Category Archives: Sex

Between The Sheets

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Written by Jourdon Ahn

Welcome to a new kind of sex column, where we believe in a safe space for (a)sexuality that encompasses all peoples and their beautiful pussies and penises.

I’m seeking to accurately reflect the diversity seen everyday on the bus, at school, work, or on the street. Between the Sheets is an attempt to provoke knowledge, share experiences, affirm sexualities, create conversation, and perhaps alleviate horny curiosities.

This isn’t your mother’s sex column. It’s just as much for straight males and females, as it is your gay roommate, queer professor, transgender coworker, non-binary classmate—it’s for us all.

Maira McDermott, a gender studies major at SF State, agrees that “We live in an incredibly fluid society, especially in San Francisco and at SFSU. Our student body is so full of variance in sexual orientations, genders, and political views, that I think having a different kind of sex blog would be eye opening, or at least more comfortable for a large population.”

Now maybe you’re wondering who I am, the voice inside the font, and why I’m the author of this column. It could be because I’m a pansexual cis female or because I’ve got a lot of opinions. But, mainly it’s because I seek out this kind of discourse in order to understand myself, feel natural and find empowerment, just like many of you.

Our culture is both sex-negative (or sex-critical) and sex-positive, and most people fall into one category, though there is a gray area. Neither identifier is the good or bad choice; it’s simply a difference.

Brooke Glasky, Director of the ASI’s Women’s Center identifies as a sexually empowered and positive woman because to her, “being able to not only have the freedom and right to be sexually empowered, but also gifted in the sense of being able to say no, is something [she] personally cherishes everyday.”

Sex-negativity expresses a different sentiment. Olivia Mendez, a heterosexual, cis-female student explained, “I don’t always find sex empowering and don’t think it has to be. I think the implications of sex-positivity are one’s that do not include room for people that have suffered sexual trauma or are questioning their own sexuality.”

McDermott acknowledges the gray area though she identifies more with sex-negativity, “This is not to say that sex is not wonderful, however, a lot of sex-positivity that I’ve seen has been problematic…it ignores survivors of sexual assault, imposes compulsory sexuality, and ignores trans individuals. Sex-negativity doesn’t necessarily cover these aspects, but it at least feels more critical and inclusive.”

Although most like to believe that sex is inherently private—it’s not. Sex- positivity, negativity, and the gray area are only pieces to the neverending stimulation of sex, so let’s talk about it.

If you want to share experiences, suggest topics, critique, flirt, or cry—tell me more at sfsubetweenmysheets@gmail.com.

Bareback Behavior

Condoms are shown as not being utilized by some who's sex lives do not practice safe sex on purpose and choose to go Bareback. Amanda Peterson
Condoms are shown as not being utilized by some who’s sex lives do not practice safe sex on purpose and choose to go Bareback. Photo by Amanda Peterson / Xpress

Written by Jennifer Moreno
Photos by Amanda Peterson

No condoms. No fear. No regrets. That’s the motto Josh Landale, the thirty-year-old blogger behind Confessions of a Bareback Sauna Slut, lives by.

In the 1980s, men having unprotected sex with each other, or barebacking, was considered the surest way to contract HIV. Safe-sex and anti-AIDS campaigns were everywhere in response to HIV being spread through unprotected sex.

But now, barebacking is making a comeback. With hook up apps like Grindr and websites like BarebackRT.com, finding fellow barebackers is easier than ever.

For Landale, his enthusiasm all began when he was eighteen and fresh out of sixth form college (the British equivalent of graduating high school). He was finally coming to terms with his sexuality and ready to tell others he was gay. His libido was at its peak and the world was full of sexual possibilities.

Every hot guy could be a new encounter, an adventure, but condoms were getting in the way. During this time, he realized he was unable to achieve or maintain an erection once a condom was in the mix.

“I knew that as someone who liked to get fucked, I wasn’t happy with the sexual experience,” says Landale. “I somehow felt cheated, that the sex hadn’t been fulfilling or as rewarding as it might otherwise have been had condoms been forsaken.”

Of course, he was aware of the risks. Well sort of. He knew foregoing protection meant he was vulnerable to getting a myriad of STDs.  Some could be treated very easily, while others, like HIV/AIDS, were seen as the beginning of the end. He chose to bareback, but when he reached his early twenties, he decided to become educated about the risks.

All of this newfound knowledge filled him with self-doubt, leading to a decision between health or good sex.  At first he would practice sero-sorting (matching partners of the same HIV status together in a bid to reduce the risk of transmission) by sleeping only with those who said they were negative. But it didn’t always work. Many of his encounters participated in anonymous settings like bathhouses, dark barrooms, and public restrooms. Places where it was less talk and more action.

Every encounter left him worried, up until he got his most recent HIV results. The combination of early negative tests and risk-taking behavior, created a mild feeling of invincibility. He describes it as constantly winning round after round of Russian roulette. Except in his case, the barrel didn’t have five loaded chambers, but hundreds…maybe thousands.  But his luck ran out when years later he tested positive for HIV.

To better understand Landale’s thought process, it’s important to mention that he’s always been a bit of a risk taker. At sixteen, he was all about rock climbing and hang gliding. When he was twenty-one, he got a motorcycle and raced around the roads of Yorkshire with reckless abandon. Where most people saw danger and retreated from it, Landale was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. So the moment he discovered risky sexual behavior, it was an instant attraction.

