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Inside the world of Tumblr’s digital swingers
Hitting “reblog” is like throwing your keys in the digital bowl.
BY KATE HAKALA
There are 206.3 million blogs on Tumblr. About 11.4% of the top 200,000 are teeming with porn, adult-oriented videos, and otherwise NSFW content. The streams are filled with limbs, enterings, openings, and finishings—noted, liked, reblogged. It’s a moving menagerie of couples grinding in grainy GIFs, penetrating in JPGs, and topped off by third party-hosted videos replete with the moans and breathy articulations pictures simply don’t capture. Their bed is always open for the curious passersby; all you need to do is click.
The Snake and the Rabbit tell me they’ll be glad to make some time for me. I’m the first person in weeks who isn’t reaching out to ask for pictures of their feet or for tips about how to talk my girlfriend into having anal sex.
A couple in their twenties, they are just one pseudonymous pair of thousands who run their own self-produced dirty Tumblr. Traces of their age drape around their content: The Snake and the Rabbit have a music player at the bottom of their blog that issues the soundtrack of their eclectic, ballad-driven sex life—CCR, Portishead, Mumford & Sons—for the completely immersive experience. Another section serves as a veritable sex guide, including a bird by bird breakdown of the couple’s favorite products (remote-controlled thong, cock sleeve, fitness ball). Hard-focused close-ups of their genitals fill every page. Their sex lives hang open.
The sexual epiphany came like many do—half-drunk. After visiting a “special” massage parlor while on a vacation in Budapest, they had a few beers on a restaurant-boat on the Danube and a seed was planted. They were avid readers of other sex blogs like LikeWildLife and were eager to start their own. Another night of too much booze, a female-on-female encounter with a friend, and the opening of their newly minted year-old marriage cemented the idea. Unlike most newlyweds who are navigating a new vibrator or their first pair of cuffs, for the Snake and the Rabbit, the biggest, greatest, and most efficient sex toy is their blog.
The rules they set for their couples blog were simple: be as personal as can be without ever identifying themselves. They wanted to be kinky and adventurous when it came to their sex life. “Just without showing our faces,” the Snake and the Rabbit admit to me. “We wouldn’t mind usually, but it’s the internet. It doesn’t forget and people are crazy.”
Though she’s his wife, Rabbit refers to Snake coyly as his “best friend with benefits.” Before their blog, their sex life didn’t really need the tell-tale “spicing up” that leads some couples to attempt adventurous, risky new behavior, but they were craving inherent novelty. “We realized that evening that we could have that tingly, exciting feeling of having sex with someone you don’t know that well and still be in a relationship,” they tell me. “We both happen to love that unique excitement of kissing, touching, and undressing someone for the first time. Realizing that that feeling is not exclusive to singles was the game-changing moment for us.”
According to the Snake and the Rabbit, digital swinging can, at its best, lead to real-life arrangements. Though residing in what they call a hedonistic pocket of Europe, “We never did any swinging. We’re both in our mid-twenties and were told that the swing-scene is rather old where we live. I think we’re also still looking for sexual adventures that feel a little more real and spontaneous than an arranged swinger-party,” they tell me. “Don’t get me wrong. We’d kill for an orgy like they have in Eyes Wide Shut, but in reality I think it’s much more trivial than that.” Their first foursome was indeed more trivial than that. After emailing for weeks with a couple they met online about everything from favorite childhood TV shows to first kisses, aging, and The Simpsons, the Snake and the Rabbit invited the couple to their home where they traded records and life stories. Eventually, cocktails were served topless and partners were swapped. “Everybody’s hands, tongues, and genitals were pretty much everywhere,” the Rabbit explains. “It was very harmonic and there was almost no speaking happening. I think the music and the booze worked their magic there.” The Rabbit throws in words like “team” and “secret society” to describe the relationship.
