A Lot of Nerve

Erotic Web Zine Swells in Size as It Plans To Become a Portal

Are any sections planned already? We will be doing lengthy reported pieces each month— and we will simultaneously make documentary segments in most cases. Streamed documentary footage will accompany the stories [when they are posted online], and we also use the segments, which will be television quality, as one of the early projects of NerveStudios.

What makes this different from Playboy? Everything. First of all Nerve is predicated on the belief that there is a symmetry of desire between men and women. What is most radical about Nerve on some level is that I think it marks the first time that the male experience and the female experience have been close enough to one another that they could be embodied in a single magazine, and there is also a coherent Nerve sensibility which informs both the photography and writing.

Describe that sensibility. An interest in the humanity of the sexual experience, whether it's embarrassing, beautiful, peculiar, ugly, sad, what have you. It's the same kind of curiosity that causes people to look at their feces before flushing.

Charming . . . We are fascinated by our bodies and the things that they do and I think that this is one of the most intriguing frontiers for great writers and photographers.

It sounds like what makes Nerve different is that the editors don't dictate what makes good sex or interesting sex, whereas in Playboy you have this hierarchical view that feeds the reader one standard of sexual expression. I think the people at Playboy are not genuinely interested in great writing. They have bought some great writing over the years because they could afford it, but it was never central to their mission. Playboy has always been about surface-level pleasure and the God- given right to that pleasure, and that was radical in the early '60s.

So do you think it's radical now to talk about sex that is not pleasurable? Absolutely. I personally have a great interest in bad sex because I think it's relatively untrodden territory. It's something people have a hard time talking about, and in fact we are involved in a film project on the subject. But we also have a great interest in documenting near-apocalyptic sexual triumphs.

Apocalyptic sex sounds like Norman Mailer. But are most of your writers macho straight men? Or are they gay men, writing for straight men and women? We have many gay writers, but definitely not a majority. We've published a number of pieces by unsensitive guys. Eighty-five percent of our readers describe themselves as straight, but, yeah, I think this is a key point. I think an interest in sexual experiences and preferences that one doesn't have and doesn't intend to have is part of this new, late-'90s sensibility. It takes a level of sexual confidence that people haven't had, en masse, in past decades to want to understand experiences far from one's own.

You are talking about a kind of voyeurism. Definitely, but more than that a suspension of judgement and a genuine affection for difference.

I think the voyeurism aspect is really key to Nerve, especially when you are talking about having people put up their own sex-centric home pages on your site. Voyeurism online with high-res televideo will be an extraordinary, powerful phenomenon. Tens of billions of dollars will be spent; a large portion of the population will participate at some point.

Everyone has a democratic right to be the star of their own porn film. Is that what you are betting on? Well, I believe everybody has a need to star . . . and therefore they will. Porn itself is underwhelming. I think most people have seen porn and associate it with a kind of post-orgasmic disappointment in themselves and the sexual experience.

So, finally, what makes Nerve different from Salon's Urge section is that you give people the venue— now through the reader feedback section, but later through home-page hosting— to express their own sexuality, as opposed to reading about somebody else's. Well, I think the caliber of our writing is better and the project as a whole is considerably more daring. We are taking risks that they aren't taking. I am thinking primarily of the photography, but also I think we have less of a concern about offending with the writing. But they definitely have good writers and publish some great material.

Do you think of Nerve as pushing the culture, rather than following? Yes, I do. We have never changed our content for advertisers, or with advertisers in mind.

Will blue-chip American advertisers ever associate with Nerve? Absolutely. They are starting to come on board. CBS Sportsline, CD Now, UBid are a few of the larger advertisers we have had in past months. We definitely have more work to do on the advertising front. It's a gradual process but we think mainstream culture is moving in our direction. I heard Nike has a new ad campaign with nudity; I think many mainstream advertisers in the U.S. will start to move in this direction in the next few years.

In the new Nerve community space, are you going to censor insensitive remarks and hate pages? What about a man who has rape fantasies? We will definitely censor illegal and really revolting stuff, but I think you guide a community more by highlighting material that you like. Emma Taylor, our VP of community development, used to be at Tripod, and removing inappropriate material was one of her responsibilities. The community governs itself to a degree. What's critical is to let it do so.

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