Since 2011, social media has been the number one use for the Internet. One out of every seven minutes spent online is spent on Facebook. Links regarding sex are shared more than 90% more than anything else. There are 1 billion websites online right now, and 3 billion internet users in the world to visit them. 137 billion emails were sent today, 3 billion google searches conducted. 5.6 billion youtube videos were watched, and 550 million tweets sent.

These numbers are so vastly beyond comprehension that trying to visualize them will make you go mad. Don’t try it. All you need to know is that in the time it takes you to say ‘twitter’, 12,000 tweets were sent. So what does it mean to be a human in this cacophonous mess of invisible digits? Is there room for intimacy – maybe even love – out there in the virtual ether? What effect has social media had on our love lives? We ask the experts…

Social media brings news from all over the world to our pockets with such immediacy that we already take it for granted, even though it’s still just a few years old. Old media seems sluggish and meandering by comparison. Newspapers resort to opinion and speculation to keep up, and TV news relies on reactionary sensationalism to prop its numbers up.

Twitter, Facebook and others all connect you instantly to people and events on the other side of the planet instantly and in real time. As a news gathering medium, social media has changed everything. But, as the most essential expressions of human connections, the most fundamental changes have been in our perception of love and sex.

Related Article: Is Online Dating the Best Way to Find Love?

A New Sexual Revolution

“The Internet has enabled a new era of sane permissiveness,” says Technology Journalist Dan Cooper. “Now, more than ever, people are able to make new friends through shared interests and beliefs, as opposed to chancing on a kindred spirit within the people you happen to live and work with.”

Social media, then, is taking the scattershot approach out of dating, and encouraging people of like minds to gravitate towards each other more naturally.

Dan continues, “[social media] also helps to connect people from otherwise marginal groups: there’s a reason that the acronym has grown to LGBT+ to encompass the incalculable number of people who would otherwise think their feelings were entirely their own.”

Sunny Megatron, respected sexuality educator and host of the Showtime original series Sex with Sunny Megatron, would agree with Dan. “Facebook is helping normalize many forms of sexuality and gender expression. The #1 concern I hear from people about their sexuality is ‘am I normal?’” says Sunny. “There are specialized communities like Fetlife dedicated to building a learning and sharing community around BDSM and other alternative sexual practices. That helps us all feel more accepted and normal.”

The Downsides of Sex & Social Media

But, when it comes to love and sex on the net, is it all good news and sex positivity? Possibly not.

Lorrae Bradbury is the founder of Slutty Girl Problems, the popular sex and dating advice site for young women, recently featured in Cosmo and elsewhere. Her use of social media (SGP’s twitter account is particularly popular), as well as her studies in psychology and women’s studies, have given her a uniquely valuable insight into how social media is shaping the landscape of sexual and romantic culture.

“Social media allows us to meet new people, explore our fantasies and connect with others who share our desires,” says Lorrae. “But, it can also give us false hope that the “perfect” person exists, and that if we just search hard enough, we’ll find them out there somewhere. It’s up to us to use social media to connect with others in positive ways, rather than shut out potential good-fit partners because they don’t meet strict criteria… social media’s impact on our dating and sex lives is as good or bad as we, as individuals, allow it to be.”

A Tale As Old As Time?

One of the most disconcerting downsides of social media, with regards to romance, is the sometimes jarring difference between the representation of a person online and the reality of that person in person. It’s so incredibly easy for someone to project themselves in the way that they want to be perceived rather than the way they should be perceived, and through social media it’s not (yet) possible to get a fully rounded and accurate impression of a person, because social media is essentially self promotion.

Sunny Megatron is profoundly aware of this. She tells us, “we tend to forget that not only do our online personas need to have some depth and substance, but that needs to carry through offline as well. We still need to put the work in when it comes to meeting people and cultivating relationships just as we did before social media existed.”

People broadcast themselves in the best possible light, and it’s unavoidable because it’s an inherently human thing to do and it’s not always deliberately deceptive – though it often is.

Related Article: Online Matchmaking Flaw: The Myth of “Like Attracts Like” (We Need Sexual Polarity!)

What Does History Tell Us?

As John Lane, Editor-in-Chief at Badoink Magazine, recognizes, as soon as painting was developed it was used for self-aggrandizing and flattering portraiture.

“Social media has helped push sex out even more into the open than ever before. Mainly because people can’t help themselves. Almost everyone loves a bit of salaciousness… and the immediacy of social media plays into that spontaneous desire to share.”

John continues, “social media interaction actually runs pretty parallel with our sexuality. Look at any ancient sexual scroll or tapestry or sculpture. We humans have been up to some pretty raunchy stuff basically forever.”

So then, maybe our sexuality is not being so drastically altered by the proliferation of social media. Maybe it’s not the medium at all, but the use of the medium. Badoink runs a social media discussion forum called #sextechtalk, and as such John Lane is well qualified to discuss the sexual use and abuse of digital technology.

“Like every innovation, there are positive impacts and negative impacts, and of course, as in most cases, those factors do not depend on the innovation itself but the psychology of those who choose to implement it.

“For example, I think things like the celebrity Fappening or the Snapchat leaks, where all those private images were released on to the Internet, showed that there was a need to understand the power of social media and the importance of educating yourself about how the new ways we have to approach the concept of privacy in the social media age. But even then, as an offshoot of that, is a lesson about how we learn to trust one another, especially when it comes to sharing our sexuality.” John is certainly right. Humanity has a history of subverting new innovations for sexual purposes as soon as they’re available. Check out this guide to cybersex from the very early days of the Internet.