“My desires and logic were at odds with one another,” Landale recalls. “A war raged in my mind. It took a good year or so to reconcile the risks with myself.”  His love for barebacking eventually won the war, and he hasn’t stopped since. And he’s just one of many making the exact same choice.

As Monica Lee, a health educator at the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) puts it, “The reality is people are barebacking all day long.” According to a recent survey conducted by the Community Health Network, about 46.4% of the gay and bisexual men who use apps like Grindr said, they always bareback. However, amidst all of the reveling, there are others concerned about this surge in popularity.  And the worrying isn’t unwarranted. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 men who had sex with other men (MSM) accounted for sixty-three percent of new HIV infections in the U.S.  Between 2008 and 2010, there was a twelve percent increase in new HIV infections among MSM. However, it isn’t just HIV that’s increasing. A 2011 CDC report found that syphilis rates among gay and bisexual men has increased and accounts for over seventy percent of all syphilis infections.

It’s Saturday night and Robi Bucayu is getting ready to go out. Is the top he’s wearing showing enough skin? Check. Is his hair perfectly in place? Check. Is he ready to do some community outreach to promote safe sex? Quadruple check. Just one check wouldn’t suffice to capture Bucayu’s enthusiasm for his job.

Bucayu, a gay twenty-two-year-old Stanford grad, works part-time at the SFDPH as a Community Field Specialist for the Community Health Equity and Promotion program. The program was created to address the needs and problems facing gay and bisexual men in the Castro and SoMa districts. His responsibilities include sometimes going out on the weekends to do outreach work at popular gay bars, clubs, and one time a sex party. This particular party was a CumUnion party, and for Bucayu it was an eye-opening experience. CumUnion is an international sex party that advocates a pro-choice philosophy. It doesn’t matter whether you are HIV positive or negative as long as you are honest and everything is consensual. Only one rule; no drugs.  Condoms are available along with on-site STD testing but everything, including barebacking, is allowed. Bucayu and his coworkers’ job was to inform men walking in that they offer free STD testing.

“Most of the men we talked to at that party assumed that when we said testing we meant HIV testing,” says Bucayu. “So they just said, ‘Oh, it’s too late for me honey,’ and kept on walking.

Scott Morris, one of the co-founders of CumUnion, tells a very different story. He states the amount of guests getting tested has increased substantially over the years, because CumUnion talks about testing in a fun, friendly, and sexy way. Morris feels this approach opens up the conversation for people to disclose their status without fear or judgment.

“Most people already know their HIV status, but they don’t know about their status for other STDS like chlamydia,” says Morris. “They’ll be like, ‘What is Chlamydia? Is that a girl disease?’ ”

Morris also says that he sees more people using condoms at CumUnion parties than at parties where barebacking isn’t allowed. Despite the misconception that only young men are the ones barebacking, Bucayu states most of the men he saw at the party were older and looked like they were in their fifties.

While some bareback for just the pleasure, others do it to make a statement. “There are some gay men who are just sick of the stigma surrounding HIV and the pro-condom agenda that was everywhere during the AIDS epidemic in the Eighties,” remarks Bucayu. “They want to live on their own terms.”

Although CumUnion encourages open communication, Lee states it’s common for people to attend the sex parties without disclosing their status.  However, Bucayu says guests know going in that the possibility of getting HIV is part of the territory. For some that might even be the goal.

According to Nick Lionberger, a local glassblower who doesn’t bareback, there is a rumor about “bug chasing”—the slang term used when some men engage in unprotected sex with HIV positive men in the hope of getting infected. “It’s considered the ultimate rebellious thing to do,” explains Lionberger.

Landale states a common misconception is that all barebackers are bug chasers. In reality, only a minority participates in the practice.

In spite of all of the risks at these events, Lee says you are far more likely to get HIV or STDs from someone you know that hasn’t been tested than at a sex party.

Even in gay porn, the condoms are coming off. Barebacking in gay porn used to be a rare thing, but over time some big studios like Sean Cody have changed their tune due to the popularity of the videos. Mitch Mason, the director of marketing and customer engagement at the first, self-proclaimed bareback porn company Treasure Island Media, thinks the recent change of heart by those who previously were against barebacking “leaves one to question their motives and ethical integrity.”

The controversial Treasure Island Media is infamous in the industry for not testing their performers for HIV and touting HIV positive performers in some of their videos. The way Mason sees it though, those who bareback are crusaders in the fight to protect the integrity of sexuality and Treasure Island Media is just helping the cause. “There is meaning in the complexity of sexual behavior that goes deeper than pleasure and certainly far deeper than pornography’s commodification or public health’s reductive dicta,” says Mason.

One often overlooked aspect of the debate is the precautions some barebackers partake in like regular STD testing and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). According to Bucayu, PrEp is a medication used by people who are HIV negative and are at very high risk to get infected, to help decrease their possibility of contracting HIV. While it is an effective medication, Bucayu states it shouldn’t be the only thing people do to protect themselves from HIV.

