Samantha Cole interview

Podcast: Interview With Sex & Tech Journalist Samantha Cole

Samantha Cole likes to joke that she’s been “cursed” with the best beat in journalism. As the senior editor for Motherboard, VICE’s tech outlet, she covers the intersection of sex and technology. Other journalists might worry that writing about sex would taint their rep as serious writers, but Cole embraces the excitement and fun of her role. Sex is at the very core of our identity, after all, and there’s nothing frivolous about that. With trademark humor and insight, she’s penned pieces about the metaverse, deepfake porn, ChatGPT, goon caves, furries, and much more. At the end of last year, she released her new book, How Sex Changed the Internet, a thought-provoking overview of the interconnected histories of sexuality and the net. Her latest stop on this journey is the new episode of the Adult Empire Podcast!

Over the course of an hour-long discussion, she covers her background as a reporter, society’s puzzling double standards about sex, her book’s origins, the challenges of researching porn’s history, the Beam Me Up Soft Boi Instagram account, material that didn’t make the book, the book’s most surprising revelations, the internet’s lost “utopia,” the NoFap and semen retention movement, the current state of the porn industry, content-creator platforms, the mystique of Mindgeek, the porn industry as the “Wild West,” the look of modern porn websites, and some of the most unusual internet fetish communities she’s encountered (inflation and farting).

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On her career background:

I have been in journalism for about 12 years now, since college. I fell in love with it junior year and just was like, Wow, I can do this for a job? Like, this is crazy. I could just talk to people for work. So I was a local newspaper writer for a bit and then I moved to New York and did a bunch of different odd-job type writing and journalism, jobs and advice, I guess six years ago. And yeah, I was originally “space reporter.” I wanted to write about a rocket launch. [Laughs] Which is quite a departure from what maybe it is now.

But I was at Motherboard and my editors at Motherboard were like, we we need someone to really cover things like sexuality and internet culture in a way that’s smart and serious and not silly and jokey. But having fun with it still. And  it makes sense to me to cover this industry — the adult industry and just sexuality online is just such a huge part of our online experience — as seriously as tech journalists cover Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and all these other things. So that was kind of the foot that I started off on. Advice was, let’s really dive into this in a way that we can take all of this very seriously but also have fun with it. So that’s what we’ve been doing since. I’ve learned so much in those six years. And you know, I definitely am so grateful to all of my sources for teaching me so much over the years. But honestly, I joke that I was cursed with the best beat in all journalism. I think a lot of journalists are like, Oh, I don’t want to read about sexuality. People aren’t going to take me seriously. But like I think that’s where all the fun is.

On sex and the internet:

It’s so funny. It’s pretty much immediately what people started doing on the internet as soon as they could. It’s kind of like an in-joke. I think the people who first developed the internet, it was developed on the “SEX” operating system, which stands for “set x.” But yeah, it’s like these techie nerds were probably like, “Oh, it’s sex!”, but then kind of put it into like real practice. That’s what people did on bulletin board systems. They were trading, scans of magazines or Polaroids that they took themselves. They were kind of creating communities around how can I like access this thing that I used to only be able to access in a magazine shop and a porn shop. Had to go in person and get my car and drive there and go in real life and go to the store and people might see me park my car there. It was a very intimate kind of experience. And then you could just do it from your home. I think was really revolutionary for a lot of people.

And they were immediately like, oh, and now I can not only like go and look at other people’s porn and things that they’ve created, I can share my own stuff, which is something that people really wanted to do. They would like send away film to get processed at like specific processors that would let them process film of themselves nude or having tags they wouldn’t like banned them for so that they can then go scan it in and then share it as a downloadable file on the internet. So it’s very early on. Some of the the names that really stood out to me for these bulletin board systems — there was one called Sleaze Net. [Laughs] Throb Net I think probably is my favorite. Pleasure Dome was the biggest, one of the biggest. Pleasure Dome, maybe some people watching us remember Pleasure Dome because it was so big. But yeah, that was a really fun kind of aspect of the dive into was immediately people were like, I know what to do with this technology!

On the goals and origins of the book How Sex Changed the Internet:

For me, the goal of the book — a lot of my reporting day to day is very incremental. It’s like, “This is a thing — this is a terms of service change. People are getting kicked off of this platform. This thing is happening that’s like part of a bigger picture.” So for me, I was like, I would like to just get the big picture, expand out from what I’m writing about every day, which is impacting people’s lives in a really big way. All these things, like censorship and discrimination, things like that. This is all part part of something that’s way bigger. So just getting that like wide angle view. I think, for me, it was a little bit selfish — I want to do the ultimate homework assignment and write a book that is the history of this thing that I interact with every day, and kind of see where that legacy comes from.

