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Toronto writer Alexandra Molotkow shares the secrets of her cybersexual education

I’m among the first generation to come of age on the Internet. By 13, I was an expert at chat room sex, spotting cyber-pervs and hiding my secret life from my parents

My Cybersexual Education

In 1997, when I was in Grade 6, my friends and I sat at the back of the classroom and talked about sex. We would speculate on what it felt like and place bets on how old we’d be when we finally lost our virginity. We would make fun of the way orgasms sounded in movies and imagine what celebrities’ sex lives involved. Later, at home, we’d reconvene on ICQ, one of the Internet’s first major instant messaging systems, which allowed us to have conversations we wouldn’t want our parents overhearing. That was what the Internet was to us: pretty much what a tree house would have been a few years earlier.

My parents are public sector employees, and they love me as much as parents of only children tend to love their only child. The Beach, which can resemble a small town, is a nice place to grow up. There was a swimming pool nearby, a candy store and a Canadian–Chinese food restaurant called the Garden Gate, which everyone called “The Goof” due to a time when a “Good Food” sign had a few burned-out lights. Of course, the streetcars would ferry us downtown if we ever had the guts to board them. Most of us didn’t. We were good kids.

My family got its first computer when I was in Grade 3. My mom thought it would be a good learning resource for me, but I mostly used it to play side-scrolling MS-DOS games, along with a CD-ROM program called 3-D Movie Maker. When we got the Internet a year later, I used it to make friends with other 3-D movie makers across the globe. People I’d never met in person befriended me over interests that, at the time, felt esoteric. It was a revelation.

I am part of the first generation to come of age online, and my adolescent development dovetails with that of the social web. I’ve lived over half my life through the Internet. My memory often fails to distinguish which of my experiences were real and which were digital. I’ve had many friends I never physically met, and there have been times when real life felt like the limbo between moments lived online.

The “Net Generation”—what the pundit Don Tapscott named us—now stands at 43 per cent of the population, or 15 million Canadians. We grew up in ways that were radically different from any generation before us. In theory, the Internet unshackled us from our milieus.

If we didn’t fit in at school, we could find a social group online. We congregated on mailing lists, online message boards and social networking sites—bolt.com when I was a kid, Facebook today. We could express ourselves in more ways than our parents could ever have dreamed of: online journals (like LiveJournal and DiaryLand) allowed us to share the minutiae of our lives; webspace providers (GeoCities and Angelfire, as well as niche servers like Envy.nu), and then blogs, allowed us to build monuments to ourselves, or at least the people we wanted to be.

It’s no wonder our narcissism has skyrocketed. Today, we are empowered to say anything to a potential audience of millions. And unfortunately, I was empowered to do so during the most shallow period of my life. When I was in elementary school, the spectre of one’s “permanent record” was a deterrent from bad behaviour, a kind of bureaucratic Grimm villain who would strike years in the future, when we least expected it. Now kids write their own permanent records, in graphic detail. We compromise our own privacy in return for validation.

We grew up publicly, and we grew up fast. Kids have always been obsessed with sex, but they’ve never had access to as much explicit content as they can download—according to one study, 42 per cent of 10- to 17-year-olds surveyed had seen porn online in the past year—and the option to erase their trespasses with the “Clear History” button. But porn is old school: there have never been so many opportunities to hook up, virtually or in reality. A 2005 study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire found that one in seven kids had received sexual advances online.

I was one such kid—often, I solicited those advances. Although few admitted it at the time, my friends did, too: after school, before their parents got home; at night, after their parents went to bed. We had cybersex long before the real thing

  • Jen

    Thank you so much for writing this. Having a disturbingly identical timeline, these are things I’d hidden from everyone for the past 8 years, until finally opening up to a select few, several months ago.
    There’s a specific context to the new awkward years that had been skewed in media coverage, making my personal story seem unrelatable or unrecognizable. It’s not. It’s too common. And we need to talk about it. Thank you.

  • Miriam

    Wow.

    As a 34 year old there are parts of this I can relate to (annoying family members with Courtney Love’s voice) and parts that I really don’t relate to (anything to do with having the internet in my home, while I lived with my parents).

    The thing I wonder about is how you describe sex online as comfortable from a distance. I’ll admit I have only dabbled, but it seems like intimacy is not geographic. Even if you are only fucking each other via chat you are still fucking. Or did it feel significantly different to you?

  • Phil

    Your problem isn’t that you’re an inquisitive horny child. Your problem is that you’re a typical artist. If you had an interest in something real for a change, you’d actually be engaged. This article was way too long, boring, and somehow you feel as if this is somewhat remarkable. That’s it? You were in chat rooms as a kid? That’s a story? And online dating is any different?

    Newsflash: people chatting on the Internet are real people. Horny people are everywhere. Look downtown in the Entertainment District on a Saturday night. Many horny lonely fools are down there playing their endless insulting games that lead to nothing. You made your own Jersey Shore.

  • Matt

    @Phil,

    Clearly you weren’t part of this generation. It’s a piece with which other young adults can relate, given the fact that they probably never talked about internet past with new friends from college, post-college, etc.

    While long, I think the point is clear: she feels more at ease with sex because of all the stories listed. We may have found it awkward at the time, but it’s nice to know that A) we weren’t alone in sneaking behind our parents’ and friends’ backs, and B) there probably were some advantages to figuring out a facet of one’s sexuality and personality early on. The caution remains — being able to fully separate the fantasy of cybersex with a real, tangible, loving relationship — but it’s a great description of what a lot of Gen Y went through.

