasure really works.
The merits of the cowgirl position are revealed in the public education project “Make Love”, with its motto “You can learn to make love”. Produced first for the German public television program MDR, and then for ZDF, Make Love features Hamburg sexologist Ann-Marlene Henning offering advice, mainly aimed at couples, for improving one’s sex life. In short video clips on the website make-love.de, she answers questions that everyone wants to know, or at least should want to know, and does so in a straightforward and uninhibited manner. This places her in the tradition of the German TV presenter Erika Berger who, in her 1987 show “A chance at love”, was similarly plain-spoken.
Her spiritual successor Ann-Marlene Henning aims to engage with real people: middle-aged couples who look as if they have no need for advice. But looks can be deceiving. Caught between curiosity and shame, visibly thrilled at learning something new, they hang on the therapist’s every word. And they watch with her—we are, after all, living in a visual age—as another couple has sex. Videos of a woman and a man, with average bodies, no porn stars, gently backlit, on white linen sheets: a clean aesthetic.
And in order to dispel the last whiff of pornography, bodily functions are scanned onto the performers’ naked skin—a graphic representation of the sexual organs at work, including muscles, and the nerves that send the erotic signals to the brain and receive the orgasm in return. The end result is to make it clear that the whole production is aimed at a climactic moment. After all, high-school biology lessons left us none the wiser. The clunky drawings of wombs, ovaries and testicles in the textbooks were designed to offer nothing to adolescent prurience.
This seems to be the case today, if not more so. The pornification on the internet permits unregulated access to sex at any moment. Research on adolescent development has established that most boys and girls prefer to have their first experiences online. But Margarete Stokowski, a feminist columnist for the German magazine Spiegel Online, decries an ignorant one-sidedness regarding female sexuality that confronts girls at precisely the time when their curiosity is at its peak. In her book “Untenrum frei” (a pun on a German phrase meaning literally “free down there”, but often used by gynaecologists in asking their patients to undress), she describes how at 15 she was only able to find sex manuals with tips on how to please your boyfriend. Now, at 30, she observes that the editors of women’s magazines devote far too much space to blow-job tips. “The male orgasm has become the holy grail”, she writes. What about understanding women’s desires?
Practice, and talking, makes perfect
The website Omgyes.com puts women centre stage. They are the experts: instead of a sexual therapist, women speak from first-hand experience. Quite literally, they put their finger on the most important matter. Using a touchscreen vagina, users can put their fingers to the test by stimulating a clitoris. The clitoris’s owner gives advice from out-of-shot. She whispers: “Up a little, not so fast, yes, yes, yes,” she sighs, she moans. Interactive installations are put together out of countless individual photos and original quotes, producing an innovation in educational resources for fulfilling sex.
Omgyes is based in the US, and has been carefully translated into German. It was founded by two lovers of women: Lydia Daniller, a lesbian, and Rob Perkins, a heterosexual man. In their college flat-share in Berkeley, California, they discussed their sexual practices so much that they decided to set up a “how to” online. Theirs is first offering of its kind; certainly their platform is unique in its unambiguousness and avoidance of pornographic sleaziness. Their program is practice, practice, practice, until your partner is satisfied.
With money from sponsors, including from actress Emma Watson, and painstaking preparation, they unleashed their startup upon the world. To demystify female sexuality, nearly 2,000 women aged between 18 and 95 were asked how they came best when they came. Every woman has her own very specific preferences and sensitivities. In spite of all prior sexual research, this remained uncharted territory.
The next step saw 12 women volunteer to speak to camera about their sexual experiences, the things that turned them on, increased their desires, and what a seriously good orgasm felt like. In elegantly-filmed, glossy settings, middle-aged, middle-class American women, white, black, Hispanic, and an attractive woman in her mid-fifties describe, in detail, “what it’s like.”
Omgyes breaks the vow of silence that propagates the myth that in the presence of true love, perfect sex just happens by itself. How should partners—men and women—know what’s going on if nobody ever talks about it? As an exercise, you can listen to what it sounds like when women talk about sex, what terms are used when words fail them. For around 30 US dollars you can get access to the whole package of 50 videos plus 11 “touch and practice” tutorials for smartphone and tablet. Just log in and get going.
This is money well spent: it is being put back into the further development of the web platform. Diller and Perkins are dedicated to undertaking intensive research. For now, they are looking at the joys of vaginal stimulation and the g-spot. In the second package, women will talk about what they love most about oral sex—there is a wide range of preferences. This meticulous approach means that the curious will have to be patient, until subjects like female ejaculation, sex during pregnancy and after birth, sex during menopause and in old age are dealt with, and until men are brought on to speak about their sexual needs. But it will be worth the wait, say the founders of omgyes: taking your time is the key to maximum orgasmic pleasure.
An online starting point for people who want to know more about sex from sources other than pornography:
Omgyes.com – OMGYes is a website, that explores the ways of enhancing pleasure through videos and something new called touchable video. The information is based on in-depth interviews with over 1,000 women. OMGYes conducted the first-ever large-scale study about women’s pleasure—in partnership with researchers at Indiana University’s School of Public Health and The Kinsey Institute.
“Das Netz – digitalization and Society. English edition” gathers writers, activists, scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs to think about the developments of our digital life. More than 50 contributions reflect on the digital transformation of society. It is available as a free PDF. Download here!