Oversharing is Unhealthy…

I remember when I first got Instagram. My first post was a picture of sunglasses on the sofa in my bedroom — heavily edited with too much saturation and probably some emojis as a caption.

Back then, that was all Instagram was. Maybe a selfie captioned “~a r t s y~” with a weird copy-and-paste font, or that thing we did when we wrote on our hands “U R Beautiful” and put our hands over our eyes. (What was that?!) Snapchat was the same way. We sent each other disappearing ugly selfies and took screenshots of our friends being funny. Stories didn’t exist, and we weren’t trying to document every single moment of our lives. We were just posting, for fun.

The more popular Instagram and Snapchat became, the more pressure I felt to keep up. We now curated our accounts to look perfect. We deleted all of our old pictures and changed our usernames from @glittergirl325 to our full names. Cringey pictures appeared time to time, and we were still over-editing, but it wasn’t as carefree anymore. Instagram became a highlight reel, and Snapchat became the prime teenage communicator.

But things really took a turn when the finsta showed up.

Our beloved finstas… finally an account we didn’t have to curate. Somewhere we can actually be ourselves. Actually, I love the idea. But what I don’t love is what it has become. 

Finstas started as funny pictures we didn’t want to share with the whole world. They started as inside jokes and meme reposts and stupid videos. But now, it seems like every finsta is a mix of emotional breakdowns, gossip, and rants. Then Snapchat added the private story. Another platform that allows us to curate our audience exactly as we want it, and we used it for the same reasons — to say what we were too afraid to say in intimate conversation.

With these two platforms, we are digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole of invulnerability. We’ve unknowingly trained ourselves to respond to our emotions in this unhealthy and indirect way. We’re swamped with schoolwork, so we post a picture with tears running down our faces — “Finals week.” We have drama with another friend, so we get in the car and post an angry selfie — “I hate everyone.” Worst of all, we’re having a breakdown, so we post another red-faced photo — “I’m going to kill myself.” 

We’re dramatizing everything, and the more we do it, the harder it is to go back. Instead of calling a friend and letting them listen, we’re expressing ourselves in a way that no one can listen — much less reply and help.

For whatever reason, it feels safer for us to post something about how we feel that 50 people will see rather than telling one trusted friend. We’re acting like we don’t care, like everything is a joke, when really, we’re all desperately hoping for that one person to swipe up and ask the simple question — what’s wrong? 

So let me ask this: why are we depriving ourselves from sacred vulnerability just because we’re afraid of it?

The finsta/private story problem adds to the larger issue of social media. We seem to be losing the art of communication — of that intimate connection in a face-to-face interaction. Social media has brought me some of the greatest friends and connections in my life—I don’t deny it. But when I’m home alone, feeling lonely and unhappy, my social media friends aren’t the ones to nurse me back to life again. Quite frankly, there aren’t many people I actually trust enough to be vulnerable with. And I truly do think that social media has robbed that from me.

I’m not trying to be a typical 21st century mother — blaming every problem I have in my life on social media. But I do think that we rely too heavily on our phones to make us feel good. We justify our emotions with a private story post, and we shy away from real conversation by talking only on Snapchat, sending forehead pictures back and forth. 

I’m afraid that I might forget how to feel things without posting them. I’m afraid that I’ll lose the capability to be content in my social life. I’m afraid that in a few years, I won’t know myself anymore, except through the eyes of everyone following my Instagram account. 

I don’t think we should all throw social media out the window. Because, quite frankly, we all know that will never happen. But I think we need to take a step back and look at ourselves. We need to find the balance between sharing important milestones to stay in touch and oversharing ourselves to the point of no return. I never want to reach the point when my life doesn’t belong to me anymore. Some things are meant for me, and only me. 

Our lives may be long, but they move quickly. When we’re gone, for the first time in history, these apps will share our life stories from the time we were thirteen and posting cringe selfies. That’s absolutely bizarre and amazing. But there are some things I want to take with me. There are some things that I want to own the rights to. I want to keep my memories my memories. My mental breakdowns, my rants, my emotions. My nostalgic, human, childish, and beautiful mental property. I think it’s time to claim back what social media took from us and look around more. Talk to your friends, listen to your friends, listen to yourself.

Social media will no doubt play a huge part in our lives. But don’t let it take over your lead role. 

 

Misery on Instagram

In her essay “The I in the Internet,” Jia Tolentino writes, “it is essential that social media is mostly unsatisfying. That is what keeps us scrolling, scrolling, pressing our lever over and over in the hopes of getting some fleeting sensation – some momentary rush of recognition, flattery, or rage.”

Social media, disregarding its capitalist tendencies, is a show performed to evoke emotion. Be it the influencer or the audience, each user logs on, scrolls, and posts in order to feel something, to hide, and unconsciously cry out for help. 

The summer after my freshman year I experienced a massive friendship breakup. Emotional abuse and manipulation… ending our relationship was overdue. When I finally cut the cord, I emerged on the other side stronger and better for it, albeit more fragile. However, suddenly all of my actions online were a performance staged to prove just how great I was doing without her.

My fragility manifested in wholly superficial ways (as was necessary since I had ceased communication with her): maintaining my platinum hair, whitening my teeth, and, of course – posting on social media were all ways to exhibit to her just how much better my life was going compared to hers.

I posted selfies of my clear skin, pictures tagging new friends (better friends, who I was having fun with), visuals of new and fabulous clothes. I knew she was watching, and I hoped all of this would ignite in her the feelings of jealousy and inadequacy that I thought she deserved.

After reflecting on this era only recently, I see just how unhealthy it was that my every move was motivated to make someone think a specific way about me. I was intending to show my former friend – and the rest of my followers – that just by improving my appearance, I had improved my life. Instead, it revealed a deep sadness, a desperation that was practically screaming, Look at how okay I am!