On the myth of porn addiction:

There’s a chapter about porn addiction, which I think is a very hot topic right now. And I think what doesn’t get a lot of airplay is the research and the studies that are about porn addiction that say this is something that’s maybe not entirely panic-worthy. There’s something else going on there with people who blame horrible violence on porn addiction. I think people were kind of surprised to hear that side of things in a way. It’s like, oh, this thing that we’ve been told since the ’90s, it is like a horrible, insidious problem where people just can’t tear themselves away from their screens — maybe something else is happening behind the scenes in that person’s life. So I talked to quite a few really great experts on that who were sex-positive people who were given kind of a more balanced view of that.

On the dark side of NoFap and related movements:

It is definitely a focus on if you can abstain from watching porn and and jerking off and all this stuff, then you will become like a more powerful version of yourself. You’ll [supposedly] become like physically stronger, and mentally sharper, and all this stuff. That’s still very much a culture currently. But it started, probably 10, 20 years ago. But yeah, that very quickly becomes [something else]. It’s not just like, “Oh, I’m not going jerk off for my own health. I’m now seeing women, specifically who are porn performers, as trying to destroy masculinity, because they’re part of the system that is taking away my powerful semen.” It’s a twisted way to go.

But once you start really getting into that, and believing that and then people reinforce it in a community setting, it’s like, people online are all rooting for you and cheering you on. And maybe that’s the first time you’ve ever heard supportive male influence as a dude. And then once they start saying horrible things about people who work in porn, you’re like, “Oh, these guys that I trust who are cheering for me must be right about women.” I think it’s really sad. I think it speaks to a need that men have to like connect that they are they finding in really toxic ways because of these online communities.

On the most interesting sexual fetishes and subcultures she’s encountered:

Balloons and pool toys

Balloons and specifically pool toys — people who are really into collecting pool toys and also humping pool toys. Like getting inside of a whale-shaped pool toy — that one was really fun because it’s kind of dangerous to do that. You could suffocate, so again, it’s like there’s like a bondage thing happening. They somehow seal themselves into the thing and then they can they use a scuba-type setup a lot of the time to breathe. And then they have someone else or they themselves inflate so they’re in it with the air and everything, and they can move around. It’s like a vinyl fetish at the same time. They like the way it smells and feels. A lot of them just collect them. A lot of them pop them, but there are people who pop them and then there are people who don’t pop them and they don’t talk with each other.

Flatulence

Fart porn is a big one. I think it’s also probably a submissive/dominance situation where people want someone to fart on them. Yeah, they like humiliation, I guess. People do it with their partners. They like how it smells. I can’t get into that one at all. Even writing about that, I was like, I don’t know!

Samantha Cole image courtesy Workman

Interview transcript

Note: AI transcript by Otter. Time codes correspond to audio podcast version of the interview.

 

Dallas  0:45

Hello, and welcome to the Adult Empire Podcast. Our guest today is the senior editor for Motherboard VICE’s science and technology outlet, and the author of How Sex Changed the Internet and The Internet Changed Sex: An Unexpected History. She is Samantha Cole. And she joins us now. So first of all, I just wondered if you would tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up at as the senior editor of Motherboard for VICE.

Background

Samantha Cole  1:13

I have been in journalism for about 12 years now, since college. I fell in love with it junior year and just was like, Wow, I can do this for a job? Like, this is crazy. I could just talk to people for work. So I was a local newspaper writer for a bit and then I moved to New York and did a bunch of different odd-job type writing and journalism, jobs and advice, I guess six years ago. And yeah, I was originally “space reporter.” I wanted to write about a rocket launch. [Laughs] Which is quite a departure from what maybe it is now.

But I was at Motherboard and my editors at Motherboard were like, we we need someone to really cover things like sexuality and internet culture in a way that’s smart and serious and not silly and jokey. But having fun with it still. And  it makes sense to me to cover this industry — the adult industry and just sexuality online is just such a huge part of our online experience — as seriously as tech journalists cover Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and all these other things. So that was kind of the foot that I started off on. Advice was, let’s really dive into this in a way that we can take all of this very seriously but also have fun with it. So that’s what we’ve been doing since. I’ve learned so much in those six years. And you know, I definitely am so grateful to all of my sources for teaching me so much over the years. But honestly, I joke that I was cursed with the best beat in all journalism. I think a lot of journalists are like, Oh, I don’t want to read about sexuality. People aren’t going to take me seriously. But like I think that’s where all the fun is.

 Why isn’t sex usually covered in a serious way?

