On 3 August 2020, the Health Service Executive (HSE), along with the Irish Pharmacy Union, launched a Covid-19 advice campaign that dealt with the subject of sexual activity. At first, I didn’t think much of the cringe-worthy statements “consider masturbation or online sex”, and “limit sex to those within your household”, but after a few minutes of musing I realised what the HSE was telling Irish citizens to do. The national health service was encouraging explicit online activities in a country where revenge porn is still legal. To me, the HSE was slapping a stamp of approval on the toxic porn industry, disregarding the abuse of hundreds of women. Maybe in five or 500 years, the HSE will discuss or even promote ethical porn websites, but now they are not taking responsibility for how dangerous it is to have sex online.
But really, what does it mean to have “sex online”? Leaflets in pharmacies across Ireland advise young people to “play it safe!”, with no real guide as to how they can be secure yet sexual online. Since August, I’ve been researching as much as I can, looking into student queries and questions, trying to compile a clear guide on how you can move your relationship to the next level — virtually and in a safe way.
Know your rights
Within Ireland, revenge porn and the sharing of images without consent is still legal. Currently, the only way to prosecute someone for distributing revenge porn is if the victim is underage. A bill that would make this practice illegal, named the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill, has been under review for three years. Under this new legislation, the offence of harassment will include all forms of communication, including through online or digital communications, or about another person. The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has promised to pass this legislation by the end of the year, but until then the only advice I can give is to only share images with those you trust. If you have any fear of your partner sharing intimate pictures of you, they shouldn’t receive them in the first place. From asking fellow students and OnlyFans workers, I also was told that watermarking images can help you to identify who leaked the content in the first place.
Consent is key (and sexy)
Just because you’re interacting online doesn’t mean that consent isn’t necessary. There is nothing worse than opening an unsolicited nude in front of your mammy. Make sure to ask your partner if they’re in the mood before escalating things to the next level. Good ways to start the conversation are phrases like “are your flatmates out?” or “can you go to your bedroom and lock the door?” — making sure that you and your partner are in a safe and comfortable space can ensure a better experience for both of you.
Start slow – there’s no rush
Just like real-life sex, changing up your routine can keep things exciting for both of you. Don’t start with the finale. Instead, tease your partner. Create a build-up, and save your best material for later, whether it’s your sexiest message or your best nude. Make sure that the atmosphere is right and that you feel good. Having sex online is not just about pleasing your partner; you should have a good time too. Remember to clear your schedule and to have a lockable door — there’s nothing worse than being interrupted.
Let them know your yes/no/maybe list
Don’t be like Connell and Marianne — communicate clearly with your partner. Come up with a list of role-play fantasies, playthings, spanking specifics etc., and ask your partner over the phone if it would be a yes, no, or maybe for them to try on you. Remember that there’s no pressure for these events to happen in real life. You can use this virtual world as a place to explore your sexuality like never before. If you’re too nervous to talk about how you normally have sex with your partner, feel free to try role-playing to break the ice.
Conventional isn’t always key
Most of us when we think of “phone sex” or “sexting”, our minds automatically jump to sending nude photos or talking dirty on a phone call. But the truth is, you can pick and choose what “online sex” you want to partake in. If you’re new to dirty talk, start with texts or voice notes. If pictures don’t do it for you, tell your partner. Remember, you want to have a good time. Try FaceTime or videos if you want to simulate what it’s like having them with you in the room. Switch it up and find what you like!
Embrace the buzz
Just because the country is in lockdown does not mean there should also be a lockdown on pleasure. With more ethical and safe sex shops available online, such as SexSiopa, it’s a great time to invest in a new sex toy to spice up your online sex routine. Sex toys can provide both pleasure to you and your partner as you can easily describe what you’re doing and your partner will be able to hear any noise as a result.