It is not everyday that I get to sit down and have an open conversation with a woman who has admitted to posting suggestive pictures of herself on Craigslist. If you aren’t already aware, there is a page on Craigslist for Casual Encounters where posters can post about seeking any type of sexual experience. Requests vary from the most grotesque to the average three or foursome. There are swingers, transsexuals, homosexuals and others seeking a little bit of Fifty Shades.
The New York Times gives some statistics for the site in an article written a couple years back. The Casual Encounter section accounts for 2% of all posting on Craigslist. Despite this small percentage, the Personals section, (of which Casual Encounters is a part of), has a higher rate of traffic than any other online personals site, (eHarmony, Match and Yahoo! Personals included). One major draw is the ability to remain anonymous, at least initially, and therefore, be honest about what one’s true desire. Despite all of this, it remains a taboo that isn’t openly discussed.
Posters can attach pictures to their posts to attract a greater response. At first, it might be thought that posters are all social outcasts, 40-year old virgins, and prostitutes. But that is not the case. There are a great deal of everyday people posting, looking for the partner with which to fulfill their fantasies. Selena* chose to post on the site for another reason altogether. Yes, she wanted to fulfil the curiosity that the site naturally encourages, but she was primarily looking for a self-esteem boost.
My interview with her sheds light on an aspect of her personality that led her to need attention enough to result to this. While she did not pose nude or show any part of her you wouldn’t see in a bathing suit, she still felt dirty after receiving responses. Ultimately, her experience is not one she recommends. She reminds us the very real things that could happen if a woman did opt to follow through and meet with a responder.
My Interview with Selena* – A One-Time Craigslist Casual Encounter Poster
Q: Selena*, my first question, why would you want to post pictures of yourself online? And what kind of pictures did you post?
A: Well, honestly, I have always wondered about the people who post pictures of themselves in this casual encounter corner of Craigslist. Sometimes I just go through all the postings reading and wondering what drives a person to do this. And, of course, what kind of response they receive. Sometimes the posters will refer to the responses they received as being unwanted or different than what they asked for. I just really wanted to know. So, I took four pictures of myself from shoulders down in a deep-v lace body suit. I didn’t want my face to show and they weren’t overtly sexual. I don’t want to have those out there forever!
Me: I understand, everything is permanent online!
Selena*: (Laughing) Yes, it really is. And I do value my career and my future, I didn’t want this one experiment to label me. And worse, what if I did have my face in the picture and somebody on the street recognized me, that would be terrible!
Me: Indeed, it would be. But let me ask, interesting word choice. You saw this as an experiment?
Selena*: Yes, I really did. I am not going to say that sleeping around is bad, but it is not my personal choice. I prefer relations with men after a personal connection has been established. Even then, I am picky!
Me: So you weren’t actually attempting to solicit sex through this ad?
Selena*: Well, in regards to what I actually wrote, yes, I was. My post was short, just four sentences, but I made sure it reflected mainstream pornographic culture to garner a healthy response. But I didn’t personally want to solicit sex. I was trying to see what kind of responses I would receive.
Me: What else compelled you to do this experiment? You must have great self-esteem to post any part of you online in a suggestive way. Especially on a platform designed for hookups.
Selena*: Honestly, my self-esteem isn’t very good. I am often worrying about what others think of my body and whether men find me attractive sexually. I am of a curvy frame and I often feel that I am not what is generally considered attractive.
Me: So were you concerned about the responses then? Did you ever consider that you may receive rude responses from these men? How did you weigh this against possible positive responses?
Selena*: Yes, when I did this, I was worried that I would receive nasty responses from men calling me fat or undesirable. But I also needed the affirmation from the men that I was desirable. My need for someone to desire me, even a creepy man behind a computer, outweighed my fear of being ridiculed. I suppose I just wanted to know what it would feel like to get that kind of attention, the sexual kind, in a safe way.
Me: Well, I think you look fantastic today. I don’t know why anyone would find you unattractive.