Dallas  3:23

Why do you think it is that it is when it is covered, it isn’t seriously? And so many people don’t take this aspect of, of life seriously, in a journalistic sense, or any other sense, really.

 

Samantha Cole  3:35

I think that comes from a really deep cultural shame that we still have some out to this day, about sexuality. And especially about like porn and watching porn, being in touch with, like, desire and pleasure, I think, are things that we still don’t talk about, like, as a society. It’s something people are skittish about. They think it’s, you know, like, funny or gross or weird. And there are aspects that are funny and gross and weird. And I think that’s okay. And a lot of it is, you know, it’s a very serious business. So, yeah, I think that’s probably where it comes from. It’s just kind of a hesitancy to face some of that. Personally, you know, journalists or people, you know, we have our hang ups, we have our own shit to deal with, in ourselves. So yeah, I always, always kind of approach it in a very, like, curious, I guess, view like I went into it knowing you know, I, there are lots of things that I don’t know and that I need someone to explain to me. And I think that is the basis of good journalism is you know, saying, I don’t know this. Can you walk me through it? Can you explain it to me, and then from there kind of building, building on that. But yeah, I don’t know if people are just squeamish still. But you know, it’s what people click on, which is really funny.

 Sex and technology

Dallas  5:11

For sure, for sure, which is obviously something you get into in great detail in your book, which is part of the thing we want to talk about here, of course, today, the book being How Sex Changed the Internet, and The Internet Changed Sex: An Unexpected History. Which delves into a lot of a lot of the issues that you just touched upon. And that kind of irony that people are squeamish about it. But when a technology comes along, it’s really just seemingly almost a matter of minutes, if not seconds, where something sexual is done on with that technology, or on that platform.

 

Samantha Cole  5:44

It’s so funny. It’s pretty much immediately what people started doing on the internet as soon as they could. It’s kind of like an in-joke. I think the people who first developed the internet, it was developed on the “SEX” operating system, which stands for “set x.” But yeah, it’s like these techie nerds were probably like, “Oh, it’s sex!”, but then kind of put it into like real practice. That’s what people did on bulletin board systems. They were trading, scans of magazines or Polaroids that they took themselves. They were kind of creating communities around how can I like access this thing that I used to only be able to access in a magazine shop and a porn shop. Had to go in person and get my car and drive there and go in real life and go to the store and people might see me park my car there. It was a very intimate kind of experience. And then you could just do it from your home. I think was really revolutionary for a lot of people.

And they were immediately like, oh, and now I can not only like go and look at other people’s porn and things that they’ve created, I can share my own stuff, which is something that people really wanted to do. They would like send away film to get processed at like specific processors that would let them process film of themselves nude or having tags they wouldn’t like banned them for so that they can then go scan it in and then share it as a downloadable file on the internet. So it’s very early on. Some of the the names that really stood out to me for these bulletin board systems — there was one called Sleaze Net. [Laughs] Throb Net I think probably is my favorite. Pleasure Dome was the biggest, one of the biggest. Pleasure Dome, maybe some people watching us remember Pleasure Dome because it was so big. But yeah, that was a really fun kind of aspect of the dive into was immediately people were like, I know what to do with this technology!

 Finding sources

Dallas  8:05

And as you mentioned, you went all the way back to the beginning. Was it hard number one to find people who could talk about that era? And secondly, were some of them reluctant to talk to you just because of the nature of some of the some of the some of the book and the sexuality of it, et cetera?

 

Samantha Cole  8:24

Yeah, I think this kind of goes for, like all of my reporting in general, but like the people who are that open online usually are like, excited to talk like they, they are already like, I’m trying to foster community here. Or I’m trying to, like, you know, be an exhibitionist or whatever it is, and they want to then like share why they’re excited about a thing. But for this book, yeah, I mean, it was it was a lot of like following rabbit holes just because a lot of the stuff just doesn’t exist anymore. Especially like bulletin board systems and things like that. It’s like this is technology that just like went down with you know, like once the web came along those systems shut down when like people stopped using them they stopped being interested in like, moderating or being administrators for them. So tracking those down was difficult a lot of it got covered at the time like by local newspapers or like trend pieces where people were like, Oh, this this crazy like guy has a modem that he’s running uh, you know, sex dungeon online. So those are the kind of the main ways like news coverage. And then I managed to get a hold of the woman who ran echo NYC, which was the the biggest like bulletin board system for New York. Stacey Horton and she was fantastic to talk to you because, you know, she, she wasn’t that wasn’t like a sex I’ve seen but people met there and like fell in love. And like, because it was New York, it’s like, they kind of use it as like, almost like a dating service in a way. They were like, Oh, we’re gonna like meet up and see how this goes. We like each other online. So hearing from her just like what it was like to moderate that kind of space was really interesting, because, I mean, it’s, it is really hard to get in touch with people. Now who like remember that and who also, were there and want to talk about? I think for a lot of people, it was like a, an agent history thing. They were like, oh, was a crazy thing I did back then. Yeah.