For barebackers who are HIV positive like Landale, they get viral-load tests, which detect the amount of HIV in one’s blood. Landale states his viral load is undetectable—forty-t0-seventy copies in a blood sample—so he can’t transmit HIV to anyone else. “So rather than jumping to conclusions and pointing the finger at me (or others like me) saying that we are disgusting and spreading the virus, they should take a look closer to home,” Landale asserts. “To those people who haven’t been tested, or don’t get tested regularly. Those people, who say they practice safer sex, yet under the influence, forget to use the condoms.  It is these people who are spreading HIV and fueling the current epidemic.”

And Landale is right about viral loads, to an extent. According to AIDS.gov, having undetectable viral loads does greatly decrease the risk of transmission, but it isn’t one hundred percent certain you can’t infect someone.

This is typical subject matter for Landale’s blog as nothing is off limits. He has the special honor of owning the longest running bareback blog on the internet and wears it like a gold medal. Starting in 2006, it was like a diary to document his wild youth. A place for Landale to share the places he was visiting and his sexual escapades.

He never expected anyone to read it or for it to become so popular. According to Landale, his blog gets around twenty thousand unique visitors a week. Along with reading, visitors can watch a short video clips or gander at pictures that accompany some of the posts, to get the full experience. “I’ve written about about my HIV status, the ways to clean one’s ass out in preparation for being fucked, legal issues surrounding bareback sex, and the legality of disclosing your HIV status,” says Landale. “It’s something that is designed to make you laugh, cry, ponder, and just to entertain.”

Landale feels great responsibility in his role as a barebacking authority. In his own words, he describes himself as a “genuine blogger” that has maintained his integrity and stayed true to himself. In the future, he hopes to continue sharing his adventures and break down the stigma surrounding barebacking: one blog post at a time.

Lulu: Whether You Like It or Not

LULU
Written by Rhys Robinson
Photo by Philip Houston

Let’s be honest for a moment, fellas. At one point or another, we’ve all been stood up. Maybe the smoking hot blonde you chatted up in history class bailed on you at the last-minute. Or the Latin cutie you danced the night away with never returned your calls.

The reasons behind these tragic tales of puppy-dog-heartbreak vary. But what if I told you that one of the reasons you’re striking out could be due to your reputation on Lulu. What is Lulu you ask?

Lulu is a new female-friendly and controversial mobile app that allows women to anonymously rate their male Facebook friends on a number of attributes, including their appearance and sexual prowess.

Synched via Facebook, a man’s appearance on Lulu is completely involuntary. Women can log in and declare whether they were in a relationship with the man, a hook-up, a crush or just a friend. Thereafter, they rate the guy’s humor, attractiveness, ability to commit, manners and ambition on a scale from one to ten. The ratings are averaged out to produce an overall score that appears below the man’s profile photo.

In addition, women can apply a number of hash tags on a man’s profile to paint a more descriptive picture. Such hashtags include #Big.Feet #WeirdDirtyTalk, #ChangesSheetsRegularly, #LovesLoveActually, #BragsAboutAlcoholConsumption, #F—-dMeAndChuckedMe, #WouldVoteForAFemalePresident and #TotalF—ingDickhead.

“I think some of those hashtags are pretty hurtful,” says San Francisco resident Sander Idelson. “I for one would not like to be called a total fucking dickhead.”

Co-founder and CEO Alexandra Chong created the app to give women a safe zone to conduct extensive girl talk. Launched on Android and iOS in June of 2012, the app has been quite successful, as over 80 million profiles have been reviewed since mid-January.

To the guys receiving positive reviews, the app’s emergence has been a pleasant experience.

“I would be really excited to see what an ex would have to say about me,” says San Francisco State student Ryan Kinlock. ”Even if the review was negative, I think it is an easy thing to blow off.”

Additionally, some women are thrilled to have an app that provides insight on prospective boyfriends. The ability to see what their fellow sistren have said is a somewhat useful (even if unreliable) dating tool.

“I like the app because I think it empowers women,” says Elyse Guzman, an Otis College student. “It allows them to be in control of what rank these guys fall in. To be honest, it’s nice watching guys squirm over what their ratings are.”

On the other hand, some women are a bit turned off to the idea, classifying the app as creepy and classless. Whereas some men are none too happy about the creation of a potential social-media monster.

“I find it to be an unreasonable invasion of privacy and trust within a relationship,” says San Francisco State student Ryan Thorp. “If an ex rated me I’d be nervous, because I don’t believe all users would be impartial and fair. I find the whole idea to be crass.”

Conversely, other men don’t care about the potential threat Lulu imposes on their dating reputation, viewing the app as just a silly gadget girls use for gossip.

“It’s a good way for girls to blow off steam,” says Kinlock. “I’m not sure how helpful it is for girls to compare guys to one another but I thought it was a good way for them to vent.”

Earlier this year, Chong was quoted in the Huffington Post saying, “Should a guy not do well in a particular category, then they can change their behavior.” However, guys are unable to view their profile, as Lulu processes their gender status through Facebook and blocks them if they’re not female. Therefore, even if a guy grades out poorly in a category, he’s unable to find out unless he lurks from a female friend’s account.

Some men and women alike believe Lulu users are employing a double standard, as the app is blatantly sexist during an era when such sexism would be frowned upon if the app were targeted toward male users.