I now would go as far as saying that Instagram, and social media in general, on an extreme level, is just a means of attempting to conceal, and thus exhibiting, our pain. Isn’t everything we post designed and curated to force onto the public a specific view of ourselves? There is the common argument that social media is not and could not be indicative of our true selves, but what if, behind airbrush and good lighting and captions, Instagram, Snapchat, and the like reveal our true selves more than we would like?

On a smaller scale, we see it every day on our own profiles. Because we choose what we post, each photo is, in a way, reflective of our personalities, our thoughts, our aesthetics, if you will. And if, with each post we are giving the world a small nugget of ourselves, we are exposing ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable to all the varieties of feedback that come with going on the Internet. I would therefore argue that the only reason to post is to elicit some reaction from others, be it physical (a like or a comment) or emotional (eliciting a response of like, dislike, jealousy, envy, admiration in the audience’s mind, which doesn’t necessarily make its way back to the poster). In our regular lives, we do not typically act to see others react, but posting on social media is an action that is exclusively performed in order to create responses. These reactions are feeding a need that is not often broached in life outside the internet.

And this need, the desire to seem as we aren’t, reflects what we wish to hide most, that we are hurting. The platform creates a paradox that dictates the more you perform happiness, the more your audience sees your suffering. 

I have noted this tendency not only in my generation of social media-users, my friends with a meager number of followers compared to the Kardashians of the world, but also those with thousands or millions of followers. Every so often one of these Insta-stars will post a photo featuring their tear-stained face and a long caption describing their struggle with anxiety and/or depression, an attempt to reveal the “real” side of their internet persona.

Reading those posts, I think, Honey, I already know. I can’t imagine that one who compulsively works out, spends hours perfecting lighting, follows and unfollows to gain followers can possibly feel comfortable with themselves. I could be projecting, but I also know that the points in my life that I have been the happiest are those when I’m not noting how others may view my actions, living life to live life, not for a picture. When I look at the Insta-famous, I can’t help but feel pity for them. I do not intend to demean successful influencers or suggest that making a living off of Internet-fame is not reputable; I only urge us all to consider looking at them transparently and thus sympathizing with these people more than idolizing them.

Some – mostly pre-millennials – who do not quite understand the appeal of these platforms, claim that we post so frequently and so much about ourselves because we are “narcissists.” Instead, what we are doing is creating a condition that eases the suffering we all experience. Willow Smith, in “Time Machine” off her 2019 self-titled album, points out “…everyone is looking at their phone / Tryna feel like they are less alone.” Instagram presents the sensation of company without supplying it. Perhaps if the colors on my feed work together, if I post pictures at a party, if every week I’m wearing a new outfit, real life can be just a bit more manageable. Given this, and perhaps erring towards hyperbole, Instagram is control, like an eating disorder or self-harm. It is avoidance, like drugs or alcohol.

Tolentino also explains, in “What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away” that, “we have allowed social media to make us feel valuable.” I would say, rather, that we seek out our value on social media, and it is not capable of meeting our needs. This sentiment is not intended to induce shame, but to encourage the questioning of motivations and whether it’s possible to exist on the internet at all without these symptoms.

 

Photo by Johanna Bommer.

The Birds and Bees and… Porn?

Like many teenagers out there, my initial foray into the world of internet pornography started with searches on YouTube and Google images when my parents weren’t looking or had gone to sleep.

These searches would be some variation of the following terms “hot girl”, “boobs”, “ass”, “big butts” among many others to find some pixelated softcore porn. While I’m sure this porn origin story is familiar to many — why is it that for many porn remains so taboo to talk about?

With the advent of the worldwide web, internet porn has become increasingly more accessible for preteens and teens. It’s a time that can be confusing and naturally curiosity takes over. Whether it be through talking with their friends, family or accessing educational materials, it’s natural for teens to want all these new questions answered. Online porn is easy to find and accessible — plus you don’t have to share any potentially private thoughts or troubles.

Here’s where it all gets a bit weird to me.

We know that teens are watching porn in increasing numbers and we know that they know very little about porn… so why aren’t we trying to educate them on it?

Porn as an educational resource tends to be, um, lacking at best and outright harmful at worst. The mainstream porn industry depicts an ideal of sex that looks good, rather than it being anything that would feel good. It’s highly performative and at such a formative age paints a rather extreme ideal on people who are seeing sex for the first time. Not only that, but many pornstars have had cosmetic enhancements, or simply possess rare bodily attributes that teens might idealize but never be able to replicate (e.g. large penises, breast implants etc.). Teens often look to porn in an attempt to learn about sex when they’re struggling with their sexual identity. 

So why do we leave them in the dark to do this exploration with virtually no guidelights? Just as we accept the “birds and the bees” talk to be a necessity when raising a teen, can’t we amend that to include the topic of pornography?

Porn sites might have everyone pretending to be 18 plus (any fellow lawbreakers out there?), so if we understand that porn can affect future relationships/sex lives, and can engender feelings of shame and even be outright addictive, then we should understand that it has risks that adolescents deserve to be educated about. Accepting that a teenager will watch porn is one thing, but the next step is having an actual productive talk about what it is they’re seeing onscreen. Where to start?

  • Talk about the performative nature of porn, how if you choose to become sexually active, it won’t usually look the way it does online. Talk about how the key to good and healthy sex is listening to your partner. Encourage open communication about what feels good to you and your partner(s). 

 

  • Talk about the bodies in porn, how there’s no need to compare yourself with what you see on screen. Tell them they should never feel ashamed of their bodies. The sexual exaggeration should not be what you expect from your partners nor should it be what they expect from you.

 

  • Talk about how porn can objectify people — particularly womxn, and how this depiction is harmful and something that they should be consciously aware of.

 

  • Talk about some of the darker side of the porn industry, how it’s not always ethical and possibly even recommend websites, pornstars, and studios that produce ethical content and treat their staff well. 

 

  • Talk about the dangers of porn addiction and how it could adversely affect them in the future, let them know they can openly talk to you if this becomes an issue.

 

  • Some porn plots and videos can be very problematic, talk about these and how, in real life, consent must be enthusiastic and can not be coerced out of people. 