 

Dallas  10:39

Right. I would think that had to have been one of the frustrations of working on a project like this that. I mean, I certainly from my experience, I can say that, the history of porn is not well archived. Just I mean, you can look up, you know, March 1, 1983, The Washington Post or the New York Times, but if you’re looking for, you know, the edition of AVN or XBIZ, it is going to be a lot harder.

 

Samantha Cole  11:04

It’s hard. Yeah, it’s really hard. It just wasn’t, and you’re really at that point you’re relying on. Like, the story gets told, based on what people thought was important. Which, you know, is like a function of like journalism, it’s like, we’re documenting history. But when you’re going that far back, it’s like, wow, people thought this is important because it was quirky and weird. And didn’t really quite treat it as like a business story. A lot of times which these build up resistance. We’re making a lot of money on subscriptions. But yeah, the trade magazines, they didn’t didn’t really like, archive that stuff, which is sad. I’m sure. Like, I’m sure a lot of these actually are these archives do exist. And I would love some of those to me, because it would be such a trip to read some of that stuff.

 

Dallas  11:57

There is that one website called the Rialto Report or something like that. It emphasizes sort of, I think, porn in the ’70s and ’80s. And they’ve actually digitized some of those old industry magazines of the era, which, you know, are kind of gold to anybody who’s interested in that kind of stuff. Did you draw up on resources like that, as well?

 

Samantha Cole  12:19

Yeah. Yeah. A bit. Yeah, I was, I was pretty much like, anything that I can find is like, fair game, like, I’m going to just like rummage around and find, because a lot of those like  the recording that was being done by like, people in the industry was super important, because those were people who were like, in it, and they were taking it seriously. And they were the ones who were writing about it in a way that was like, this is actually what’s happening, which is still the case. But you know, when I could find like a story like that, or like a story that would then cite one of those, it’s like, okay, now I know, I’m like on the right lead. But again, it’s like, you know, the Washington Post wouldn’t probably wouldn’t cite a trade magazine, because it would be like, untrustworthy or something, which I think is I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s still like that. Now, I hope it’s not how it is where I’m working. But it’s still like kind of the idea of like, they don’t know what they’re talking about, because it’s the stigma. But they’re doing just as good work as anybody else. So or even better.

 

Dallas  13:16

Right, right. And you’re right, there is some of it. Even the stuff that’s frivolous, there’s value in it to an extent, if someone is talking to a particular star, and it’s 1988, and they were the only person who interviewed that person, even if the interview was kind of silly and done by an amateur, there is value in getting that person on the record and having them say what they said.

 

Samantha Cole  13:37

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that was always like a goldmine if I could find somewhere where somebody like talk directly to like, someone who was running one of these systems, or who was like running an early web site actually talked to a couple people who were doing, like the early webmaster stuff, like the really early websites. And that was always really fun. Just like, letting them relive what that was, like, sort of golden era.

The book’s origins 

Dallas  14:04

So bigger picture on this book, what was the original grain of the idea for it?

 

Samantha Cole  14:09

For me, the goal of the book — a lot of my reporting day to day is very incremental. It’s like, “This is a thing — this is a terms of service change. People are getting kicked off of this platform. This thing is happening that’s like part of a bigger picture.” So for me, I was like, I would like to just get the big picture, expand out from what I’m writing about every day, which is impacting people’s lives in a really big way. All these things, like censorship and discrimination, things like that. This is all part part of something that’s way bigger. So just getting that like wide angle view. I think, for me, it was a little bit selfish — I want to do the ultimate homework assignment and write a book that is the history of this thing that I interact with every day, and kind of see where that legacy comes from. And it turns out when you start pulling that thread . . . there was one chapter, I think it still starts like this. My editor didn’t maybe didn’t cut it. But I started with the Puritans. It was like when we landed on the shores of America. It actually started before that. And it’s like, do we need to go back to the big bang? How far back can we go? And it gets a little absurd. But yeah, you really just need to understand that deep history, when you’re talking about why doesn’t Facebook want nipples on its website? Well, that goes way back to this is something they were struggling with a long time ago. And this is why and it’s following the steps backwards was really helpful to me just to get the grasp of that history. And that’s kind of what I hoped people would get out of it, as you know, to be able to see this really long through line of sex. The internet, I think, helps you understand why all of this is happening in a way.