For instance, if a man’s version of Lulu was developed that included such hashtags as #Waxed, #OnlyWearsGrannyPanties and #DoesntGiveBJs, what would the public reaction be?

“It would scream misogyny,” says Idelson. “But the difference between men and women is that when men hear something misogynistic, they typically shrug it off.  Whereas women start a feminist movement to publicly shame the offender.”

On top of that, some believe Lulu is inherently flawed as the users are naturally biased. If a woman had a pleasant relationship with an ex-boyfriend, would she really take time out of her day to boost his stock with a glowing Lulu review?

“Posts are anonymous,” says SF State graduate Ariel Urlik. “It is tempting to see what other people are saying about you. It can either be an ego boost or a blow. But again take it all with a grain of salt. Remember these ratings can be written in a moment of anger or passion.”

If a relationship is successful, then there isn’t much incentive for a woman to provide positive feedback. As such, reviewers are mostly limited to those engaged in a platonic relationship, hookups, or bitter ex-girlfriends with a vengeful agenda.

Furthermore, according to the app’s terms and conditions, men who don’t want to have a profile on Lulu must send in an email with their Facebook username attached demanding to be deleted.

Subsequently, any man whose name has been publicly defamed must go through an annoying process to eradicate himself from a mess he did nothing to get himself into.

The Sex Chronicles Of A Married Couple

Written by Bek Phillips

 

The first time I made the decision to go all the way with my future husband was perfect. He grilled steak outside on a patio with the sun setting in the background. And with the flawless romantic flair of someone ten years my senior, he locked me outside just long enough to pour the wine and light the candles.

But now, three years later, a lot has changed. My school schedule keeps me away from home and leaves me exhausted come nine. My stepdaughter is in high school and requires more attention and oversight than ever before. And my husband now works out of the union hall, meaning any week he could be in a different city.

So how do you keep the romance alive? For those of you in long-term relationships, it is not easy to admit that sex has lost its flair. It is not easy to accept that you would rather put on your fuzzy pajama pants, which have no sex appeal at all, and curl up with a book rather than go down on each other.

About a year ago, my husband and I reached that point, and in the midst of our lazy lovin’, we decided that something had to change.

But change does not come easy. By then we had our favorite positions, our favorite place, our favorite music, and yes – a schedule. In search of inspiration, however, all we had to do was look out the front door. A large hill covered in trees sat across the street luring us in under the full moon.

Coming home from the bar and with quite a few drinks in us, I pulled him towards the hill, leading with a few promising kisses. Later, lying in a pile of clothes, both of us gasping for breath and laughing, I snuggled closer breathing in the foresty smell and his musky scent while fighting back the chill. We lit our cigarettes and deemed our new adventure a success. Until the next morning.

He was covered in poison oak.

Our search for new passion continued on a rare morning where both of us were alone. Lily was at school, our roommates out, but he was playing videogames. So after some desperate texts to a sister for ideas, I pulled out the fishnet tights, the slutty high heels, and the red and black lingerie that I only used once. Excited, I straightened my hair and put on makeup, and topped it all off with a large fuzzy bright blue robe as a disguise.

Making my way to the living room, I posed, leaning in what I hoped was a seductive manner against the large TV. He looked up, smiled, and went back to playing games. I dropped the robe, and walked towards him, and the controller dropped to the floor.

Passion ignited, all was going well – until the roommate’s truck pulled up in the driveway. In a panic I crawled across the room, barely having time to take off the heels and put on the robe before he walked in. The boys talked for a while and by the time we were alone again, the moment was deemed a flop.

We tried the shower. We tried the yard. In fact, everywhere we went we were looking for ideas.

While writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, I had a story to do in Santa Rosa… and no car. So, with some last minute inspiration, my husband and I packed our overnight bags, booked a hotel room, and gathered piles of change and wrinkly dollar bills we had been stashing to ensure that alcohol would be available.

But it was so hot. It turned out that the room we booked online was less than what was advertised. The air conditioner was not working, the deck we were promised for the extra twenty dollars was nonexistent, and the large king size bed was actually two twin beds separated by a side table.

Layered in grime, we took cold shower… and napped. Things did turn out for the better though. After the interview was finished, we hit the town, went to a brewery, and eventually began stumbling back home. To our delight, the air was nice and cool, and there was a line of fancy plastic sheds outside of some kind of store. We looked at each other, and we both knew we were thinking the same thing. We jiggled each door till we found a rather small one that was open.

Granted we cannot go out and find sheds, hills, and other outdoorsy locations to spice things up at any time, and sometimes… well, sometimes Netflix, a book, or video games are really what we want to do to with the limited time we have together each day.

We are now closing in on the three-and-a-half year mark in our relationship, and the school year is now in full session. Old habits are coming back, and it is all too easy to fall into that rut where we stay in our own routines. But, as this article is more than just the sexual misadventures of Bek and Nick, we’ve learned somethings.

We have learned that sometimes, it is just making time for each other. On the one day we have off, putting on Pandora, a cute outfit and setting the mood can be all the romance you need. We have learned that spontaneity and intimacy are two different things that can collide and meld into the right situation. We learned that it is effort that keeps romance alive.