Now they root around Tumblr for not only potential partners but inspiration. “We happened to meet another couple through our Tumblr blog that actually lives within driving distance of us and we became good friends, with benefits,” they tell me. “We even decided to work on a blog together about a passion we share: tasteful pornography. This blog is not going to be a normal couples blog, but a handpicked collection of sophisticated adult media.” At the time of writing, they are still working on launching The Good Porn Project, a hub for couples who want to find resources for empowering, high-end erotica much like the kind they themselves create. Their own porn predilections conform to the heightened verisimilitude of their own blog. Their taste for porn is tight and simple: “It should either be unreal in the right way or the displayed sexual pleasure should be completely real.” They thrive off the hyno-erotic videos of Andrew Blake and the amateur gems on Cinema Lust or X-art.
Amid the array of spread shots and anal how-tos and orgies, the Snake and the Rabbit sometimes come up for air to geek out about gear. “We use a Sony NEX-3 SLR-Hybrid camera. This type of camera is really awesome because it’s very small but gives you pretty much the same quality as a huge SLR cam. Also you can interchange the lenses if you want,” explains the couple in one of their tamest posts. For a couple that has only been posting their nude pictures and videos since early 2013, they hold themselves to a high artistic standard—perfect lighting, crisper focus—because their homemade sex tapes, unlike a sext, are headed and intended for a much bigger audience. We’re talking thousands upon thousands of eyes.
While talking, the Snake and the Rabbit admit the conversation has been getting hot and they’re inclined to go do something about that. Suddenly I recall a particularly exciting photo spread from their blog, where the Snake and the Rabbit have broken into an abandoned school bus and the Snake bends over a backseat while the Rabbit enters her. A bar from the bus hangs in front of the lens and cool greens tinge the shot, giving it a rough and voyeuristic quality. We leave each other much the same way that we came together—me thinking intimately about their sex life and them inviting me to with a smirk.
Dan is a newcomer to the sex blog scene. I double-confirm that I won’t use his name or link to his blog before we talk. In his early twenties, he began his Tumblr with his girlfriend mainly because he was a rabid consumer of them. “We were invested in the ongoings of their relationship. [The blogs we followed] openly share both sexual aspects of their partnership, as well as, day to day struggles and successes. We thought that starting a blog would be a good way to share our experiences with others and gain ideas,” he explains.
Dan and his girlfriend are in a long-distance relationship and the couples blog serves as a bridging mechanism. “There is certainly a team aspect to the blog where each person contributes in their own way,” he explains. Since he and his girlfriend are separate contributors, a nude photo will be posted by one of them and then commented upon in a new post by the other. “Feeling horny tonight.” “You’re not the only one.” It feels like stumbling upon someone passing X-rated notes in math class. Still, it has a sizable following, picking up the readership of the blogs Dan was originally so dedicated to following.
Is Dan looking for a third? He says while this is the venue, it’s not quite right for his current situation. “I know a few people personally that have met couples in online forums, such as blogs, that have ended up sleeping with that couple. We have messages and heard from other couples in the past and it is more of a ‘I like your blog’ kind of conversation.”
The photos (he doesn’t post video), are often iPhone originals, a little bit grainy and always headless. It’s tasteful but very DIY — with reblogs of sex-related memes filtering in between selfies. It’s as if every juicy text exchange between he and his girlfriend has been uploaded to one stream. Even if low-fi, their most popular photo, of his girlfriend from behind, has 110,000 notes. After all, the readership skews male.
Dan admits that his blog has changed the way he consumes. “It has given me the ability to see a lot more body types in their natural form,” he says. It should be noted that a lot of the couples blogs run heterosexual and body type lives in a spectrum outside of traditional porn. After finding Tumblr porn, Dan is drawn to porn that is more personal and real-life like than before. “This is a glimpse into someone’s most personal moments that we used to never have to chance to see.”
There has never been a time more likely for your old nude photos to turn up and be seen by those you never intended to see them. As Time claims, we’ve entered an era of the acceptable nude. According to a Pew survey released this year, 44 percent of 18-24-year-olds have received a sext—nude or explicit messages—while 15 percent own up to sending one. Those numbers have risen since the last survey in 2012. Part of that growing number of circulating nudes is because proliferation feeds the trend. Scientists have found that despite the attendant risks of sharing nude photos online—what’s the cloud?—the human instinct to connect more closely drives us to strip and share, strip, and share.
