A zipless fuck, with wireless ease. That's the promise of the "Casual Encounters" section of Craigslist. There are newer, shinier, more feature-laden places to go searching for slutdom, of course, but the list of Craig endures.
Although the Internet is teeming with porn, porn is about watching. Personals are about doing. Casual Encounters gives form and encouragement to your basest desires — the ones in which you hit it and quit, in which you put in your junk but not your time — leaving you free immediately afterward to get back to Farmville or eBaum's World or whatever more important thing you were doing when you got distracted by the urge and clicked on m4m, or w4m, or mm4ts, mw4mw, w4mm, t4mw or maybe mw4t.
What you might have told yourself at the start was just idle curiosity can easily morph into enthusiastic participation as the site's clean, simple interface leads you into the dirty, complicated belief that yours is a world awash in limitless sexual possibilities.
On Craigslist, you're surrounded not only by skeevy creeps and blurry penis photos but by oats-sowing bi-curious college girls; self-described "nice guys" with jobs and proper grammar and everything; lonely, MILFy housewives who need just a bit more attention and cunnilingus than they're currently getting.
Amid the comical weirdos are people who say terribly normal-sounding things, like, "I am a 27-year-old woman, just looking for a nice stud that isn't into the drama and bullshit. Please be able to carry on a conversation and have a sense of humor if you reply to this." Or, "Looking for that special gal no strings attached, like to have intimate talks be straightforward who is a good listener knows what she wants and enjoys a good massage not afraid to go all the way."
Craigslist, with its insistently plain-wrap appearance, is the lowest-commitment option in an already low-commitment endeavor, so Casual Encounters' setup achieves a sort of harmonious equilibrium with the mindset of its users. There's no registration, no fees, no pop-ups, no banners. Just lines and lines of ads, listing the multitudes of people willing to fuck you.
But is it really that easy?
L.A. Weekly followed four people, one from each of the four major categories — w4m, m4w, w4w, m4m — in their search for that elusive, NSA encounter.
M4W: A Seller's Market
"Looking for a cute girl, age 20-50, for a fun, casual sexual encounter. And, yes, I will spank you. Nothing crazy. I don't have whips or a dungeon. I don't humiliate. Just my open hand. (And a pair of handcuffs.) I'm a handsome guy, 40, 5 feet 11 inches, nice eyes, beard, a little burly, work out 3-4 times per week, and I clean up real nice, as they say. Send a photo, I'll send you mine."
Terence's spanking offer might have narrowed the field, but then again, the field is always narrow for men who are seeking women, and even ads that aren't seeking anything exotic tend not to get a lot of replies. In the personals, it's women who run the show.
Terence received a whopping total of nine responses. Of those, eight were spam. These were identifiable by their extremely generic nature, typically something like, "Hey I liked your ad. I'm on Yahoo Messenger right now! Send me a message at HotGirl2271!" Replying to these inevitably leads the user to a paid porn site.
But one smelled like it might be human: "Hi! could you please send few pics? clearly showing your face and body? thanks! Debra." This was accompanied by a sunlit photo of an attractive blonde with a perky smile.
Cautiously optimistic, Terence sent a response, including a picture. The blonde replied, "Thanks for the pic ... i thought you would look younger. do you have other pics?"
"What was I supposed to say to that?" Terence asks, his eyes rolling skyward with exasperation. Already realizing odds were against him, Terence threw in the towel, retorting, "Sorry, honey, that's as young as I get."
When asked why he didn't work particularly hard to continue the established contact, by, say, inviting the blonde out for coffee, Terence gripes, "I'm fucking sick of 'coffee.' I can't tell you how much fucking 'coffee' I've had through all the Internet dating sites I've been on over the years. The only thing I'd meet up for is if she wants to take her clothes off today."
The hard lesson most men learn on Craigslist: Because they outnumber women by about 20 to 1 on Casual Encounters, men aren't something to be desired. They're something to be weeded out — even guys like Terence, who are attractive and well-educated.
Would he try Craigslist again?
"I might read women's ads, but placing my own was a total waste of time."
"No two-minute wonders need apply. Very youthful, very curvy 41-year-old in Santa Monica seeks very youthful, preferably young, attractive baby-faced man for casual encounters (hopefully plural!). By the way, replies without pics will not be considered. Thanks!"
On Craigslist, women can be this flat-out demanding and not be dismissed as bitches but get plenty of play. Clarissa's ad, for example, got more than 150 responses.
The sexually adventurous, curly-haired brunette isn't averse to casual hookups. The responses started coming in immediately.
"That was exciting," she says. "Basically, I spent from about 3:30, when I placed the ad, until 9 p.m., when I got tired of reading and responding to messages. Then I got more and more replies, and had fun responding, and considered meeting someone. But then I got bored, and the only one that was really interesting has been reticent."
Her initial ardor cooled, and in the end, Clarissa didn't meet up with even one of her potential sack mates.
What went wrong? "Later that evening, I started to think about all the terrible things that could happen with something like this," she says. The rising fears that dampened her heat ran the gamut: "Getting killed. Getting disappointed. Wasting my time. Jeopardizing my health and my business. Being rejected. Getting emotionally hurt by some thoughtless, shallow swinger with herpes who makes some 'they're not exactly perky' comment about my breasts while expecting me to agree and fuck him anyway."
This is the bell curve many Casual Encounters advertisers travel: initially enticed by the fantasy, but eventually put off by the reality. The fear of mishaps and the heaps of unsolicited penis photos, the TMI, the STDs join forces to make the briefly hot idea of an NSA encounter quickly turn cold.
If you're wondering why that sexy chick suddenly quit answering your e-mails, this sort of rational thought process is probably the reason.