The other day we were running errands, borderline boring household chores really, when Nick saw a nice restaurant that had just opened in the neighborhood. It was only 2 p.m., and it was completely empty. He grabbed my hand and pulled me in, before choosing a small couples’ table in the middle of the room. He ordered a very nice, very expensive bottle of wine. On the way home he bought me flowers. No misadventures here, I was simply loved… and got lucky.

So how do you keep romance alive? With surprises? Flexibility? Or some spontaneous adventures? Nick and I know: It’s balance. Each night doesn’t have to end in a home run. Yet, it doesn’t have to be only one night a week, either.

Going Deep Off the Shallow End

Rhys Alvarado finds love in hopeless places.
Rhys Alvarado finds love in hopeless places.

Written by Rhys Alvarado
Photo by Mike Hendrickson

I wrote a column last semester about my single attempt at online dating and how one bad instance would forever pull me back toward the old-fashioned ways of getting laid.

I lied.

Over the summer, busy as I always am, I reverted to using Tinder, the most immediate of online dating apps whose intent is to put you in touch with someone, NOW. My social circle was small at the time and I just wasn’t satisfied with the company I was meeting in “real life.”

Whether on Muni, waiting for a stop light to let me cross, or in bed at night, there I was, a hypocrite, going against the words I’d laid down -in print- just weeks before, swiping away at hundreds of faces hoping to be matched up with some nearby hottie looking for a quick hook-up.

That’s until I came across Colleen, a curvy girl who looked like Mila Kunis, with greyish blue eyes and an infectious laugh.

We went all the way on the first day. We agreed to meet at a Giants game. Pregamed at a nearby bar, knocking down Jameson and gingers as the sun set on the bay, fading from orange to pink to purple as the sailboats made their way back to harbor. We went back to my place, where I eventually brought her to my rooftop (a move I always pull when I’m trying to seal the deal). We made out to the warm clear night, the city skyline bright, as if all its bulbs had just been changed.

It was summer loving at its finest.

Over the next few weeks we got to know each other, exchanged crazy sex stories, talked about past relationships, punctuated with kisses that told me that  regardless of the past, she was glad to be with me right then and there.

She had friends in high places. Guys who play for the Giants. Fellas who belonged in bands and wrote songs about her eyes (pretty good songs too). Developers for gaming companies. Underneath it all, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was just another batter in the rotation. Who knows? We met online. And on Tinder, meeting people is SUPPOSED to be taken lightly.

But for those three weeks we were seeing each other.  She was the only girl I made time for. And somewhere in between her obligation to family, work, and being a social butterfly, she found time to share her life with me.

She was a girl who survived a cancer of the brain. A girl who gave up her full-time job doing makeup to work with dogs, something she endlessly loved. A girl who stayed at home to paint on the night of her junior prom because no one mustered up the courage to ask her. Something I found hard to fathom, but could understand because someone so pretty would cause even the most brave to cower.

Yeah, I fall in love way too easily.

And being the hopeless romantic I am, I’d do hopelessly romantic things.  I’d wake up extra early to cook us breakfast, spin vinyls of bossa nova while we sipped smooth, floral amaro after hours, among other over-the-top shit a faint-hearted sucker like me would do.

But in between that dreamy feeling people get when they first meet someone, I couldn’t help but think about where our relationship had begun: a shallow screen swipe to the right. What was I supposed to tell people in the instance they asked how we met? “Uh, um, yeah, we met on Tinder.” Lame.

Every other relationship or fling I’d ever been a part of was rooted with some cool in-person encounter. With Blair, I met her in the lunch line in the 8th grade. With Caitlin, she saw me sitting on a trolley after work and instead offered me a ride home. With Melissa, she was selling tropical fruits roadside when I was on vacation in my hometown on Maui.

But having been single for almost a year when I met Colleen, the idea of settling down, at least for a bit, sounded nice. And the online exception was one that I was willing to make. Maybe this online dating thing could work out for me. We could meet each other’s families. Hold hands in public. Have hot sex on a Monday. Stay in and watch movies on a Friday.

That is until the day she sent me a text out of nowhere telling me that she has problems that need sorting and the space and time to figure them out.

What? Everything seemed to be going so well. What a sudden turn. Was it me? What did I do wrong?

And just like that she was gone. She was out of my life as quickly as she had come into it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I scared her away. But it was good while it lasted.

You can never underestimate the kind of person you may find on even the most casual, half-hearted of dating websites. You may be as lucky as I was to momentarily capture a gem.

Even if that person you meet comes full circle and exits your life the same way they entered it —over the phone.

Confessions of a Serial Dater

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By Sarah Todd
Photos illustration by Virginia Tieman and Kate Oneal
 

A year ago if someone had told me that I would be single, online and app dating, and writing about it, I would have seriously considered having that person committed to some sort of mental institution.

Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m a serial dater.

Last year I was dumped by my boyfriend of more than three years and after a couple months of pity partying and throwing myself into work and school, I decided it was time to dust myself off and test out my game.

I had just returned to the college scene to attempt a second degree, and had a few years on a lot of my peers (I’m just not into younger guys). I’m not interested in mixing work and dating, and after a few failed attempts at the good ol’ fashioned bar hook up game, I just assumed I’d lost my touch and dating wasn’t for me.

