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Warning: This story contains sexually explicit content.
I instantly recognized Nina1987 on the street a half hour before our scheduled interview, even though she had her clothes on. She was unfazed. As one of the most popular women on Reddit, she’s used to being spotted by strangers.
“I’ve broken into fits of laughter on the train when somebody sees me,” she said later, over coffee, covering her face with her hands. “I start laughing. They start laughing, and I’m like, ‘Don’t look at me! Why are you laughing?’”
Nina, 26, is something of a celebrity on Reddit Gone Wild, the site’s amateur porn subreddit, often referred to as GW. It’s a place on the social news site where young women post nude and sexually explicit photos of themselves for an audience of alternately complimentary and trolling voyeurs. I was on my way to the coffee shop to meet her when I saw her on the corner. I’d been looking at her naked all day, but her face stood out.
“I’m very recognizable,” she said. “I actually didn’t realize that when I started. Every single person from every era of my life has recognized me. My best friend’s little brother sent me an anonymous message. My TA sent me a message.”
Perhaps it’s because unlike most women on the subreddit, Nina doesn’t hold anything back in her photos.
“The only girl on GW who can not post for months and when she comes back, she is always on the front page with at least 100 comments and a plethora of upvotes,” wrote user chocthunder4 on a recent Nina1987 post. Nina told me a divorced gentleman once messaged her to confess he thinks about her as he falls asleep at night. Of the subreddits more than 405,000 subscribers, the girl’s got some serious fans.
In real life, Nina (a version of her real name) is candid, funny, and an excellent storyteller. Her stories are, like her naked photos on Reddit, self-aware and showcase someone who is impulsive, adventurous, and often gets into ill-advised, wild situations.
She’s a normal girl. She has a longtime boyfriend, who knows about her online activities but whom she never talks about on Reddit. (“We’re both really weird,” she said. “We met because we like anime.”)
Nina also has two undergraduate degrees (English and chemistry), is currently in medical school, and works as a tutor. She got so busy with school, she said, and was so bored that she wanted to do “something ridiculous.” That’s how she started posting to r/gonewild.
“I’m a thrill-seeking person,” she said. “But I’m also the perfect person to post on Reddit because I’m as ridiculously nerdy as the website calls for. I’m adequately ridiculous and adequately controversial-looking. And you know, the Internet will just pick a person. I never anticipated it.”
One “controversial thread” involved her admission that her older brother had been shown her posts, but she’d decided to keep posing nude anyway. She ignores negative comments and imagines her downvoters as “a brigade of 10-year-olds.”
Nina is pretty in person. She’s Hispanic, a mix of Cuban and Colombian, and has light skin but dark hair and eyebrows. She’s got large breasts tucked into a green dress with black tights and flat shoes, an outfit any college co-ed might wear. She’s done her winged eyeliner in Amy Winehouse fashion. She’s often told she looks like the comedian Sarah Silverman or, lately, actress Aubrey Plaza. On r/gonewild, what the men find “hot” often doesn’t match up to what women are told to look like by magazines and other mainstream beauty media.
“I have never been a conventionally attractive person, but I got so much attention when I was younger, and I was never a tall, blonde-type person. My boyfriend believes I have some kind of pheromone,” she said.
But what’s conventionally attractive is not attractive to most men. Especially if they’re intelligent. A man who is in charge of what he thinks? He knows what he thinks is hot.
On Reddit, Nina’s photos are often more flirty than dirty.
A user called TomPalmer1979 wrote, “A lot of the girls here just show their boobs and that’s it. No personality in their poses or faces. I mean don’t get me wrong, yay boobs, but I need more than that. Nina is always flirty and playful and projects a ton of spunk, sexiness, and personality into her pictures.”
With her fanbase and her savvy, it’s oversimplifying to ask, “Why not just do porn?” A not uncommon comment is typified here by a user called Often Rude, who wrote, “I like this subreddit but I never understood it. Are girls not aware that this is exactly the same as porn, except you don’t get paid?”