M4M: Easy Street
Gay men are always on the vanguard of any of society's sexual shifts, for good or ill, from HIV to Grindr, and Josh sees Craigslist as antiquated. He hooked up online as recently as last week, but not via Craigslist. He checks the site from time to time, but, "In reality, I haven't had sex through Craigslist for years and years and years."
With his swimmer's body, unblemished, caramel-colored skin and engaging, lighthearted, party-party personality, this resident of an Elle Decor–worthy West Hollywood apartment is clearly a desirable specimen. Josh is in a committed relationship, but his partner has a job that forces him to travel out of town frequently; even when his boyfriend is home, his sex drive simply doesn't match Josh's.
So Josh looks online for casual hookups often, and has no trouble finding them. However, he's largely left Craigslist behind. "It's like that Margaret Cho joke, where she calls Craigslist 'the PennySaver of sex,' " he says. "If you're a gay man, and you have to resort to Craigslist, maybe it's time to re-evaluate."
Josh prefers a number of other sites to the creaky Craigslist, such as Adam4Adam, BarebackRT (with its high proportion of users who, like himself, are HIV-positive) or his favorite, Manhunt. Manhunt works because its interface has something that Craigslist has stubbornly refused to add: thumbnail photos. "It's faster. Twenty pictures, 20 guys. You decide on two to three options per page, and you click."
Josh adds that no site has eliminated the flake factor, which is ubiquitous in the online world. The other big problem: people exaggerating their attractiveness with dated or miraculously flattering photos.
"One time I opened the door, and it was this huge guy. Not saying that fat people can't have sex, but it's the lying that got me. So I said, 'I'm sorry, I gotta go, it's not going to work.' It's very awkward, but it pisses me off." So Josh closed the door in the face of a hopeful prospect.
Despite the risks, Josh says he'd still choose Craigslist over the bar scene.
"Meeting in bars is too intimate. I don't want to spend money in a bar. I don't want to make myself cute. I don't want small talk, trying to be charming and seductive. It's a lot more effort. On a website, you go straight to the point. I'm looking for someone with no strings attached, one and done. I cannot get involved, because I'm in a relationship. The only thing I want is to have sex."
One benefit of the rise in online sex: Josh concludes that it's made the West Hollywood bar scene a lot more enjoyable.
"Now, people just go to have fun with friends. This idea of going to a bar for sex, very few people do that. Even if you're horny as hell."
W4W: No U-Haul Needed
"Hello ladies, I'm looking for: friends with benefits, casual dating, or a hot onetime hookup, with a sexy, healthy, vivacious woman. I love all races and genders (butch fem, trans or intersex is all good), and I like you pretty, damn good-looking, or super sexy and comfortable in your own skin (or hair, or shoes, or undies ...). To avoid any misunderstanding — I am looking for a WOMAN ONLY. No men, and no male-and-female couples. If you ignore this clause, I will do mean things with your e-mail address. I look forward to meeting! Hugs and kisses!"
Grace, 5 feet 9 and 130 pounds, is a gorgeous girl, so if anyone is going to be doing the turning down, it's her. Still, despite her warnings, a number of men replied to Grace's ad, maybe because they were enticed by the shots she included from her occasional modeling jobs, or maybe because they thought to themselves, "Sure, she's seeking a woman, but wait till she sees this JPEG of my fabulous schlong!" Or — most likely — they're simply replying without reading, embodying some perfect, dated Cathy Guisewite stereotype of the hearing-impaired boor.
After wading through a small stack of e-mails and meeting up with one woman whom she didn't find attractive, Grace moved her ad from Casual Encounters to Women Seeking Women, Craigslist's more traditional dating section. It was only then that she became the only one of our test subjects to lay some rubber on the road.
After a few IMs and text messages, Grace invited one woman to her apartment to meet in person, and soon after found her long legs tangled in a new friend's hair. "It went great! She's gorgeous and sweet. Had a good connection and she spent the night. We didn't sleep much. Good sex."
Things only became unclear afterward, when the woman wanted to hit it again and Grace demurred.
"She called and said, 'Do you want to come over tonight?' but I said I needed to get some work done. If it's a onetime thing, that's fine, but I don't connect emotionally if I have sex right away. Even though she's hot, she's pretty, and she's cute, I was just a little bit disconnected. So I think I'd rather see her again as more than just a booty call and make sure I knew how I was feeling about it."
Clearly the antithesis of the "U-Haul lesbian," Grace has another potential date from Casual Encounters still pending. "She's a musician, I saw her YouTube video, she's clearly hot, and we're going to meet up when she gets back into town next week."
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The anonymity the online world offers is two-faced. Its beautiful face is the one that lets you shed your inhibitions and finally proclaim to the world that your ultimate fulfillment would consist of being tied up with rubber hoses while wearing pink satin panties. On the ugly side, anonymity emboldens cyberbullies, angry at you, perhaps because you have dared to voice their own repressed desires right out loud. The flake factor is overwhelming. There are the dreaded "endless e-mails," the looky-loos, the photo collectors and the perverts — a label that typically describes anyone not into the same things that you are.
Craigslist may seem to magically put scores of potential fuck buddies at your fingertips, but it doesn't magically get you over your self-esteem issues, your time crunch, your weight problem, your fear of STDs or those pesky ethics.
In reality, the chasm between the moment when, as you sit comfortably in front of your computer, your idle thoughts stray to "Boy, some head would sure be nice right about now" and actually procuring said head is always far vaster and more difficult to traverse than we like to imagine.
Do people get laid through Craigslist? Sure. But after wading through the dregs, it quickly becomes obvious that your odds are scarcely better there than they are anywhere else.