Then, one day while not paying attention in class a good friend was showing me the app Tinder.  Since a couple of my favorite activities include looking at hotties and judging people I quickly became enamored with it.

Riding BART flipping through countless pictures of available Bay Area dudes. No. No. Creep. Hottie.  In between classes.  Shirtless pic, douche. Mmmmm tattoos. No. No. Yes.  Waiting for Game of Thrones to start. No. no. no. Yes please.

I never thought I would actually meet up with anyone, but within a couple weeks I decided to throw caution to the wind. I had been chatting with this guy for a couple days and we exchanged numbers, texted a couple more days and then made plans to meet for a drink.

That particular story isn’t that exciting. We got tipsy, made out, and parted never to speak again.

But when I got home that night I felt like I had been given Jedi powers, the one ring to rule them all, like I had touched the magic basketball in Space Jam.

I had basically hand picked a hot guy, got multiple free drinks, an awesome make out sesh and went home thinking, “yeah, I still got it.”

Fast forward to a couple months later:  I was, and am actively using Tinder and OkCupid and going on multiple dates a week.  More of my favorite activities now at my fingertips.  Dinners, drinks, baseball games, shooting hoops, being flattered, and not having to deal with sexual frustration.

I love meeting new people and hearing what they have to say, and for the most part, my time spent online dating has been enjoyable and satisfying.  But listen up kids, this is not for the faint of heart.

At the beginning of the summer I was excited about this sexy mustachioed man I found on Tinder.  He seemed totally normal, fun, genuine and we quickly set up a time to meet the next weekend.  Then he asked for my email address.  I thought it was a little strange since I had already given him my phone number, and within a few minutes I received an email entitled “Oh god, I just can’t hold it.”

Attached to the email was a video file.  I’ve since been asked by many friends, “Why did you even open it?”  Are you kidding me!?  Risk not having this story?  Not a chance.

I didn’t ask for the video, I didn’t send nude pictures.  This was completely unsolicited.  Still, I was in possession of a video of mustachioed man masturbating over his phone, complete with a messy, moan filled ending.

Alas, I did not meet up with mustachio man.  But he has officially been included in the The Dirty storybook and provides me with a cringing laugh every once in awhile.

I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about online dating in the past year.  Without a doubt if I could give any advice to people considering meeting up with potential matches from the internet, I would tell people to be honest.  Online dating gives a massive opportunity to lie about anything and everything, but it’s my experience that the more honest you are the better the results.

If you are looking for a boyfriend or a girlfriend make that known.  If you are looking for just casual sex or maybe a friends with benefits type situation, be straightforward about it.  But, if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for and you’re just testing the water, that’s OK.  It’s totally acceptable to tell someone, “I’m not really sure what I want out of this experience.”

Be ready to reject and be rejected.  Not everyone will message you back or think you’re hot and interesting.  Believe me, you won’t want to respond to every person that likes or messages you either.  But here’s the great thing, it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore people on the internet.

Not everything is genuine, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  A couple of months ago, after a few dates with a local comedian, he told me that to get my attention he used a“copy and paste” on me. This is exactly what it sounds like.  People will copy and paste the same line to multiple matches as a first message icebreaker in hopes that someone will respond.  The one he used was “So, we should probably get married now.”  I saw the humor and responded with “Obviously.  Since we matched on Tinder, that’s the next step.”  That turned into some of the best sex of my life.

Don’t be easily offended, it’s difficult enough these days to find a partner, or just get laid.  Strategy is all part of it.  Put yourself out there, be the first one to make the move and message someone.  Confidence is always sexy, whether online or in person.

Bottom line, be yourself, be open to new experience and always remember the obvious:  meet in public, and if it goes further than a meet up and turns into a hook up, protect yourself, don’t take someone’s word of “I’m clean.”  Better safe than sorry.

The Modern Dater

Photo illustration by Jessica Worthington.
Photo illustration by Jessica Worthington.

By Rhys Alvarado
Photos by Jessica Worthington

People say I’m old fashioned.

And I don’t blame them.

I listen to old soul cuts of Sam Cooke and The Nat King Cole Trio religiously. I drink old fashioneds when I go to the bar (a good measure of a good bartender). And I’m still searching for the thief who’s been snagging my weekday subscription to The New York Times.

Maybe the last one’s just me getting old. Regardless, I’d say my peers are right.

Even when it comes to finding love, I’ve always relied on chance or meeting people through friends. But living in a “get-it-or-get-out” kind of city like San Francisco, where I’m attending class four days a week, interning for a social media startup and waiting tables on the weekends — I find myself too busy to find love. Having been single for almost a year while trying to keep up with a to-do list that just never seems to end, the idea of creating an online dating profile has only sounded sweeter as the gap between me and my last girlfriend has grown.

I was timid about putting myself out into the digital spectrum of finding love —and sometimes lust— over the internet because I didn’t think I knew anyone involved in a successful relationship that began online. I thought wrong. One of my aunts met her husband in an online chatroom. My current roommate met his girlfriend on Match.com. My old construction boss met his fiancee online too, with plans to marry in the spring.