 

  • Tell them they shouldn’t be ashamed of watching porn and exploring their sexuality in healthy ways.

 

These are only a few suggestions, and while they may seem obvious to some, for teenagers just starting to figure everything out, they may not be. It’s not fair to allow their future relationships to suffer just because we’re reluctant to broach the subject. 

Some might wonder, with all these possible harms, why not just keep teens away from porn? Well, firstly that’s not realistic. But secondly — and most importantly — I believe that with education around conscious consumption of porn, the medium can be a useful sexual resource. Being a teenager and dealing with your blossoming sexuality, new fantasies, and bodily changes can be quite overwhelming. Having an outlet that is private to explore these feelings is incredibly important. 

By talking about porn in a productive, open, and non-judgemental manner, maybe we can help make those teen years of discovery a little easier for some. Teens have it hard enough, the last thing they need is to feel ashamed about a safe method of exploration. By educating ourselves, and in turn educating future generations about being conscious consumers of porn, not only would we make people’s sex lives better — but we could also generate a shift in consumer expectation which trickles all the way up to mainstream porn production. 

So when you’re talking about the birds and the bees — don’t forget pornography. 

 

The Wolf Inside the Insta-Gym

“You’ve got thighs like a rugby player… massive calves, too,” my male classmate informed me during a History lesson in ninth grade. It was a non-uniform day, and I’d opted for bare legs and a skirt.

“Is that a good thing?” I whispered back in horror. I had never played a game of rugby in my life.

“Dunno,” he shrugged nonchalantly, and turned around to continue flicking paper balls at the bin.

At five foot one and a half, with naturally well-endowed thighs and bum, I welcomed the Instagram fitness generation with open arms. Finally! Here were some mainstream representations of curvy women who diverged from the five-foot-eleven-legs-up-to-heaven-Jack-Wills-thigh-gap-Tumblr aesthetic I’d grown up with. I could finally embrace my short ‘scrum-half’ thighs, the anxiety over which had, among a complex multitude of other factors, contributed to an eating disorder from the age of fifteen to eighteen.

It was probably around 2016 when I felt the tide change.

Between Kayla Itsines at the willowy end of the fitness spectrum and the protein-powered bodybuilders at the other, came a hoard of girl-next-door hourglass influencers with their “strong not skinny” slogans and progress shots, providing us with resources and hope that we might one day achieve that level of thiccness* and see the light at the end of our own “fitness journeys.” However, what has become clear to me more recently is that as long as social media is fueling the fitness industry, our ‘journey’ will never end; new paths will form, and it will keep changing direction depending on the fickle barrage of images illuminating our phones each day.

*having a bubble butt and perfectly proportioned breasts, while still maintaining a corseted waist and washboard stomach – lumps in all the ‘right’ places, essentially (popular usage includes “Damn, she thicc”). 

On a visit to Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt last October, I was flicking through a book of essays on modern capitalism, and I chanced across one on gym culture. It didn’t focus on the obvious connections — the gym industry’s endless production line of products and extortionate monthly membership rates — but instead, it looked at how the mechanical repetitions of gym workouts satisfy an innate need for manual labor; a (somewhat Victorian) subconscious desire to be cogs in an industrial system.

Unfortunately, I forgot to jot down the name of both the author and the book and have had no luck locating it since, so I’m yet to discover if their hypothesis rings true. But the word mechanical stuck with me and made me look at gym culture in a new light. As did a resounding phrase in Jameela Jamil’s well-articulated critique of the Kardashians — “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Before I begin my interrogation of the very structures that I myself profit from, I should probably pause for a serious privilege check: I am a healthy white western woman, my body is accepted by mainstream society, I am lucky to have the financial means to go to the gym at all. This is not a radical or brave article to write, but I think it’s worth writing anyway.

I am a religious gym-goer and regular exercise is a huge part of my life. In fact, it is vital to my mental health — I get cranky and anxious without it. Nothing boosts my endorphins like going for a run around the city at sunset or feeling increasingly strong while lifting dumbbells or falling asleep with that glorious post-gym muscle ache. Morning exercise sets up my day and objectively puts me in a better mood. For the most part, I find it empowering and therapeutic. As a recovered anorexic, exercise is also what enables me to eat huge, healthy portions and feel good about it (perhaps a problem in itself, but as anyone who’s experienced an eating disorder knows, those anxieties never disappear completely, so you just learn to adapt). It’s hardly a ground-breaking revelation that exercise is a very good thing.

But Instagram DIY gym culture can become just as toxic and obsessive as portion controlling and weight-loss regimes. And when you take a step back, it’s actually a very unnatural process — not necessarily the exercises themselves, but the intent behind them.

Unlike aerobic or functional exercise, in our current aesthetics-focused gym culture we work on remote sections of our bodies in a clinical way. We are constantly overloaded with tips, tricks and equipment for “growing that booty” or achieving that “perfect hips to waist ratio” or sharpening our abs — we don’t think of the body holistically, but break it into remote areas to work on, chipping away at ourselves like clay models.

Unsurprisingly, this can lead to dysmorphia and relentless perfectionism, and it is no healthier than watching Burberry adverts. Because you find yourself trying to enlarge your bum but not your thighs or tone your arms without making them “bulky.” Or you may exercise your chest and put weight on your boobs but not your stomach. It makes bodily satisfaction practically impossible, because there is always more work to be done. And then, it’s no longer just a case of “booty gains” but of sculpting your “side booty”, “upper booty”, “under booty” (who KNEW there were so many different parts of booty?) and suddenly your Instagram Discover page is a veritable minefield of at-home workout videos by tanned Gymshark warriors clad in beautiful pastel-colored lycra performing a hundred different variants of the same exercise. You can’t seem to take your eyes off their absurdly spherical gluteus maximus pulsing up and down like a mesmeric orb. Before you know it, you end up operating like the exercise machines you use.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t save pretty much all of the aforementioned workouts for my gym sessions, and that I don’t feel great when my bum feels perky — the overwhelming irony of this article is that I am a complete slave to what I’m critiquing — but when you’re in the gym doing 40 donkey kicks on one side and you start thinking about how ridiculous it actually is, it does break the spell a little.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel and look good — whatever “good” constitutes on the Kendall to Kylie Jenner sliding scale nowadays. The free routines and advice flowing out of the Insta-gym certainly give people more autonomy and more resources for getting fit. It’s much easier to tone your muscles than it is to drop three dress sizes and miraculously stretch your legs to conform to the Victoria’s Secret paragon. But it still capitalizes on insecurity while making us feel like we are entirely our own agents. We are told that we are in control of our bodies and our workout plans, but we’re still subscribing to an exhausting ideal that has just as much capacity for self-loathing, physical shame, and guilt as the other extreme. What starts as an easy and empowering method of toning up can often end in a desire to sculpt every limb to perfection.