Beam Me Up Soft Boi

Dallas  16:20

Right? Because it’s a very thorough book, I think, in terms of the topics that it covers, but it’s also of a manageable length, 280 pages or so. So you could obviously could have a book of 1000 pages on this. And what’s there’s that old line? Like, “I would have written it for you [short], but I didn’t have enough of enough time” or whatever the expression is. I’m mangling that, but you know what I mean! So I would think probably distilling all this material into a manageable book that not just an academic type is going to read — there’s going to have an appeal to a large audience — that must have been tricky. I mean, you mentioned rabbit holes. T there must have been tons of those that you could have gone down. I found myself going down [them] here and there when I was reading the book. You had a little sidebar was a quotation from Beam Me Up Soft Boi. And I didn’t know what that was. I looked it up. You can tell people a flavor of what that is exactly.

Samantha Cole  17:17

Yeah, that’s an Instagram account that documents horrible cringy dating interactions, like dating apps, like texts. I think the quote from that is — do you have it? It’s, it’s really funny. I can’t take any credit for it either.

 

Dallas  17:35

So it’s quoting this person, of course, “Nudes, please. Sorry, just going through a dark time right now. Love is rough, but also so beautiful. Just a tit.” You know, forgive my staccato reading there. Because of course, the punctuation is a little [off].

 

Samantha Cole  17:48

It’s like every line. Yeah, it’s so funny to me. And like that I feel encapsulates modern dating in a way. It’s like, love is rough. All we really want is like just a tit. Like, just a crumb. And obviously they’re much more disrespectful ones in that Instagram account than that. But yeah, I think that’s why we ended up doing like the sidebar and the quote. The pages are all very dynamic. And there’s lots going on on them. And I at first, I was like, Oh, this is too much. But I think to be able to fit in that kind of history — it’s not linear. It’s not like this happened. And then this happened There’s lots of things happening at the same time. And I just wanted to get every little piece of it in that I could. The first version I filed was way longer, of course, but every chapter could be its own book. And getting that down to a manageable length. Like you said, it was really my poor editor, I think was probably like, what have I done?

Material that didn’t make the book?

Dallas  19:02

What was the material that was in one of those earlier drafts that you really love, but you had you had to drop in the end?

 

Samantha Cole  19:09

Oh, man. I think I went on more like philosophical journeys. I tend to do that. Even like in my blogging. And I think at the end of day, it was kind of like, we have to tell people what happened and when it happened, and not really stray too, too much. But I did try to get some of it in there a little bit. Yeah, the cutting room floor was pretty deep. But I felt like every story and every character could have just been pages, pages, pages worth of someone’s story. You know, we’re talking about like, even just like, like the bulletin board era was like 10 years worth of the internet. So I think that could have been its own book. And then you get into discrimination and such just having banking and financial institutions like that, that is a whole book. So just getting it down to like, what do people need to know? And what do they maybe not know already? What will they be surprised to learn? So yeah, I think there may be things in there that are surprising to industry people, I think I’ve been hearing a lot from non-industry people who are like, I had no idea about any of this is like. It really changed my view of porn and sex work and sex education. So that’s always it’s nice to hear that. I included at least some of the right stuff. As far as what got cut. I mean, I don’t know. I hate cuts. So every writer hates cutting their darlings. So they’re all drilled into me. Next book!

 The book’s biggest surprises

Dallas  21:01

So what were some of some of the things you were mentioning there, how people came up to you and said, Oh, you know, this was something I didn’t know or I’d never heard this before. What are some of the most common threads in that regard that people are often coming up to you and saying, oh, in this chapter, this bit, wow, this was really news to me. I didn’t know this. This was exciting.

 