Hindu astrologers would pick mates based on the stars back in a time when matchmakers were once a staple in all cultures. But in today’s fidgety gadget-grasping age, the internet is the way 40 million out of 54 million singles in the United States are trying to date. A 2010 study by Match.com reveals that one in five committed relationships have begun online. There are websites that help users find a compatible partner based on personality tests. Phone apps like Tinder that use the GPS in your phone to meet people nearby, NOW. Today, matchmaking websites are tailored to everything from women looking for a sugar daddy to sea captains seeking a first mate.

Bay Area dating coach Jessica Engel is in the business of helping people find successful relationships in person and online. Most of her clients are males in the tech industry who don’t have the skills to put themselves out in an attractive way and busy professional women who aren’t satisfied with the men that they’re meeting. Engel promotes to her clients that online dating is one of many avenues for people to connect. Engel says that the negative stigma of online dating mostly lies with older generations while younger ones that grew up with social media seem to be more accepting.

“A lot of people have this inculturated view of love that says we have to wait for fate for it to happen, but we don’t have the same structures we were used to. We’re no longer being matched by our parents or through church groups,” Engel says.

Matchmaking in the 90s

Robby Robbins has worked in the advertising department for alternative weekly publications for more than 20 years. In the glory days of personal ads and the classified section, weeklies like the Indy Week in Durham, North Carolina, capitalized on $40,000 in revenue each month. Following Craigslist’s spread to cities across the nation in 2000— and its widely accepted use— advertising revenues in the personal and classified sections immediately shrunk.

“Still to this day, this was the ugliest web fight. We went from $40,000 to $5,000 overnight,” Robbins says.

Each day, Robbins would assist people in placing personal ads in the newspaper who were in search of anything from a fling to a full-fledged relationship.

“It was a phenomena going on across the country, and in Durham we had a massive audience of busy professionals approaching 30 who weren’t married yet,” Robbins says. “It was a ripe opportunity for this system to work.”

The system catered to mostly single men, who Robbins says were not in tuned and did not have the social meeting skills to introduce themselves and say “hi.”

“I used to tell folks that the answer is going to be ‘no’ until you put yourself out there,” Robbins says. “If you’re direct about what you want, you may be surprised about what you’ll find.”

Robbins managed what were called Blind Boxes, where customers could establish pen pal relationships by paying $10 a week to have mail forwarded to them. Robbins was also in charge of promoting the 900-number services, where people created a voicemail for others to leave a message on at $1.99 per minute.

“We promoted it as a safe way to meet people,” Robbins says.

In order to know what he was promoting, he created a voicemail for himself.

“I did, because as a gay man in the south, meeting a real person was difficult. In the south, you’d get your ass beat if you hit on the wrong guy,” Robbins says.

Having just left a serious relationship, Robbins wasn’t looking for anything serious. Neither was caller No. 4, Bryan O’Quinn.

“He just sounded nice. You can tell a good bit from someone’s voice,” Robbins says.

Four months later, Robby and Bryan moved in together. In 2000, the couple drove to Vermont during a massive snowstorm to engage in a civil union. In 2006, they moved to California and were legally married in 2008.

“All the hoops that we jumped through—14 years and we’re finally legal,” Robbins says.

Dating in the online era

Kathy Sepulveda and her boyfriend Phil Van Stockum have become online dating evangelists.

The couple, who have been dating for two and a half years, take every opportunity they can to tell friends about how online dating is THE way to date.

“Online is really like a large bar where the options are endless,” Sepulveda says. “You already know going in that you’re seeing someone you’re already compatible with.”

Sepulveda was able to convince her high school friend to try online dating. He’s now expecting a child with his computer love. Whenever and wherever they can, the couple is trying to remove the negative stigma against online dating.

“People ask me how we met, and after I tell them we met on OkCupid, they say ‘that’s okay,’” Sepulveda says. “Like I need reassurance that it’s okay. I know it’s okay.”

Sepulveda says that she knows of couples who have met online, but are ashamed to admit they did. Instead, they say that they met elsewhere.

“Some think people who use online dating need it to meet people,” Sepulveda says. “I feel like it’s a smart way to meet people.”

What started out as an obsession of taking online personality quizzes, turned into a way of making friends while attending college in San Diego. It wasn’t until Sepulveda moved to San Francisco in 2009 when she used OkCupid to find dates. Kathy and Phil began chatting with each other a year before dating. At the time, Kathy had started to date another guy exclusively and backed out of a date with Phil last minute.

“A year later when that didn’t work out, I messaged him again and we’ve been dating ever since,” Sepulveda says.

For their one-year anniversary, Sepulveda put together a book that pieces together their earliest online conversations.

Before meeting his girlfriend on campus in September, SF State BECA major Ryan Johnston used online dating for four years to find one-night stands, friends with benefits and casual dates. For Johnston, this was an extra avenue aside from meeting people at parties or shows. His roommates swore by it. Soon after, so did he.

“I liked it for the fling aspect,” Johnston says.

Kathy Sepulveda and her boyfriend Phil Van Stockum met through an Internet dating site called OkCupid two and a half years ago.
Kathy Sepulveda and her boyfriend Phil Van Stockum met through an Internet dating site called OkCupid two and a half years ago.