We are also told that with the right amount of work, we can achieve the same physique as our favorite Instagram athlete; but it is still a genetic lottery, just a different kind of genetic lottery to the catwalk.

This tiring pursuit of “body goals” also participates in a much broader narrative — the upward neoliberal trajectory that instills in us an unceasing desire to progress and consume; a constant echo of more, more, more. It is the same narrative of dissatisfaction that convinces homeowners they need to redesign each bedroom and bathroom every two years in order to remain on trend.

It is ever-present in the language of these fitness influencers, who hark on about gains and “progress shots.” That their lingua franca is saturated in monetary semantics is unsurprising given how Instagram is becoming an increasingly capitalist platform where influencers can earn thousands through sponsored posts and fast-fashion adverts — where ‘selling an ideal’ is no longer just metaphorical. What begins as a healthy way of connecting to your body, getting out of your head and realizing the strength you’re capable of, ends up getting tangled in more images, more dysmorphia, more dissatisfaction and more spending.

Will I stop utilizing these Instagram workouts and attempt to switch off from this gym generation? Probably not, no.

But it’s still important to be aware of the wolf in sheepskin, and how addictive this ostensibly healthier approach to achieving body confidence can become. As with everything nowadays, it feels like we’re so focused on becoming that we forget to simply be.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Alida Bea, Nikki Burnett, and Camille Rose Perrett.

 

Instagram, I Love You – But You’re Bringing Me Down

 

Social media is great — but also not.

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok… there are 7.7 billion people in the world, and 3,499 billion of them are on social media — that’s 45% of the earth. And while social media has the potential to empower individuals and inspire social movements, it can also weigh down our lives with dispensable negativity. At the very least, our phone screens distract us from our daily lives.

According to one study, more than half of teenagers who use social media report that it regularly distracts them from homework and/or the people they’re surrounded by.

In late 2018, Forbes published two studies about social media’s impact on mental health. One study, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, requested that 140 undergrads either continue their regular Facebook, Snapchat, and Insagram use regularly or limit it to 30 minutes total, daily. After three weeks, those who limited their use experienced decreased depression, feelings of loneliness, and anxiety.

The other study –was conducted at York University — discovered that upon seeing other women that they felt were more attractive than them, the female undergraduate participants felt worse about themselves. Researchers confirmed that, even though some of these young women had poor self images before the study, each woman felt even worse after they were finished.

The dissatisfaction social media can bring is inarguably evident, but as author Jia Tolentino puts it, the internet has become “a central organ” of contemporary life. It’s hard to curtail your online usage without feeling left out of a defining millennial experience. 

But don’t worry! The Killer And A Sweet Thang editorial staff has compiled some tips for you to use social media, specifically Instagram, more healthily.

 

Utilize your iPhone’s screen time limits.

Did you know that you can set time limits for how long you spend on certain apps? A notification will pop up notifying you if you’ve already hit your max for, in this case, Instagram that day — from there, you can choose whether or not to enter the app. It’s a nice way to monitor and possibly minimize your screen time.

If you have an iPhone, access Settings and scroll to “Screen Time.” Here, you’ll find how much and on which apps you spend the most time. WARNING: it can be a little shocking!

 

The unfollow and block and mute buttons exist for a reason — don’t be afraid to use them.

For a lot of folks, it’s not realistic to delete social media entirely. But considering how much time we spend on the app, you reserve the right to control who enters your digital space. Sure, people may call you “petty” if you block them, but some people deserve to be blocked. Besides, what’s petty about protecting your mental health?

Now, for the more nuanced situations we suggest the mute feature. This makes it so you never have to see so-and-so’s Instagram posts or stories. This is perfect for those people who make you feel some type of way. Intentions aside, whether they make you feel bad about yourself, self-conscious, or remind you of someone you’re trying to forget — muting is a good tool to keep them off your feed and off your mind.

 

Leave your phone on the other side of the room.

This may sound silly, but when you’re feeling particularly anxious, sometimes you need to add some physical distance between you and the rest of the world. Switch your phone to silent, flip it over, and leave it out of reach. Take deep breaths, listen to some music… IDK maybe masturbate — do your best to focus on your immediate interactions.

 

Try moving the Instagram app to the last page on your home screen.

Make Instagram harder to get to by adding some virtual distance between you and the app icon. Even seeing that purple-ly orange-y logo is super tempting, even when you’re doing something else on your phone. Resist her siren call.

 

Curate your feed.

Ever feel too tuned in? Constantly seeing what your peers are up to — whether it’s their fun night out or their shiny new job — can cause FOMO (fear of missing out) and inspire counterproductive comparisons. Try following more lighthearted content providers, like meme or travel accounts. Or sex education resources, like @killerandasweetthang.

If an account gives you a weird feeling, don’t over analyze it — just hit unfollow. Fill your feed with things that your make you smile rather than ignite stress.

 

Post less.

It’s easy to feel as though you need to keep your followers updated on your every move. Oftentimes, we’re afraid that our social audience will interpret inactivity as a sign that we’re sitting alone in bed, squandering our lives away. Odds are our followers are not terribly concerned with our online performance. After all, they have their own lives (and online performance) to fret over. So screw the self-imposed pressure!