  • Uhclem

    Alexandra,
    Having grown up a couple of generations earlier, this was a fascinating insight. Sophisticated and intelligent analysis, brave and open details: it was a pleasure throughout.
    Thank you for sharing with us. Phil tries to insult you by calling you an artist; I’ll compliment you by calling you one as well.

  • Amb

    Great article. I was one the boys on the other side of the sex chat. The internet wasnt all that different for us (just more videogames). Awkward, liberating, a quicker, maybe messier, path to self-discovery than the real world. Would love to go back those days.

  • eemom

    “Your problem is that you’re a typical artist.”

    Anyone who thinks that there is such a thing as a typical artist obviously hasn’t met too many artists.

  • Boris Pilsudski

    Actually, the writer of this piece strikes me as a rather narcissistic individual, and not at all typical of her generation as she imagines, nor as different from the middle class youth of previous generations. She needs to come back down to earth from her virtual seventh heaven.

  • Pete

    Hi. That was a very thoughtful article. I have a daughter a few years younger than you, and we went through some online hell stuff too, but I tried to keep the snooping to a minimum. I know that at 12, we were hopelessly naive compared to today’s kids, but frankly, better information doesn’t seem to lead to better outcomes. Perhaps, though, it makes friendships easier and certainly opens the world up, even for us old folks. For every horror story about cyber-bullying, I bet there are thousands of cases where lonely kids going through the torture of growing up find friends and support online in a place where they can express their feelings anonymously and get valuable feedback and advice.

  • Ann-Onnie

    I think the only thing the author got right in this article, sorry to say, is that narcissism has skyrocketed.

    How much more self-centered can we get?

  • Derek

    1) people seem to think that anything written as a first-hand account equals “narcissism”. Talk about a generation gap.
    2) thanks for this, it was a great read! Sometimes I wish I’d been born a decade later, haha, I know I’d be better adjusted to my life and this world if I’d had the internet as a teenager!

  • MEHTARE

    I always get a giggle out of angry trolls commenting on someone ELSE’S narcissism. Hey Kettle? This is Pot. You are SO black.

    Thanks for the article, great read!

  • Johnathan Vrozos

    As an East Coaster and a father this was a truly eye opening story.
    I will keep a closer eye on my kids and especially my daughters.
    Thanks for the story.
    Johnathan Vrozos

  • Robynne

    This article was fantastic. People who don’t get it… really just don’t get it. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  • CDB

    Thank you so much for writing this article. So so many things parallel in our lives and I fell that you expressed it so well. I have often told friends my stories of my cybersex experiences in grade 6, and they are always shocked. For so long I felt like I was the only one who went through growing up on ICQ, although i knew in the back of my mind that it wasn’t true.

    Love love love you for writing about this and so well….

  • Mike

    And you, whoever you are, are are not a narcissist for insulting the writer and assuming that any one actually thinks your opinion is worth listening to? lol

  • Emily

    Thank you so much, Alexandra. This was a very truthful article that reminds me a lot of my own experiences growing up in the cyber generation. Some of my “dark” secrets are now here for everyone to see. But oddly I feel some sort of pride when reading this, perhaps because I feel empowered that our generation did have these experiences and are not afraid of our sexuality.
    Basically, this just reminded me that I’m not alone, so thank you.

  • iM

    Thanks for sharing this personal account. I’m sorry some of the readers were not able to get anything from it and felt they needed to justify this with foolish and harsh comments.

    But this is really meaningful to someone my age. I did the same things at the same ages (I even had Bell’s Pausy!) and have never ever talked about it with anyone. The only difference was that I was almost caught (I claimed I was not the one cybering–just an innocent bystandard.) and my sexually conservative parents (my mother was well-aquanted with ICQ to the point of family abandonment) banned me not only from the internet but from computers.

    I still blame my shitty programming skills on this. ;)
    Seriously though it was an over-reaction and it was nice to hear, even if deep down I knew, that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with what I was doing from someone else who turned out just fine.

    Again, thank you.

    (BTW I especially like the “typical artist” comment. Still not sure if that was meant to be a put-down. Artists are pretty awesome.)

  • Celia Q.

    I have so much love for your piece. When I was 17 I met a guy 13 years older than me in real life after chatting with him on Myspace. We had a brief relationship, but I didn’t think it was predatory for a single minute. Outside of my best friend, I never told anyone – not even my fiance. What kids do online is treated like the boogey man. Most of it is kids doing stupid things indicative of their age. It’s refreshing to hear of someone who had a similar experience and not lament it.

  • Telurian

    Thanks for sharing… I am always amazed that we are much more truthful about who we are and what we do when we are anonymous.
    I always appreciate those who write the truth about their experience, since it allows our mostly common but also mostly secret experiences to surface and to be read by all.
    Artists always feel more comfortable with truth, since that is where true beauty lives.
    Thanks again… for sharing.

  • Typical artist

    Thanks Alexandra for a great piece of gutsy writing… Somehow don’t think you could care less for what the “Phils” say..(might it be short for Philistines?)…I really do believe that the twenty-somethings have an advantage…I mean if you read Orwell’s 1984 he never conceived of cyber-sex, I wonder why not. I think we have taken his dystopian view of life and the future and with the use of technology and sex turned it in to something quite a bit more hopeful..not utopian, but hopeful and a lot more fun.
    Never worn a suit, never had a 9-5, but really doing just fine.

 

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