cover image How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex: A History

How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex: A History

Samantha Cole. Workman, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5235-1384-0

Journalist Cole debuts with an immersive history of the relationship between computer technology and sexuality. She notes that early adopters developed intimate connections and discussed sexuality on bulletin board systems and Usenet groups in the 1980s, explains how the Telecommunications Decency Act of 1996 helped the internet flourish as a space for sexualized free expression, and claims that the 1990s advent of webcams shifted power from male-dominated porn studios to individual content producers, many of them women. In the past 10 to 15 years, however, increasing digital prudery has threatened to marginalize sexual expression, activism, and education, according to Cole. She contends that anti–sex trafficking legislation has channeled sex workers back into environments where they have less control, and that Facebook and Instagram’s complicated censorship rules push queer, nonwhite, and nonnormative sexual content to the margins. Meanwhile, the algorithmization of the internet means that free porn sites such as Pornhub make money by harvesting data from users (who are often watching reposted or otherwise stolen content), thereby tilting the axis of control back toward large companies. Cole’s admiration for adult industry entrepreneurs, performers, and activists shines through, though she has a tendency to overstate her claim that “the Internet is built on sex.” Still, this thought-provoking study casts the digital age in a new light. Illus. Agent: Eric Lupfer, Fletcher & Co. (Nov.)