If you’re feeling stressed or weird about social media, the remedy is not using it more. Take a step back. It may be hard to resist the urge to post a new story at least once a day, but we promise that the longer you wait between posts, the easier it becomes.

 

Turn off your Instagram notifications.

When someone likes or comments on your photo — you get a notification. Then you probably check it… but then you go to the homepage and keep scrolling, right? It’s natural, or at the very least, common. A simple way to limit your time on Instagram is to mute the notifications, to avoid temptation. 20 minutes of browsing can quickly turn into an hour.

 

Say it with us… hang up and hang out!

When you’re with other people, engage in human conversation and put your phone away. I know that we hear this all the time, but what are you really missing when you don’t check your phone for two hours?

Try to focus more on what’s physically happening, not what’s being posted. 

 

Analyze your intentions.

If you notice Instagram is bringing your mood down, but it’s difficult to change/alter your social media habits — ask yourself why. What kind of pressure or value are you projecting onto this virtual space?

 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Daniela Guevara, Alexa Fahlman, and Leanna Turone.   

 

When Literotica Gets Political

DoubleTap is an interview series highlighting creatives whose work explores sex, body and identity.

 

There’s an app for everything these days — including erotica.

Enter Slide Stories. A new app “for the culture, by the culture” offering users a variety of sensual fiction, covering everything from love to ghosting. Despite only launching this past Spring, several stories have already amassed thousands of views. Although Literotica (erotic literature) has been around since the internet was born, any horny fan will tell you — the key is quality control. It can take hours to cypher through the hundreds of poorly-written, not to mention offensive erotic fiction on sites like Nifty.org before you land on a story that will finally get your rocks off.

However, Slide Stories is not interested in maintaining the status quo.

Turning the format on its head, every tale you peruse on the app is told via text thread. Reading a steamy text exchange on your phone is not only delightfully meta — it lends the fiction authenticity.

Geared towards POC consumers, readers of all backgrounds can enjoy stories like “Weekend Zaddy” and “Love and K Pop.” More than targeted marketing, Slide Stories centering of Black and Brown identities feels empowering. Most erotic fiction is written by white people under pen names, and much of the un-policed literotica currently on the web is laden with racial fetishization and stereotypes. By creating a safe space for all readers to enjoy the more imaginative alternative to porn, Slide Stories has tapped into not only something essential, but political, too.

We spoke with 25-year-old founder Keryce Chelsi Henry about her company’s inventive approach to pleasure.

 

What inspired your team to make an erotic app marketed towards POC consumers? 

Keryce: Our team loved the text message format as a new way and opportunity to create interesting stories — and we thought there was a big opportunity for us to create a storytelling platform focused on voices that would resonate more with millennial POC. The focus on romance and erotica was inspired by urban romance novels, like those written by Zane

 

A lot of erotica features highly fetishized and racist depictions of non-white characters. Slide ensures the authenticity of its content by sourcing it directly from the community it seeks to represent, correct? 

Yes. We crowdsource our material through our team’s personal networks and via social media, and specify that we’re looking for millennial WOC and/or LGBTQ writers. Contributors are encouraged to develop storylines that are authentic to their own experiences and relationships. I tell writers to write the dialogue the way they’d text their friends.

 

Did you always know you wanted the erotica to live on an app? 

Yes, the goal has always been to create an app where these stories could live.

 

Your interface is super creative — it really makes you feel privy to someone’s sexts. Can you speak to the thought process behind the text-thread approach? 

We knew the visual of a text thread would be immediately familiar to our target audience, especially considering the kind of content Slide Stories is publishing — so many of millennials’ conversations surrounding sex and relationships occur via text, like first getting to know a potential romantic parter or getting advice about a partner via group chat. That familiarity helps to engage users, giving them the experience of sending and receiving these texts themselves.  

 

It’s particularly effective for stories depicting ghosting. How important was it that Slide include narratives that weren’t solely centered on sex? 

Slide Stories is geared toward love, sex, and dating, so it definitely opens the floodgates to storylines that aren’t just centered on sex. But even more than that, it’s important to us to depict specific situations that our demographic can relate to, like ghosting or dealing with exes who still like your social media posts, for example.

 

I’m thinking specifically of the “More Than Bros?” series, which tackles homophobia, both societal and internalized. It was like social commentary meets erotica — the potential is endless. However, when Ty reveals he’s HIV positive and knowingly had unprotected sex with another man while drunk — did it occur to the writer this may be perpetuating harmful stereotypes about HIV positive individuals?

I can’t speak to the writer’s thought process, but I did work with the writer to soften the potentially harmful nature of how that narrative played out. 

Generally speaking, writers are encouraged to draw from real-life experiences to maintain the authenticity of the stories while I advise on voice and tone, but we do our best to be cognizant of how stories will be received by our audience and let the writers have the freedom to express what they want to say.

 

On the flip side, it can normalize sexual exploration. I’m imagining curious guys downloading the app for the straight stories, then stumbling upon this and feeling, maybe in some way, seen. How important was it for your staff to include queer narratives? 

Including queer narratives is extremely important for us. Our goal is to represent POC, and you simply can’t do so without including LGBTQ+ perspectives because they’re a part of the community. 

We’ve also recently launched Prism Stories, another chat fiction app that features solely LGBTQ+ characters. 

 

Overall, it doesn’t seem like Slide shies away from taboo topics. For example, “Locked-Up Lust” is a text exchange between an inmate and his partner. In the KAAST office, we often talk about how we struggle not to over-police our own sexual fantasies. Are there any topics your team would consider off-limits to explore? 

We’re definitely open-minded about the topics covered on Slide Stories, in an effort to allow users to both relate to the content and also explore their fantasies. We do avoid storylines that include non-consensual acts, however, so as not to trigger users.

 

Have you ever considered incorporating educational elements into your stories? Maybe something like ‘Slutty Nurse Teaches Patient About STI Prevention’? 

