Once upon a time HBO's Real Sex showed us what sex was like then -- in the mythological era before teledildonics was just George Lucas' ultimate wet dream. It showed us that bridles and bits aren't just for ponies (pony play, anyone?) and cakes aren't just for eating (sploshing, anyone? Um, anyone?).
Propelled by Chris Moukarbel, the L.A.-based director of Me @ the Zoo --the documentary about the famed "Leave Britney Alone" vlogger Chris Crocker -- HBO has decided to show us how dramatically sex has changed since Real Sex went to bed in 2008. Launching tonight as a pilot at 11 p.m. on HBO is Sex//Now, which looks at how sex has been affected by new technology.
While the project's intention sounds both innovative and productive, there is the danger that Sex//Now, which retains the classic structure of Real Sex (a few documentary shorts accompanied by a man-on-the-street segment), would be be too slow to capture the whizzing sexual ephemera of the internet.
But Moukarbel, a video artist and recent L.A. transplant, suggests that people "more than ever" need Sex//Now to curate the rapidly evolving sexual landscape online.
As he explains, "Isn't social media just really about relationships? The old saying that 'the internet was built on porn' is not only about economics, but a realization that behind technological growth is human desire. Internet technology is redefining our relationships. It feels like people are really ready to have that conversation."
Moukarbel has found a way to use the internet to his advantage in the process of creating the show. "A big difference now is that when they were making Real Sex they had to go around the country and find people that were willing to share their sex stories," he says. "Our show starts at the source of the story. People often go online already wanting to share their experiences and perspectives on sex so it makes it easier to connect with subjects."
Inspired by the near-extinction of classic peep shows that once dominated Times Square, and which were featured in an old episode of Real Sex, Moukarbel kicks off the pilot with a long segment focalizing their modern counterparts -- cam girls and boys, who monetize their sex, and sometimes their interpersonal relationships, armed with little more than a webcam. Moukarbel manages to illuminate how "camming" has created one of the safest and self-empowered forms of sex work.
"The cam models are essentially crowdsourcing sex work so they only need a small amount of money from a lot of people," Moukarbel says. "In an industry that traditionally favored men or the paying client, camming has shifted power in the direction of the sex worker. In the past you would have to share physical space with a client, and that brings a lot of potential hazards. If someone is disrespecting you while camming, they can be blocked forever."
The pilot concludes with a short segment about a highly futuristic-sounding device called RealTouch, a handheld male masturbator that replicates the movements, warmth and wetness of action unfolding on a porn DVD specially designed to synchronize with the device. There is also a phallic-shaped companion piece, the JoyStick, that transmits the "location, tenderness and direction" of a remote user's touch. (Its developers offer this comforting origin story: "When RealTouch was just an idea, we always said that on that day that a girl in the middle of Romania can reach out and touch your penis, that's the beginning of something completely new.")
However, save for a limited supply, manufacturing of the device was set to cease Jan. 1 due to a technology licensing issue -- evincing that effectively creating a snapshot of ephemeral tech-based sexual trends may prove difficult.