The Internet Is For Porn (Someone Tell Steve Jobs)

In a recent late-night email exchange with Gawker’s Ryan Tate, Steve Jobs talked about a world that offered “freedom from porn” (as you may know, Apple has kept much adult-related content – and even some mainstream-but-sexy-content – out of their App store).

And yet, if you’ve ever seen Avenue Q (I’ve seen it twice now), you may remember the song “The Internet is for Porn” (see video above). In addition to being for porn for many people, the Internet is for more fun, positive, no need to feel guilty kinds of sex things, too – or at least I think so.

Sex, Apple and the Internet

The iPhone (yes, your own iPhone, Mr. Jobs) can be used for some very naughty sexual purposes. And your App Store, Mr. Jobs, can even be mined for certain vibrating apps that can be used for sensual solo or partnered play. And although there’s plenty of ways for people fall in love online, one can also use the Internet to find, learn about and shop for sex toys like the Sqweel or Fleshlight or participate in long-distance, over-the-internet sex play with a real live human being. Don’t even get me started about the more creative uses of iChat or the someone icky uses of chatroulette – let alone the very NSFW things one can get up to when an iPad and a Penthouse Pet come together. Heck, even Facebook has been said to spread syphilis! (Don’t worry, it doesn’t really.)

“Freedom From Porn”

I agree with Mr. Jobs (and Mr. Tate) that many parents would appreciate the ability to let their children play with a device – such as an iPad or iPhone – in a way that offers them some control to be without porn. After all, children shouldn’t be exposed to material that isn’t age or developmentally appropriate for them.

But because I’d imagine that the bulk of iPhone and iPad users are adults, I also think there are many adults who would prefer sophisticated means of giving them control over what they have access to and can participate in. Don’t want porn apps to show up in your store? Here, click this (much the same way Giz allows users to keep certain content out of their RSS Feed). Want adult content to show up at all, or even more prominently in your App store? Or elsewhere? Here, click this over here. Sex is a part of life that I think could benefit from greater creativity and brilliance and I would love to see what could be created in this realm and wind up in the App store, quite literally at our fingertips.

Sexual Health and Relationships

Besides, it’s not just “porn” that doesn’t seem to have a place in Apple’s world. It seems that some high quality sexual health content gets lost these days between both Apple and Google (not to mention various adult filters that both sexual health sites when trying to block porn sites). However, adults and teenagers alike need to learn how to protect their bodies and negotiate safer sex.

It’s also not such a bad thing for people to want apps that are about sexual pleasure and sharing, but right now possibilities for such adult-related content to exist in the Apple store are limited at best. Although sex isn’t everything to everyone, it’s an important part of many marriages and relationships and individuals’ own sense of themselves.

I’ve often dreamed of creating an app that would help people to communicate with each other about better sex and pleasure, but developers are often hesitant to invest time or resources in an app that they worry could get rejected from Apple solely because of its adult content. And yet, I would love to see people learning to talk to each other about sex, to connect, to share, and for technology to be a part of this ever-evolving relationship that people have with each other and with their own and one another’s bodies.

My Dream World: The Sex Summit

In fact, in one of my many Dream Worlds, I would genuinely love for top execs at Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook to have something of a “Sex Summit” at which they envision not just a world in which they do no evil, but a world in which part of what they help to fashion is a world that includes a more progressive way for people to engage with their sexual health and their sexuality.

What would it look like to carve space in the Interwebs so that people can more easily learn about their genitals or various sexual problems – including what’s normal and what’s not – without stumbling predominantly through porn sites? What would it look like to be able to more easily find the kind of porn you want to find, rather than wading through various sites and pop-ups that go on and on forever and aren’t what you crave? What kinds of “spaces” could exist in app stores that are adult-only and what kind of content related to sexual health and/or pleasure and relationships could this include? How can we better create a world that presents multi-faceted views of sexual diversity, and that doesn’t hide sex away as if it’s gross or dirty or better not talked about.

That kind of shame about sex contributes to a sense that sex is dirty or wrong or doesn’t deserve a place among the rest of life. Such shame and embarrassment contributes to people feeling bad about having oral sex, using a sex toy, masturbating with women’s underwear or masturbating at all, let alone to porn.

Some might say I should be grateful – after all, if people felt great about their sexuality they likely wouldn’t write into me with so many questions and concerns that end up in my sex columns or my book, Because It Feels Good. But I want people to feel comfortable with their bodies and sexuality so that they can comfortably get naked in front of a partner, educate their children about sexual health, talk to their doctor about low libido or erectile problems, or even to kiss and touch and lick their partner all day long and not feel that they’ve wasted the day or should have been a more productive little drone, sitting in their office on their PC or Mac, working for The Man.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • Ed Deline

    You’re missing the point of Steve Jobs’ comment. He’s referring to porn bots that maliciously install cookies on your computer, leading to porn spam. With Apple’s closed environment on iPhones and iPads, this isn’t as big a problem as it is on PCs.

  • Diane

    I'm so glad you posted video from Avenue Q, considering as soon as I read the blog post title, I had that song in my head.

  • David D

    “or doesn’t deserve a place among the rest of life.”

    “and not feel that they’ve wasted the day or should have been a more productive little drone, sitting in their office on their PC or Mac, working for The Man.”

    You hit the nail on the head Debby. I know plenty of people who think that if you spent even an hour thinking or talking about sex in a week, then you just wasted one hour of time that could have gone to thinking about something productive.

    So, a person has to work for The Man for 8 hours a day + 1 hour lunch and not think about sex. Then they are supposed to spend time with their boyfriend / girlfriend and do all of they chore things or social things where they aren't supposed to think about sex. Then, they get home and fall into bed. No wonder there is so much diagnosed depression out there. And no wonder so many mates are turning to porn or to lovers outside of the relationship.

    I was reading “Hot Monogamy” by Patricia Love which went into all of the anti-sex propaganda that existed even through the 1950's and the propaganda and lies against sex was demented.

  • mysexprofessor

    @Ed – I can see your point regarding the “freedom from porn” but what about how this is also generally played out in the app store, even with sex-related web sites that aren't porn? Sex is largely absent from the app store. Google, too, has policies related to their Adsense program that keep them from allowing “adult” related sites to run ads. On one hand, they gladly will run ads for essentially black market questionnable products (e.g., male enhancement pills that are not FDA governed or Viagra over the Internet) or more salacious ads (e.g., “Is Britney bisexual?”). On the other hand, they won't partner with many sexual health themed sites to run ads that could support those sites. So, something to consider. My thoughts…