We haven’t gotten pitches for Slide Stories with educational elements, but that’s definitely a great idea! I’d love if users could get helpful takeaways from our stories. 

 

Ideally, how do you want users to feel after they’ve used [the app]?

We want Slide Stories users to feel entertained and seen. Stories can only be so compelling to the readers if they don’t relate to the characters — that’s why our stories include slang, cultural references, and images with a diversity of skin tones and hair textures, to represent a variety of identities.

As for users who are writers themselves, we want them to view Slide Stories as a trustworthy outlet where POC/LGBTQ creatives can write for an emerging format and be compensated for doing so.

 

 

You can download the Slide Stories app on your smartphone here. 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Alyse MazyckNikki Burnett, and Tamara Chapman.

Is the Finsta Toxic?

The appeal of a finsta is clear: the ability to be “yourself” as well as to post all the ugly selfies and embarrassing group photos that you would never, ever allow on your rinstaor “real Instagram.”

We use this “fake Instagram” to shit-talk our professors and that man sitting too close to us on the train; we whine about someone from high school or detail uncomfortable situations — it’s supposed to be fun… right?

I had a finsta from my first year of college until my last. I was eager to show a small group of people, who I considered my closest friends, my “funny” and “authentic” side via social media. It took deep trust for me to let you into my sacred sphere. I had to know you for months or years, already have entrusted you with my deepest secrets, and even then, if I had my doubts, you weren’t going to have access to my account.

I went years without ever questioning this need for alternative online space, and in the beginning, I really didn’t have to. But my finsta, which once served as a locale for fun selfies, evolved into a platform that revealed my own deep insecurities. 

A conversation during a therapy session sparked my doubts about the account.

My therapist and I were discussing my hesitation to reach out to friends for help. I was unsure as to how I should go about it as I had no one to model my behavior after, no one I felt I could turn to or necessarily count on to communicate pain. Unfortunately, I was used to toxic friends who would unload everything on me and reciprocate normal, friendly gestures very rarely.

So, out of the deep fear I that I would turn into that kind of person if I brought up my issues, I taught myself that I was a burden and not worthy of support. If I was going through something and texted my friends about it, intense guilt would build up within me. I felt like I had ruined their day, that they already had school, work, and relationships to worry about and didn’t need my problematic additions to those issues. As a result, I would keep my feelings bottled up, write out a text to my best friend and delete it out of fear that she already had enough on her plate and didn’t need my “stuff” on top of that.

For me, there was no middle ground. I either shamed myself for sharing or wouldn’t say anything at all. So I turned to my finsta.

There, I could explain the whole situation and how I was feeling about it — without having to reach out, without having to burden a specific individual, without having to imagine that they resented me for it. It became an outlet that I would utilize whenever I was in need of love and support but couldn’t bring myself to “formally” ask for it. It was a roundabout way of venting and ignoring my desire for human interaction — which is understandable and normal — but not necessarily healthy. 

Soon, I realized that my finsta was falling into the same category as my self-harm habits, which I have struggled with since I was eighteen.

I don’t mean this in the sense that it physically harmed me, but it definitely was an unhealthy way of displaying my pain rather than expressing it. Since we sometimes believe that we are not worthy of seeking help or attention, we rely on these alternative ways of showing it. Displaying my pain online seemed much easier and safer than verbally communicating it IRL; a finsta lets us hide behind a screen, a mode of telling our friends that we are hurting without having to fully confront the conversation. And, again, if we display and don’t express, we don’t have to worry about being a burden. 

I then started to question my actions, and though they were not intentionally malicious, they may have been manipulative. By posting on this account, I was subconsciously telling people that they were not supporting me, even though they couldn’t have had any way of knowing that I needed support in the first place.

I would post a long rant on my finsta about feeling academically inadequate, or an embarrassing run-in with an ex, or someone toxic I needed to ditch. I was indirectly telling friends I needed their help without actually seeking out any real assistance. This was my own unintentional method of guilting them into paying attention to me by making them feel shame for not checking in earlier. Upon seeing my finsta posts, they would text me to see if I was okay or comment encouraging advice. I was then seemingly satisfied but uncomfortable with the way I asked for this help. Instead of letting them know I was hurting, I lured them in by using this odd tactic. I imagine this made them feel strangely about me, maybe even creating some resentment towards me. Maybe they asked themselves if I wanted them to text me about it, or if I wanted a compassionate response.

After this rise in my own self-awareness, I saw that the first step I needed to take in order to remind myself that I was worthy of expressing my feelings was deleting my finsta. And though I’m still learning effective ways of communicating my challenges, this relationship with my finsta revealed so much about myself that I had to work on.

Now, per my therapist’s advice, try to first text my friends something like: “Hey, do you mind if I vent about something to you? If you’re not feeling up to it right now, I totally understand.” It is then their responsibility to let me know if they are in a place where they feel prepared to talk me through a situation. With this preface, I allow myself to avoid feeling the guilt of adding to their problems or wanting to apologize because they had to listen to me for too long. 

This is not to say that finstas don’t play a positive role in our young lives; many of my friends still feel joy from these secondary accounts. But, like any social media platform, it is not the platform itself that is inherently harmful or toxic, but the way we interact with it.

If we are able to reshape the interactions we have with social media and the interactions we have with ourselves, we can teach ourselves that we are never burdens. We can learn that we are worthy of expressing

 

 

Photos by Kama Snow

 

Meet Your Match

This article originally appeared in print in Pull Out, a magazine exploring the relationship between sex and technology. Order a copy here

 

Dating in the 21st century no longer means going out to social events — it means making a profile on an online dating app.

Gone are the days when meeting strangers online was taboo, today it’s a given: Tinder, OKCupid, Grindr, Christian Mingle, Bumble… the list goes on and on. Thousands of suitors, depending on your distance settings, await at your fingertips.

