Are Anonymous Mobs Reliable Sources for Sex Advice?

At ReallyWorried.com, sex questions get answered by “experienced” users—but is their bad advice cause for worry?

A bit of advice for anyone who worries about their sex life: don’t sweat it, because you're not alone.

According to Richard Rubin, the founder of a new website called ReallyWorried.com, British people spend an average of one hour and 46 minutes every day fretting over their problems. That’s 27 days a year, and a total of over five years in a normal British lifespan. Rubin, an ex-marketing executive who released those figures as part of something called the "2007 Worry Index"—a professional online survey he commissioned for the launch of his site this past June—expects the numbers are similar for Americans. People’s top hang-ups, he says: personal health, cost of living, and, of course, sex.

Where there's worry, there's a need for advice. Enter ReallyWorried.com. Users can post their concerns there, then others who've experienced similar problems can respond, Rubin says, with their “nuggets of real knowledge and wisdom.” The site gives its regulars—mostly women—an “immediate support network,” whether their worry is paying the mortgage, interviewing for a job, or disliking sex with their husbands.

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The idea behind Rubin’s site is a compassionate one—or, as he puns, a ".compassionate" one—but shouldn’t people talk to advice professionals instead of turning to the internet masses with their concerns? Though he’s wary of anyone who makes money by solving problems ( “I went to see a psychologist once, and the first thing she asked was how much I could pay.” He adds, "Personally, I don't make a cent from my site.")

Rubin admits there are times when ReallyWorried.com is just an instructive stepping stone, not the definitive source. “For example, if you woke up one morning and, God forbid, you found a lump in your breast, what would you do?” he asks. “Of course, you’d go see a doctor—but first you’d type it into Google, and there would be millions of sites, and that would panic you. On my site, someone could tell you where to go.”

That stepping-stone approach may work for informal medical advice, but sex advice is a whole other story. In Rubin's eyes, he’s replacing the old “crap concept” of writing to a sex expert. “Let’s say I’m worried my wife is getting screwed by the gardnener,” he posits, “so I'm going to write to someone at a magazine who might pick it up in eight weeks time. By that time, the gardner has been fucking my wife and she's pregnant and she's left me, the writer will say, 'Oh don't worry lovely, blah blah blah.' What good is that?” ReallyWorried.com users get faster feedback, and from more people. It’s the Web 2.0 approach to sex advice: everyone contributes, and everyone gains. But does user-generated content really work when it comes to expertise? Or will visitors give advice just to hear themselves talk?

Take, for example, the most read post on ReallyWorried.com: "I am really worried about having anal sex." The post reads: “Two months ago my boyfriend and I decided to adventure and we did anal the first time. It was absolutely amazing. Now that's all we ever do. I'm not complaining, but I’m worried that maybe it’s unhealthy." The second piece of "advice" this user received? "I can’t understand why anyone would want to do this." Then there's the woman who was "really worried about oral sex." She wrote, “I am extremely self-conscious whenever my fiancé performs oral sex on me. I always feel it must be gross.” In response, another user wrote, “Of course it’s gross. Have you tasted that stuff? The best thing you can do is make sure you’re clean and be grateful.” Advice like that from inexperienced or biased users could do more harm than good—especially since users are less likely to get a second opinion on a taboo topic.

However, Rubin thinks ReallyWorried.com is perfect for sex questions since “you’re behind a computer screen. No one sees your face. No one knows who you are.” Even users who aren’t worried about sex can enjoy the sex questions, he thinks. “If you’re British, you don’t talk about things like anal sex,” he says. “Like grandmas who are on the site who worried about, I don't know, their clothes not drying. Suddenly they see [the post about] anal sex. They can’t help but have a look at it!”

Previously in Click Me: Have the Cybersex ‘Experts’ Ever Had Cybersex?

Click Me runs on villagevoice.com on Mondays. Got a question about cybersex? Write to your friendly cyberhood sexpert Bonnie Ruberg to ask advice or to share stories about sex and the internet: bonnie [at] heroine-sheik [dot] com.

 
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