Samantha Cole  21:17

I think chapter wise in particular, I think, there’s a chapter about porn addiction, which I think is a very hot topic right now. And I think what doesn’t get a lot of airplay is the research and the studies that are about porn addiction that say this is something that’s maybe not entirely panic-worthy. There’s something else going on there with people who blame horrible violence on porn addiction. I think people were kind of surprised to hear that side of things in a way. It’s like, oh, this thing that we’ve been told since the ’90s, it is like a horrible, insidious problem where people just can’t tear themselves away from their screens — maybe something else is happening behind the scenes in that person’s life. So I talked to quite a few really great experts on that who were sex-positive people who were given kind of a more balanced view of that.I think people were also really surprised to hear just how how deep the kind of censorship and discrimination goes with in the porn world because like, I think people are like, Oh, porn is like its big multibillion dollar industry. It’s, you know, it’s there. People make so much money. They’re like rolling in cash. And people imagine like Playboy Mansion and stuff like that. But like, I think people just don’t really, and maybe they think, oh, you can’t say fuck on, you know, in a tech talk or something? Oh, that’s, that’s the end of it. You have to sell sex with two G’s. Like, that’s the end of like, the censorship. So I think people were kind of surprised about that chapter. And that, that’s kind of a through line through many chapters, as you know, that informs several different chapters. It’s, you know, the, the way censorship shapes, like legislation and sex education and things like that. And even like, into the future, so I think people are surprised to hear more of a, I guess, like a, I don’t know, more direct, like humanized view of that topic. Yeah, I mean, those were and then, of course, people who remember like the really early Internet era, like pre AOL, I think we’re like I did, I’d forgotten what it was like, which is fine. Like I was very much like in the AOL era, like I wasn’t on like Usenet or like multiuser domains or anything. So hearing that I was like, oh, people feel like they they saw themselves or their own experience and the retellings of those stories, I think is really nice. Yeah, there’s so much to go to, I hope people aren’t overwhelmed with how much is in this book because it is covering it’s attempting to cover quite a bit of ground

 

Dallas  24:21

For sure, for sure, but as you said, those sidebars kind of help, because yeah, you can sort of sail past them if you want to just focus on the main they’re the thrust of your book, but you can also sort of detour. It’s one of those books that is worth reading again just to absorb the main narrative of course, but also to get some of those sidebars, which are, you know, very edifying. And I was thinking when I was reading this book, I think this is a book you could give to somebody who really doesn’t know anything about really the web and sex culture on the internet at all and they would be like, okay, that’s what ghosting is, you know.

 

Samantha Cole  24:53

Right, yeah, yeah. And that was a little bit like that’s something I think about in my journalism. Most people at VICE know what ghosting is. This thing is like, I don’t really have to define that a lot of the time, but like, things like that. It’s like, oh, I have to think about like, Do people know like, what an INCEL is? Do they know what ghosting is? Do they know the acronyms of all these different things? So yeah, that’s where the sidebars come in handy, because I could kind of give the space to, like, remind people like, this is what that is.

 The internet’s lost utopia

Dallas  25:25

And one of the fascinating things to me, because I like you, I have no recollection, I was not around for the early days of the internet before AOL, before there was this big thing sitting on top of the internet sort of mediating your experience of it. You know, I forget, was it the book, There Must Be a Pony in Here somewhere. I forget the name of the author of that book [Kara Swisher]. But she said, you know, AOL was like, the whole ethos was like, “Somebody might type fuck,” you know, and they were worried about that happening, basically. But when you talk about that, you know, there’s the very early days when there was a thought that this could be just this utopia online could be this utopia, you know, we’re stripped of these identities we have, and we’re all equal. And it’s really quite poignant, because we all know, kind of how that turned out. It wasn’t quite the utopia that been envisioned at that time. So that was fascinating to me to hear that vision from the early days.

 

Samantha Cole  26:21

Yeah, yeah, people really had like, big plans for what the internet was going to do for the world. And, you know, when I say people, it’s like, people did, but it was a lot of branding. Brands who thought it was going to be, like internet service providers, were saying, like, this is a place where you can go, that’s not like the real world where racism exists. It’s a world where you don’t know who’s behind . . . it’s like that joke, “On the internet, everyone’s a dog.” You don’t really know what’s going on in someone’s life. They could be anybody. And of course, we like immediately replicated the worst of humanity onto the internet. People were immediately doing like flame wars. And there were a lot of opportunities to be really lovely, and community and things like that. But like, there were tons of opportunities to be awful. And there still are.

 

Dallas  27:18

Right, it is interesting that some of these awful things that exist in the internet now, they aren’t necessarily as new as we think that they might be. You know, the horrible comment wars on Facebook or whatever, you know, they’re going back to the 70s, as you described.

 

Samantha Cole  27:32

A long history there.

The semen-retention movement

Dallas  27:36

And you also mentioned how you go into the whole incel phenomenon and semen retention, which I didn’t realize how extensive that movement is on the internet. And you talked about fast — fapstronauts, if I can get the word out! So you could talk a little bit, just describe to people who maybe haven’t read the book, don’t know what that is that whole movement and that breed of man on the internet, so to speak.

 

Samantha Cole  28:01

Yeah. So I mean, there’s this whole idea. And I think this goes also hand in hand a little bit with, porn addiction mentality, or like, people who are selling that idea, and really pushing the idea of like, sex addiction, and porn addiction are this thing that like, takes away your masculinity, and it’s always men. I mean, a lot of times, mostly men, I shouldn’t say it’s always men. It is definitely a focus on if you can abstain from watching porn and and jerking off and all this stuff, then you will become like a more powerful version of yourself. You’ll [supposedly] become like physically stronger, and mentally sharper, and all this stuff. That’s still very much a culture currently. But it started, probably 10, 20 years ago. But yeah, that very quickly becomes [something else]. It’s not just like, “Oh, I’m not going jerk off for my own health. I’m now seeing women, specifically who are porn performers, as trying to destroy masculinity, because they’re part of the system that is taking away my powerful semen.” It’s a twisted way to go.