I finally downloaded Tinder as a result of a breakup — typical, I know. Convinced that I was simply looking for something new and exciting, whether that was an ephemeral hook-up or an unforeseen relationship, the world of dating apps seemed filled with endless possibilities. An unlimited number of men streamed directly to my phone, and all I had to do was swipe.

My broken heart received confidence boosts every time I got a match. It was invigorating to know how many guys were interested in me, from only five previously Instagram-ed photos and a sentence long bio, which read, “Tell me your favorite Justin Bieber song.” The confidence I built from Tinder left me eager to try any free dating app that I would fit on my iPhone’s storage. For a brief time, I thought it was possible for me to use these apps to fulfill the romantic void in my post breakup life.

The apps facilitated the initial sorting by filtering guys within my preferred distance and age ranges. Then, if there was mutual interest, the floor was opened for conversation. Swiping was effortless — the hard part was forming a connection based on the superficial, visual content that brought us together. The number of viable candidates decreased significantly as I attempted to form a rapport with these mysterious people on the other side of my phone. The digital banter felt exhausting and artificial. Then the number dropped even lower when it came to guys I actually wanted to meet.

Two.

After spending eight months sending messages to strangers on various apps, this was the total number of guys I met. And it only took one to two dates to realize that the faint connection we formed online was not present when in person. For instance, 25-year-old John* and his lingering obsession with his college party life left me cringing, and Mark* ghosted me after the second date when I awkwardly slipped out of the car because I was not comfortable enough to kiss him.

“Is it me?” I desperately asked my therapist one day when I was questioning why I was still alone after spending so much time swiping left and right.

I was frequently getting asked out on dates, yet often declined because I would look for, and inevitably find reasons that snuffed any initial interest. No one seemed to be worth the time and effort to endure an awkward first date. I began to realize that I was using dating apps to fill the pain from the dissolution of my last relationship. Looking online for the attention and validation I was no longer receiving from my ex-boyfriend. The truth was that my breakup left me feeling alone and terrified. As eager as I was to move on, I found myself discouraged when my attempts to make new connections did not come as easily as my last relationship.

Knowing that I had thousands of men at my fingertips was now making me lonelier than I was at the beginning of my online dating saga. The moment of excitement when matching with someone dulled when I realized there was nothing substantial between us.  

In my opinion, I think loneliness is the key reason why dating apps are successful. We are all trying to find some sort of connection through these clicks and swipes, whether it’s casual sex, platonic friendships, or intimate relationships. Dating apps provide the illusion that you can meet your match through algorithms and preference settings. If this were true, then why is my generation having less sex than the generations before us?

A study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that millennials are having less sex than young adults were in the 1960s. Additionally, CDC research indicates a decline in sexually experienced teens today compared to teens in 1988. 

Although sex has different meanings for different people, it is still a physical action that creates a bond between two people. My guess is that my generation’s drop in sexual activity comes from, in part, our struggle to make connections past the digital space.

Dating apps, and a social media as a whole, attempt to imitate authentic conversation. They are ubiquitous and succeed in bringing some people together, however, apps will never truly mimic IRL relations. You cannot replicate the chemistry felt face-to-face, and while it is not impossible, it’s extremely difficult to create a genuine connection over the screens of our smartphones. And even if you think you do, that connection can dissipate when it moves from the digital to physical realm.

I wonder if we all stand to lose something by basing intimacy off of online interactions. We no longer evaluate significant others solely through actions and words, but now have a digital archive of dating profiles, posts, and tweets to analyze a human being. I’m skeptical if online dating actually makes it easier to find someone when it opens a whole new world of content to criticize.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Perhaps loneliness makes me more closed off and tentative to open up to new people, especially to strangers. Maybe I haven’t had any success with dating apps because I, like many of my generation, am hesitant to move into the physical space. Maybe one day I will be charmed by someone’s five previously Instagram-ed photos and sentence long bio. Maybe I will anticipate a deep and true connection from his online presence. Maybe I will be brave enough to move past the digital wall and meet him face-to-face. And maybe the connection will be just as alive — maybe even more so — than it was behind the screen of my phone.

 

*Names were changed for privacy purposes.

Gif via Giphy, and photos by Sofia Amburgey.

 

 

Who Do We Take Nudes For?

We send men photos of our bodies, but our bodies carry more than our breasts and legs. 

___

 

A friend told me something disturbing the other day, “I have a photo of myself — missing.” 

What do you mean by missing?

“I don’t know where it is.”

What kind of photo?

“Of you know… me.”

After much mulling over details and trying to hold back of tears, this is what I gathered: there is a somewhat tasteful, naked photo of my friend, that her now ex-boyfriend has or has tried to mail back to her from overseas. She had given it to him as a gift or, as she might put it, as a token of affection, and requested it to be sent back to her when they called it quits.

The breakup (the tears, the request) were nearly three months ago.

We sat down and googled how long international postage usually took — just seven to ten days, as I had imagined.

Why didn’t you follow up on this? I asked her.

“I guess I trusted he would do the right thing.”

Why did you only realize now that the picture hadn’t arrived?

“I didn’t care for a while, and then I listened to ‘Body’ by Julia Jacklin and realized that it was my body that was missing.”

My friend’s body, captured in a moment of sexual freedom and liberation by the eyes of her lover. A split-second decision made during a fleeting intensity between two people, to document desire, to make the feeling tangible.

A nude is a moment in time that usually stays in that moment of time, but somehow they both decided to duplicate it in the form of a physical print, to allow them to relive it in their own separate worlds.

No one could send it, but they could touch and hold her body. Or maybe they could take a photo of the photograph and send that? She’d thought about that. She also thought about strangers touching their own bodies as they held and touched hers.

Growing up as a woman in society, female bodies — big or small, skinny or curvy, long or short — are continuously sexualized. They are sexualized in the images we are exposed, and in how the opposite sex — and even other women — describe us. 

Our bodies are sexualized by the cat-calls we receive in public, an act that normalizes projecting desire and tactile pleasures onto our bodies — bodies which carry not only our breasts and legs, but also our hearts and minds.