Nina said she’s considered it and has had offers. One of her cousins posed for Playboy. Her photos are already being used by Craigslist scams, Twitter hoaxes, and Facebook revenge-porn pages with no money coming her way. (She deletes old posts when she finds the pictures on other sites.) But ultimately, Nina said, she’s not a porn star, she’s a medical student. She’d also rather have control over what she does.
“I’m just very strange. I’m very silly. That’s how I do things,” she said. “I’m not one to, like, spread my ass—I wouldn’t do that in bed, so I also wouldn’t do that in a photo. I’m more reserved in a way, if you can be reserved and post on GW.
“I’m demurely naked.”
Her personality on Reddit isn’t so different from what she’s really like, although she does cringe when she re-reads comments she’s left, worrying she sounds “stupid.” None of her friends, some of whom she’s actually re-connected with after they found her on GW, were surprised to learn she was posing nude. The sexy Internet photo vixen is able to coexist with the woman studying to be a doctor.
“Some of my clients in tutoring would be floored,” she conceded. “They go to Ivy League schools and their parents are professors and I do want their respect but I can’t say what I do on GW is wrong.
“If I’m not doing anything morally wrong that hurts anyone, then I should be able to do it. If somebody were to find these pictures, I wouldn’t let it blow up. I wouldn’t play into it and be like, ‘I’m so sorry.’ I’m not going to do that.”
She shrugged. “Everyone is naked under their clothes.” During the interview, Nina even encouraged me to post, saying I have a cute face that would get a lot of positive comments, especially if I left my thick-rimmed glasses on. I was flattered.
Posting to GoneWild for an anonymous audience of thousands is empowering in some ways and sad in others. This lax attitude toward nudity stems from, Nina said, her traumatic childhood. She was sexually abused by a relative for years, and in late 2007, she was roofied at a party and left for dead in a stairwell, an experience she doesn’t remember but, she said, has fundamentally changed her.
“I wouldn’t say it’s that I’m damaged and that’s why I’m posting,” she said.
“I would say that a person who has gone through many traumatic sexual experiences comes to face things that are so traumatic, they no longer care. A lot of people never have to face those things and they have a lot of insecurities, but once you’ve kind of been broken down to be rebuilt again, you’re happy in a way.”
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She smiled. “Like, I feel happy. I don’t have any hang ups anymore. I’m beyond that at this point in my life. I’ve been able to move forward.”
Is that element of trauma and tragedy pervasive among the women of GoneWild? Some of the other r/gonewild girls I spoke to have had pretty mundane lives. Some are in loving relationships. Not all have been abused. Nina said she thinks younger girls might just be posting for fun, because they’ve grown up with the Internet and don’t see it as a big deal. But most of the older ones, she’d argue, probably have a trauma background.
“The most reckless people I know are people who have had traumatic lives, whether it be sexual or family problems,” she said. “If you have zero hope, you tend to be extremely reckless, like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just do anything.’ And that’s kind of where I get sometimes.”
Nina told me that she recieved my interview request when she was in class and showed it to one of two friends who knows what she does.
“He goes, ‘You totally have to do this because people probably think you’re a stupid slut. But you’re not. You’re a smart slut,’” she said, laughing. “He says, ‘I don’t know why you do any of the things you do.’ But neither do I! Everything is so haphazard with me.”
“You’re not stupid,” I said.
Nina smiled. “I guess there’s an element of social intelligence that they’re referring to there,” she said, “and I wouldn’t disagree with that.”
Editor’s note: Nina1987’s Twitter account was hacked in 2014, leading to the release of her full name. Three years later, she’s still experiencing a ripple effect from the doxing. “This made it very difficult for me to match to a residency program and continue my professional career,” she told the Daily Dot in May 2017. Out of respect for her privacy, we’ve removed the photos of Nina1987 from this article.
Gaby Dunn is an actress, comedian, and blogger who covered YouTube for the Daily Dot. Since 2016, she’s hosted the podcast ‘Bad with Money,’ and operates a successful YouTube channel. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Vice, and Salon.