But once you start really getting into that, and believing that and then people reinforce it in a community setting, it’s like, people online are all rooting for you and cheering you on. And maybe that’s the first time you’ve ever heard supportive male influence as a dude. And then once they start saying horrible things about people who work in porn, you’re like, “Oh, these guys that I trust who are cheering for me must be right about women.” I think it’s really sad. I think it speaks to a need that men have to like connect that they are they finding in really toxic ways because of these online communities.

And like this is very much an internet phenomenon. It’s like this is something that it’s not an it’s an idea that came about from the internet. Wait ancients were more than that. But like, the idea that you could like bond together and then write a manifesto and then go shoot, it was cool. Like that is very much an internet thing. So that’s, that was one of the sad or it was a very sad chapter to write just because I’m very much an optimist about the internet. And like, the things that it’s done for, you know, culture and society, but like, it’s hard not to feel like that has like totally outweighed all, like this really horrible subculture that the that chapter was tough.

 

Dallas  31:03

Right, right. Because you raise a very good point. People often tend to dismiss pornography as this absolutely frivolous activity, you know, associated with frivolity, just wasting your time or something like that. Whereas it is, as you point out, it does connect to very, very serious issues. And, you know, misunderstanding one’s own sexuality can have very serious consequences, as you chronicle several notable examples in your book. And as I think you also point out, and I think you even you today, you tweeted an article that was relating to this to that the whole semen retention thing, there isn’t really even a tenuous scientific basis for that.

 

 

Samantha Cole  31:45

Yeah, it’s not really going to do any[thing]. You lower your risk of like prostate cancer — there are studies around that — if you’re regularly ejaculating, but it’s not going to really hurt you terribly if you decide not to, and it’s not going to help you, right, at all, physically. So why, psychologically, I think, why deprive yourself of that, in that way,

 

Dallas  32:22

Exactly. The body’s innate capacity for pleasure. And you’re just shutting that off for totally spurious reasons. As that same article points out, I mean, sure, you can abstain, but eventually, you’re going to ejaculate in a nocturnal emission. Your body’s going to take care of that anyway.

 

Samantha Cole  32:42

Yeah, it’s like, what do you what are you doing? And I think, yeah, again, it’s like people will do it in the same way that like, like, they’re trying to control some part of their lives. And this is something that, you know, it happens with lots of different mental illnesses, you can control some physical part of yourself, then you can like control your external circumstances. And maybe you could fix whatever’s going on with you mentally. And maybe we should start with a mental first. I’m not a doctor. Right? This is not medical advice. Everyone should like, figure out.

 

Dallas  33:21

Exactly, exactly. I think there’s some good podcasts and interviews out ther. I was listening to one with Marty Klein, are you familiar with Marty Klein, he’s written? He’s, I think, a psychologist. He’s written a number of interesting books about — I think he deals with sex therapy primarily. And he’s written several books about pornography and that whole issue, which he sees is essentially it’s a non issue. But an interesting guy.

 

Samantha Cole  33:54

Sure. Better than like Joe Rogan!

 

The state of the adult industry

Dallas  33:59

Right, right. Exactly. Yeah, I could see him being in the in the #Nofap campaign, which, interestingly, is something I learned from your book — that started in Pittsburgh, which Adult Empire is based in Pittsburgh. So we’re shifting the karmic balance of that, hopefully. So obviously, you have an interesting perch, to see the industry and how it works. What’s your take on the state of the porn industry in 2023, from a technological point of view, or just a general point of view, really?

 

Samantha Cole  34:42

Yeah, I can’t speak from someone like inside of it. I would say there are lots of better experts than myself. But I think it’s really interesting to kind of watch the shift that’s happened in the last last five, 10 years toward like creator control. I think that’s fantastic. I think anytime you can give workers back some power that’s always really awesome and healthy for an industry. So and then to kind of see how that kind of butts up against like obviously the driving force kind of tries to take back control, so you have like big platforms trying to get back some control over workers and you had the whole like scare with like, OnlyFans trying to get rid of explicit content. Even though workers have a lot of control, it’s still very tenuous. It could all kind of go away. Not that OnlyFans is the whole porn industry at this point. But it could have been something that was really bad. So I think that was really interesting kind of case for me is, you know, watching people react to that. Tt’s been a couple years now. But the pushback on that I think, really said something about the more mainstream view of sex work changing, like people were pissed. They were like, you can’t kick like porn performers off the porn platform. People are actually understand that like, this is not okay. And you’re having finance writers take this as a serious topic. And he was really cool to see.