Our bodies carry our past, the little scars from childhood fights to the cracks in our teeth, the stretch marks when we began to evolve more into our self, even down to the pimples on our cheeks… Our bodies carry our future, the inside parts that will help grow new life or continue maintaining our own life.

When I first heard Australian songwriter Julia Jacklin sing, “I guess it’s just my life and it’s just my body,” it stuck with me.

Yes, I acknowledge the beautiful connection between my life and body, and in a healthy mind frame, I can accept that who I am is intrinsically linked to the body I possess. However, why does my life have to be certified by my body? Why do I find that more men say to me “You have a good body” before they compliment my mind? Intimacy usually asks women to allow men deep inside, but why not intellectually more so than physically? “You are the skinniest girl I’ve ever been with” is a comment that has stuck with me longer than when I was told I was a “driven and generous woman” by another man.

The previous comment — so simple on the surface — now dictates a part of my lifestyle and how I feel when I choose to be intimate with men.

When I was a teenager, it was normal for young women my age to take nude pictures of ourselves. Frowned upon, scandalous, and maybe even a bit risky — but still a common pastime of my generation.

Photographers are trained to capture poignant moments in time, so they can be viewed indefinitely. Interestingly, with ‘naked selfies’ the very thought of an image so raw and visible being ‘forever’ horrifies the subject. So why do we do it? Why do millions of women elect to snapshot their nude or partially nude bodies for themselves or another person?

Perhaps we want to share our sexual desires with our lovers, show off parts of our bodies that we know another will like? Or we do it for our own self esteem? However, I can assure you that any girl I knew who took a photo of herself during high school was not doing it for her own pleasure.

We are all victims of conforming to becoming an object of sexuality. We were wired that way from the very start thanks to pop culture, the media and the vacuum of porn, as were men wired to presume the role as the receiver of such arousal. It’s how we got attention in high school from the opposite sex — a power play in adolescence that has transferred into my adult life.

I don’t take naked pictures of myself to obtain power over a man’s penis and ego — even though I wish the power play were that simple. And even as I write this now, I still don’t know how to totally refute the presence of sexualizing women’s bodies, as for some, sexualization can be powerful and liberating. As for my friend, she regrets her decision.

My friend had allowed a man with power to take an image of her body and now she can’t, in a way, get her body back. “Will you use it to hurt me?” — lyrics she sings along with Julia, a little too intensely.

In no way am I implying that all men are evil, sexual predators, or objectify women on their daily commute to work by calling out to them. I have the most caring, loving and generous male friends and brothers in my life that have shaped the woman I am today. I just hope they are having progressive conversations about how smart, caring, or driven their new lover is… rather than how “fit”, “hot”, or “good in bed” they are. 

As for Julia Jacklin, in another song she exclaims, “I don’t want to be touched all the time / I raised my body up to be mine.” 

Let us take these words as our 2019 mantra and sing them to every person we meet.

 

 

Photos by Alexa Fahlman.

My Ex Cyberbullied Me

When my ex and I broke up after a tumultuous relationship, I was seventeen and navigating my first weeks of college. Despite being continents apart and distracted from my new life, he was inescapable: photos plagued my phone, memories were strewn all over social media.

Images can be removed and messages can be deleted, yet his online presence haunted me as I was doing my utmost to move on.

It started with rather typical posts featuring depressing captions that someone would publish when they feel the hardship that comes with a break-up. However, things quickly escalated and I had no control over the impulsive sentimental narratives he was crafting to gain sympathy from others.

Scrolling, I felt helpless as a stained image of me was designed. I was painted as the evil ex in the eyes of anyone from his university who had never met me and was willing to believe his version of events.

The hardest part of it all was that these words were typed by someone I trusted, someone I thought would never intentionally try to hurt me. I suddenly didn’t know who the person I’d dated for the last year was. The way everything ensued after the break-up was beginning to taint the good memories I had of us.

While I don’t tend to spend a lot of time worrying about strangers’ opinions of me, this phenomenon forced me to experience firsthand the scary extent to which anyone can spread unverified facts through social media.

As he was blaming me for his panic attacks on his Instagram, he was also regularly sending me countless derogatory texts, saying he hoped that I’d “rot in hell”, and other harsh or death-related messages. While blocking was an option, that still didn’t stop his frenzied posts — posts that often got deleted as quickly as they were published.

I unfollowed him, but my friends still often notified me whenever something alluding to me was posted.

This lack of closure made me write dozens of letters I ultimately never sent him, many back-and-forths on whether the things he’d said about me were worth confronting. There was a petty part of my brain that fantasized about posting all the ‘receipts’ of the toxicity I went through with him — instead, I poured my emotions into my personal growth.

Then, suddenly, his online chronicles stopped.

He reached out to me, apologized, and we talked things through. After everything he put me through online, I wish I could say that I hated speaking to him, but I didn’t. I still felt affection for him even after it all. He made me understand that he was going through really hard times, and I understood that his posts served as (unhealthy) coping mechanisms. I even invested a couple of days helping him with his breakdowns. After the conversation, I thought we were on good terms. I thought the agitation would stop — that is, until I saw on my birthday, a few weeks later a post reading: “Happy birthday bitch hope it’s your last.”

This is when my brain finally understood how manipulative he was. Just like the way he put rose-colored glasses on me throughout our relationship, he was never going to stop caring about his pride and fabricating whatever story he wanted others to believe for his own sake.

However, there is an upside to all of this.

Seeing this side of him magnified reassured me of the path I was on in my own life. While I could not honestly say that I have completely forgiven him for his toxic behavior, I know that I am halfway there, and I still wish the best for him. The experience reminded me that the judgment of people who do not know me, doesn’t matter.

A tip to anyone who is currently in the middle of a break-up: as tempting as it may be, avoid publicizing your relationship or break-up online. Focus on your own mental wellbeing instead.

 

 

Gif by Barbara Pozzi. Photos (in order of appearance) by Kama Snow and Isabelle Abbott.