How does real sex look? These sites show the awkward truth
Editors’ note: This story is part of our Turned On special report exploring the intersection of sex and technology. It contains sexually explicit descriptions and may not be suited for younger readers.
In the sunny living room of a Mediterranean-style house in Oakland, California, Rosalind sips coffee through a straw. The 24-year-old research assistant wears a thin green utility jacket and has large brown eyes and dark wavy hair with pin-up-girl bangs. Sitting on a couch as SLR cameras record her, she gets ready to tell nine people, none of whom she’s met in real life before, about the first time she masturbated.
“I can’t believe I told you guys about the shower masturbation,” says Rosalind (not her real name). “That’s literally the first time I have ever said that out loud.”
A few crew members chuckle. They’re filming for OMGYes, a site that hosts a series of online videos about how to sexually satisfy a woman.
OMGYes is one of a number of companies ushering sex education for the 18 and older crowd into a new era. Serving a space somewhere between the staid, impassive lectures many sat through as students and a pornography industry that values entertainment above all else, these companies use interactive and user-generated digital media to explore the more emotional, intimate and vulnerable sides of sex.
“The internet has offered, along with a lot of really disturbing images and ideas, a lot of potential for positive education,” says Peggy Orenstein, author of “Girls & Sex” and “Cinderella Ate my Dines how modern culture sexualizes young girls. Sites like OMGYes, Orenstein says, “have the opportunity to do an end-run around traditional sources of education — and miseducation.”
Can’t keep my hands to myself
Launched in 2015 by U.C. Berkeley graduates Lydia Daniller and Rob Perkins, OMGYes is a startup dedicated to “the science of women’s pleasure.” Its videos feature one-on-one interviews with women like Rosalind who share their sexual history and favorite techniques.
Viewers can, for example, use their fingers to rub and tap digital renderings of female genitalia on a touchscreen. These images are created from thousands of composited, high-definition photographs stitched together from some of OMGYes’ interviewees, who range in race, age and body type. As you touch, a voice-over softly guides you where to touch and how fast. The lessons end positive singles when the screen fades to white. If you do everything “right,” the voice lets out a satisfying sigh. If not, she suggests you stop and take a break.
Online videos have attempted to educate about sex before. In addition to the YouTube channels Sexplanations and Hannah Witton, there’s Laci Green. The 27-year-old YouTube personality has talked about sex and dating since 2008, and has over 1.5 million subscribers. But while videos by Green and others simply require passive watching, OMGYes infuses its tutorials with a level of visceral interactivity and immediacy that video blogs, books and magazines can’t offer.
Though the tutorials can be titillating, OMGYes is serious about the facts and techniques it presents. In partnership with Indiana University and The Kinsey Institute , it gathered feedback from more than 2,000 women, ages 18-95. With this information, OMGYes offers a platform for women to talk about a subject that at worst is seen as taboo, and at best, unimportant.
“Why aren’t we talking about pleasure? Like actual pleasure,” says Sybil Lockhart, lead researcher at OMGYes. “When we went to look up what the research was on pleasure, we found that there really wasn’t any. What gets funded generally is pathology. It’s anorgasmia or dryness or soreness.”