A couple of weeks ago I considered internet dating, in the vanilla sense. Spurred by curiosity, and a conversation with a friend of mine who had had some success, I clicked over guardian soulmates and decided to have a look at how the other half live their dating lives.
The quick search is by gender, age and location. Fair enough as a start, I suppose. First, and fairly obviously, there are a loads of them. Tons, in fact. I'm stunned. With plenty of (quite good looking, actually) photos all smiling back at me in various normal surroundings. No-one seems camera shy or laying claim to having some sort of very secret / high powered career that prevents them from putting their image on the internet.
Each profile then has several tabs of text on who they are and what they want with many, many check box "interests" that seem, frankly, irrelevant - party behaviour, fashion choices, body art, sports, animals.... It seems that I can search for a man who likes pinstripes, football and penguins, should I want such a thing.
Yet, something is really rather obviously missing. Oh yes, that's it. How do they like to fuck and what's their kink? I can't tell. There's no section for that. There's no section at all for any sort of sexual desire (although I can search for both boys and girls) which seems strange given that I would consider that more important than whether or not a person has daydreams (yes, that is a question on the profile). I wonder why there's no mention of it, casually wondering whether there's some sort of code in operation - one person has put "assertive" does that mean dominant? Probably not. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Or in this case, sometimes an absence of sexuality is an absence of sexuality, which seems bizarre on a dating site. Surely sexual compatibility is important to everyone?
I consider whether it's just Guardian readers who are uninterested in sex and wander over to mysinglefriend.com which comes up with pretty much the same sort of thing, except with less check boxes and some text from their "friends". Again, factors like whether someone drinks or smokes seem important, whether someone likes doggy style or open air action does not. These sites are clearly aimed squarely at those seeking Mr or Mrs Right and I am frankly alarmed that people are prepared to meet up with someone who might be a complete turn-off sexually speaking. In a final blast of experimentation I veer towards the terribly named but much promoted benaughty.com in the hopes of finding vanilla folk who aren't afeared of sex-talk. It has a heart logo with some little devil horns. Already I feel uninspired.
Unlike other sites, I have to sign up and create a profile first, rather than just entering "bloke" "around my age" and "somewhere near me" into a search box. I am wondering whether there needs to be some sort of members-only exclusivity before people will begin to talk about their sexual desires. It does seem that as the sexual content increases, the photos on profiles decrease - a lot more profiles without pictures. People do seem to be a bit shy about connecting their image with having sex. I start to fill out a profile, bits of it are in code - I can select whether I want "saucy chat", "casual encounters" or even "discreet relationships" which I infer mean cyber sex, one night stands and cheating on my spouse. Great. So there is sex out there in vanilla-land. It is just a bit, well, grubby and underhand. Not in a good way. I have a look around. It's definitely aimed at getting someone, and getting them fast, no matter who they are as long as they want to have sex - lots of chat room options and I could also send mass-messages to anyone who fit my requirements, if my requirements were as simple as "male" and "postcode". The profile pages are a bit more specific - though nothing like as in depth as a BDSM site. Sexual likes and dislikes hover around oral sex (apparently this is optional), and little bit about positions and sexual orientations. There is a kinkier aspect - a reference to "being master or mistress" another to "when it hurts a little" and a final one to "golden showers" which surprises me as I had this pegged as a vanilla pick-up site and whilst a little light bondage and roleplay seems an acceptable vanilla activity I wouldn't have automatically assumed that watersports was. Live and learn. After accumulating about twenty messages in five minutes without bothering to upload a profile (women appear to be in the minority on this site) I click off, feeling a little dirty - again, not in a good way.
So that's the lie of the vanilla land, it seems. Sites dedicated to finding your one and only, with no mention of sex and sites dedicated to finding sex without any consideration for much else. Sex separate from seriousness. How strange.