With Tumblr’s renewed open door policy for adult-oriented content (as long as it’s flagged), it’s become a sleek, user-friendly garage for the exhibitionist set. Other venues like Make Love Not Porn, a site for real amateur flicks and XConfessions, a place where users submit fantasies that are then translated into customized videos, cater to the DIY crowd, but can require both the financial and time commitment blogs have always eluded.
In light of “Celebgate,” or the “Fappening”—a monumental hack that leaked the nudes of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst, to name a few—it seems that digital privacy is at the forefront of all sexters’ minds. But for people like Dan and the Snake and the Rabbit, the idea of creating their own erotic image and then having that image reblogged, favorited, and commented upon builds community. By creating the content, couples blogs are in the driver’s seat of their own hack and, in turn, their own sexual empowerment. Sex blogs have become a conduit for intimacy in a space that’s notably bereft. In a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, it was found that couples who enjoy pornography mutually often have the strongest relationships and the lowest stress levels. If that argument is valid, then Tumblr’s couples blogs are the 21st century paragon of evolved romance.
The boom of personal, couple-centric sex blogs is a natural digital reaction to the swingers moment of the 1970s. Friendly followers inquire about giving wives and husbands facials, as “Ask Us” sections fill with the same salacious conversation you might overhear in the back room of a sex party. Each blog’s following is ardent, personal, and libidinous: “Why haven’t you posted in weeks? We need a video,” one poster asks. “If I didn’t have a girlfriend and didn’t always show people things on my phone, that first photo in the most recent post would be my wallpaper,” another admits. It’s a way to enliven the fantasy of adding a third, introducing a kink, or swapping partners when other options remain distant, guarded by avatars and cipherlike usernames. Hitting “reblog” is like throwing your keys in the digital bowl.
Some couples blogs match their racy content with the pithy remarks and social commentary best known by the Tumblr medium. “What we learned about The Fappening: Celebrities make shitty sex tapes,” quips a couples blog entitled Seattle255. Going by the initials C and J, Seattle255 are a young couple who has sex on average one to two times a day. Their photos are mostly female-centric, with all faces blurred out. The trouble of identity remains a central facet of their sex blog: personality and writing style are paramount, names are verboten. On their about page, Seattle says, “We like sex, photography, and reading, although very rarely simultaneously. Almost everything here is us, with the exception of some very hot reblogs that would be unconscionable to ignore.” Their manifesto can be best summed up with the Roberto Bolaño quote, “Books are finite, sexual encounters are finite, but the desire to read and to fuck is infinite; it surpasses our own deaths, our fears, our hopes for peace.” It seems to be working—they have 20,024 followers.
C and J are ready to weigh in on most sex-related current events like the Fappening, the Ray Rice scandal, or their latest adventures at a sex party, which they frequent. They know we all take risks when we’re using technology. They spend essay-like posts singing the praises of cameras like the Olympus OMD EM-5. “There are lots of good cameras and if you’re making your own porn, pretty much anything better than a cell phone is a big step up. If you can, shoot in natural light too! Today the most important part of photography is rarely the camera, it’s really the quality of the light,” they claim on their blog. Other posts are simply well-lit sexed up boudoir accompanied by quotidian subtitles like “after sex.”
The couple borrows from writer Evan Wright when they call their amateur porn “indigenous Southern California folk art.” “As such it should have a rough, unrefined quality,” C and J write. “Others have told us that we inspire their own porn experiments and folk art. That is the best endorsement and compliment. The criticisms about the way we cut out sound and faces miss the point of the thing we are doing…We wish to encourage, seduce, titillate, arouse—not to martyr ourselves.”
For the thousands who practice it, the erotic blog becomes a product of reinventing personal sex lives. Perhaps more readily than the rest of the web, couples blogs are always in interface with real life exchanges and relationships — and with the outside relationships the platform spawns. If the medium allows for its own exchanges, swapping, and personal-messaging that leads to off-line encounters, posting becomes a sex act itself. “We had to stop writing this several times so we could have sex. J sometimes like to say that he writes cock first,” the bloggers at Seattle255 admit in one of their many candid posts. “In this case, writing is foreplay.”
Photo via Peter Kaminski/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)