Selena*: (blushing) Thank you, I am trying really hard to remind myself every day that I am beautiful. I think this experiment really opened my eyes to the despair I could fall into.
Me: Despair? Please elaborate.
Selena*: Well, I guess I mean that I now understand something key. I follow a lot of plus sized models on Instagram and they are always letting their bodies show, and I think that is beautiful, the confidence. But sometimes they let way more skin show than I would feel comfortable doing, and I am not plus sized. Then I go to bars with my friends and I see plus size girls dressing the same way and I wonder if there is something wrong with my thinking that keeps me from showing all that skin. I watch these girls throw themselves at these guys and the guys pay attention generally, but never to me. I can’t help but wonder if they are attracted to the confidence, the girl, or the fact that she is letting it all hang out.
Me: Interesting, this is something I have also wondered about. I am also curvy, not plus sized, and I often feel lost between the thin and the plus sized women. It is kind of a no man’s land.
Selena*: Seriously! And you are built much more athletically than I. I am totally envious of your muscle girl!
Me: (laughing) Thank you! Well, I think the main question now is, just what kind of responses did you get?! Where they like you expected?
Selena*: Oh my! (blushing) I received some interesting responses for sure. They were all positive though! That was the best part. It was actually funny, I posted it and then I opened my email. I had no responses for five minutes. I was so sad, so I closed my email and decided to take a shower. 15 minutes later, I checked my email again and I had 42 emails. All responses. After that, I was receiving about a response a minute. I was so overwhelmed!
Me: Wow! That’s a lot of responses. Any that were memorable?
Selena*: Yes, originally, I hadn’t intended to respond to anyone. However, as the responses started flooding in, I was pleasantly surprised. Some of the responders said really nice things and seemed like really nice guys. I had to remind myself under what circumstances they were emailing me!
Me: So is the posting still up?
Selena*: No, I took it down after about 30 minutes. I got such a large response that it was too much for me. Plus, I ultimately wasn’t comfortable with the kind of talk that the posting elicited. I am very private about my sex life so the blunt responses were very overwhelming and kind of gross. I could just imagine the type of guy who trolls Casual Encounter postings on Craig’s List.
Me: I take it you weren’t imaging Prince Charming.
Selena*: Not at all! (laughs) I was expecting some creepy guys.
Me: What is the weirdest response you received?
Selena*: One guy said some nice things, beautiful body, that type of thing. And at the end of his email, he asked to be notified of any donations.
Me: Oh! Wow, I hadn’t considered that.
Selena*: Neither had I! Honestly, I didn’t understand that at first. Then I realized, he meant money most likely. Which opened up a whole new world of possibilities and I thought to myself, wow, suddenly the number of people posting on here is more understandable. Not assuming all are looking for money, but if you are already willing to have a random hookup, then the idea of donations would be a bonus, I assume.
Me: Going back to your self-esteem, after all this attention, how do you feel now?
Selena*: I felt a bit dirty at first. Especially when the responses started rolling in. But I did feel good too. It was so heartening to receive all that attention. Granted it was sexual attention and it was because I elicited it, but I still felt good to hear that all these guys wanted me. I understand that they might just respond to anything or that they are totally gross, but I felt good. I left this experience knowing that if I chose to be overtly sexual and dress provocatively, I would get a response.
Me: Is this something you intend to do again?
Selena*: Absolutely not! Once was enough! It wasn’t a bad experience by any means, but I defiantly realized how precious my body is and how much I value myself. I don’t want to receive attention just for the sake of attention, and that’s what I did with this. I want honest attention from guys interested in me, not my body. So, going back to the previous question, I suppose my self-esteem was affected because I am much more self-assured now.
Me: Is this something you would recommend other women do?
Selena*: Well, I suppose if you really want to, sure. But I would caution against it. You just never know with the internet. I realized afterwards that somebody could maybe trace my IP Address and find out my location or something like that. I am probably paranoid, but safety is important! And never actually respond or meet with these guys. The least worry is that they have a disease, the worst is that something terrible could happen.