And just kind of moving into the future kind of continuing that momentum, I think is going to be really interesting to see. What’s the next evolution because it’s this industry is always always evolving. It’s like, what’s going to be the next thing, it’s always like faster and faster, faster? What’s going to be like, the new thing that workers are like, this is what we’re going to do next. This is what needs to happen. I think right now, it’s like a lot of people’s energy is focused on fighting against some really fucked up discrimination tn legislation that’s trying to keep them down, which that starts to feel like, what is going to happen? This doesn’t seem to be going in a direction that is going to be more free and open. It’s going to be more difficult to work, more difficult to survive online. So I think it’s a weird kind of juxtaposition. It’s like the legislation and the censorship is getting worse, but then socially, we’re getting more like, you can’t do that to people. So at some point, things have to come to ahead. Yeah, I think a lot of people are doing really amazing work kind of fighting against this more discriminatory stuff. Like obviously, like Free Speech Coalition, and like Woodhall, and those people are doing like incredible work. So I trust them to win in the end, but it’s brutal. Yeah, like I said, I’m an optimist. But sometimes it gets hard to be like, this is going to work out.

 

Dallas  38:30

Right, right. And of course, the example you give is a very good one of OnlyFans, of that sort of, “uprising” that happened in the wake of that announcement that they were going to ban pornographic content. And that kind of got squashed with one foot in the end, happily.

 

Samantha Cole  38:44

Right. So fast, like in days, they were like, oh, nevermind.

 

Dallas  38:49

Those days, a lot of people were scrambling, I’m sure we can both say.

 

Samantha Cole  38:54

People still a year later, people still hadn’t  recovered from like losing subscribers during that four day period.

Mindgeek

Dallas  39:04

I mean, that was really, really disruptive to a lot of people’s world and is to this day, as you as you say, has had ripple effects. Without a doubt, yeah. So you were talking there about the impact of large platforms and of course, one of the biggest that’s had an impact over the last 15 years, 15 years or so, is Mindgeek, formerly Manwin, and you talk about them, that company in the book. Now they’re famous for kind of being a bit — I hesitate to use the word shadowy — but you know, kind of a little mysterious. Was it hard? Did you get people from Mindgeek to talk to you. Was it hard to pin down information about MindGeek and its origin and all that stuff?

 

Samantha Cole  39:48

I mean, there’s been a lot of stuff already documented, like I think, at least, the early days has been pretty well documented by people way before me, which I’m really grateful for. My chapter on that really focuses on the way that they changed, like the technology and the business of porn. And how like some of their founding members were like, we’re going to suck the money out of this industry as fast as possible. Whether or not people get paid for it or not. Which I think had like a really lasting effect. I think people got used to the idea of free porn. You know, they were like, Oh, this is this is just something you can log on the internet and see it on a tube site. So yeah, I talked to a former engineer who worked at MindGeek, kind of, in the early days, like back when the iPhone was coming out, and they were like, we have to do something for mobile. And doing like A/B testing, and things like that, the point is, he really pioneered a lot of that stuff, where like, you have to keep people on the site, because we make money through advertising. We make money by people clicking on videos and watching videos. So like, how do we do that most effectively. So he was really interesting to talk to you, because it was just like, this is really where a lot of that kind of started was like, before, it was like these small webmasters who were like, we’re going to show you things in a category that you might like, you know, maybe you if you’re really into huge boobs, we’ll show you lots of those. We’re going to automatically feed you what you like. Which is an interesting thing to do to sexual preference or fetish. Because you’re talking about something much more intimate personal that people don’t really reveal very readily. So yeah, the chapter on PornHub was really interesting. And you know, it’s Pornhub is obviously been like, very much embroiled in a lot of this, like censorship and discrimination stuff. But people still really feel a lot of that effect, still, of what it did to the industry is like a death knell for a lot of people’s businesses. Once you could just like upload anybody’s video, even if he didn’t own it. And that’s totally different now. I think that’s through trial by fire. The company’s realizing you can’t just do that anymore. People will roast you. If people kind of learned that, you know, what you put on the internet isn’t just free, even if it’s like art or writing or whatever it is somebody made that owns that. So but yeah, the early days, like the Wild West kind of days, were really, it was like any kind of startup bubble, I think, or it’s there’s no rules. We can move fast break things type culture.

More coming soon!

 

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