Nightmares in online dating

Deborah Berk, whose real name was kept on the condition of anonymity, is a personal trainer in San Francisco who struck a cold streak of bad luck when she used dating sites like Fitness Singles, Match.com, OKCupid, Let’s Date and Tinder.

Berk admits she’s a freak and former online serial dater who went on more than 40 dates, sometimes as many as four per week.

Berk used the speedier dating sites like OKCupid, Let’s Date and Tinder for quick hookups and/or adventures where she’d do anything from dinner, hiking and camping. But after ringing in the New Year, Berk decided to start searching for a serious relationship on Match.com. The first couple of dates were dreamy. But once she gave into having sex, Berk said that the guys she thought would be her next boyfriend would disappear for good.

“They led me on to the point where you think you’re going to be included in someone’s life, then you’re not,” Berk says.

Berk says that some guys who sign up for determined matchmaking websites can’t handle the weight of a serious relationship.

“There’s so much pressure to commit and get into something serious that they freak out once they find someone who wants that,” Berk says. “It hurt me enough to say ‘I hate online dating’. It’s because of the ones who went into it seriously initially.”

Apps like Tinder and Grindr use the GPS in your phone to find other users who may be looking to chat and meet up. Users can quickly flip through small profiles with short one-liners where people can either be liked or discarded. Messaging between two people on Tinder is only possible after both users like each others profiles. On Grindr, an app targeted toward gay men, users can be tracked within feet of you. And anyone can message another user anything unless they are blocked. According to the company website, Grindr’s mission is to get you “0 feet away.” Michael Villanueva, a 26-year old San Francisco native, has used Grindr as a way to pass time or hook up on late nights when “in heat.” He’s also met one of his best friends through the app.

“How fast do you wanna go?” Villanueva says. “It’s another way to help you with whatever you’re looking for.”

But on one late night meet-up, Villanueva visited a man who was a completely different person than his profile had shown. After bolting, Villanueva has taken a more cautious approach to using the app. He now asks for a phone number, to see more pictures and whether or not they have a Skype account so that he can confirm their identity before actually meeting up.

“As far as I can go, I’ll play Colombo,” Villanueva says.

He says that there were even a few instances when people lied about their age. Villanueva says that the speedy hook-ups that quick-firing apps like Grindr and Tinder can lead to, could be risky to underage people who can access these conversations.

“Technology is moving so fast, I’m scared for the youth to have physical contact. It’s so easy for the youth to have this access—it can be dangerous,” Villanueva says.

My Date

What better way to pass the time on Muni than to sweep through random women’s profiles, x’ing them out or giving them the green light? After a few weeks of chatting on OkCupid and Tinder, I was able to line up a date for a few drinks in the Tenderloin.

Waiting at the end of the bar at the Owl Tree my palms were sweaty, my pulse uneasy as if I was interrupting life’s flow and forcing fate. I waited 20 minutes, gulping away at a pint of Lagunitas faster than usual, my buzz not coming quick enough.

Would her profile look anything like her? What if I choke up and can’t find anything to say? Am I about to find the girl that I’m going to spend my whole life with right now?

Then there she was, standing at the doorway, black hair and back facing me. I stepped up from my barstool and made my way toward her. As if my move had cued hers, she turned around. She looked nothing like she did in her profile pic. One word: sideburns. My sources warned me about this.

But that was okay.

Although I wasn’t physically attracted, we chatted over a couple beers during happy hour and made our way to another joint for a farewell cocktail. We laughed. Related. I walked her to BART and said goodbye.

Phew. What a relief. Online dating might be right for some, but a little much for me. Who knows? Maybe we’ll all look back 50 years from now and find that online methods of matchmaking lead to the most successful relationships.

But what’s a good journalist without a good story?

I think I’ll stop looking so hard for love and let it find me.

I’d like to hold on the romantic idea that I’ll find someone doing what I love, lost on my travels, coming around a street corner the same time as she. We’ll bump into each other and she’ll drop a copy of Hemingway’s “Old Man and The Sea.” We’ll agree that it’s our favorite book and spend the rest of the evening on a blanket near the ocean talking about the trials and triumph of the old man’s noble catch. Or something along those lines.

That sounds like a better story to me.

Bartender, you know what I’m having.

Dating Digitally: Date Smarter in the Age of Technology

Jason Emerson and Alex Dusay get distracted by their phones while on a date in Golden Gate Park.

Written by Sage Kemmerly
Photos by Henry Nguyen

“Where’s your head at?” asks Bay Area advice columnist Deborrah Cooper. There are some people who text their friends while on a first date, or are painstakingly perfect on online dating profiles to get more hits. Where is the authenticity? Just because the Internet makes connections easier does not mean it is an easier dating game. It is silly seeing a couple on a date, both bent over their smartphones like there is a pane of glass between them. If the date is going nowhere, they might as well stay home and Skype.

Profiles can be polished within an inch of perfection. A computer screen highlights only positive personality traits, while at the same time hides undesirable attributes. It just goes to show people are not as perfect as they make their profiles out to be, so there is no use in faking it.

“Hiding parts of who you are and emphasizing things that aren’t quite true, embellishing; those kinds of things show total lack of authenticity,” says Cooper. “Just be who you are! Let somebody like you or not like you for who you really are and that way you know the relationship is real.”
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