In our contemporary erotic sphere, digital spaces have become central sexual arenas. We have witnessed the emergence and burgeoning of a variety of digital sexual spaces where sexual actors can consume pornography, meet romantic and sexual partners, and explore fantasies and fetishes. From Christianmingle(dot)com to FeetFetishDating(dot)com, digital spaces have opened possibilities for new sexual desires, practices, intimacies, subjectivities, and identities. This session aims to contribute to the empirical and theoretical sociological literature on dating and the erotic sphere in this digital age. Tags: Digital Studies, Gender, Sexuality, Theory
In our current collective sexual sphere, a range of mobile phone applications and dating websites provide new opportunities for sexual actors to meet partners, negotiate their self-presentation, and explore niche desires (Green 2014). Digital sexual fields continue to become more and more specialized around particular interests and desires. In this exploratory qualitative study, we focused on online dating websites catered to people with disabilities to understand the language and imagery employed in these niche sexual fields. We analyzed 26 dating websites that cater specifically to people with disabilities. In addition to examining the images on these websites, we conducted a textual analysis to understand the language used by these unique digital spaces. The data were thematically coded by three independent reviewers, including the first author and two undergraduate student researchers, using NVivo. Websites in our sample emphasized their relevance as niche digital sexual fields that allowed disabled people to overcome isolation and accessibility barriers, the need to educate potential intimate partners about their impairments, and rejection. Many sites also promoted the idea that their websites eased the uncomfortable task of disclosing one’s impairment. Rather, the website allowed for disabled people to meet other disabled people or, alternatively, meet open-minded non-disabled people. Some websites highlighted that disabled people’s overall quality of life would be improved by joining their website and the digital dating world. Finally, some websites still relied on medical and inspirational language to articulate their relevance and mission. Dating websites provide an avenue for disabled people to meet potential partners and develop intimate relationships. These spaces can be particularly crucial for this social group who often faces social isolation and inaccessibility in the “real world.” We provide some initial understanding of the ways in which disability is constructed through language in disability-focused dating websites. There is a need for a more critical approach to the medical and inspirational language employed in these websites, which (re)produce particular (and sometimes dominant) understandings of disability. This is important because the language and images used in digital sexual fields can have an impact on how people with disabilities view themselves and are considered and accepted into the online dating world.
Manlin Cai, University of British Columbia
Online dating has become an increasingly popular way for singles to meet potential partners, which particularly can offer niche dating markets to racial minorities. Prior research has mainly examined mate preferences and sorting patterns in online dating, while little is understood about the dating processes. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 44 Chinese heterosexual online daters in Vancouver, we take a close look at their online dating experiences, with a special focus on whether and how their relationships progress from online to offline. We find that after screening candidates by their pre-existing preferences (e.g., appearance, age, geographic location, race/ethnicity), online daters search for cultural similarities in lifestyles and values through profiles and online interactions. Such cultural similarities are the key to decisions about whether to first meet someone offline, go on multiple dates, and eventually establish a romantic relationship. Despite the same mechanism of cultural matching, a fine distinction is drawn by the nativity line: Canadian-born Chinese deem someone “whitewashed” to be compatible, whereas foreign-born Chinese address the preservation of Chinese culture. Overall, it is extremely hard for two daters to get along and feel motivated to bring a relationship offline, let alone officially partnering. The prevalence of online self-misrepresentation kills many first dates. Different expectations about the pace of relationship progression noticeably hinder the dating prospect, which reinforces the cultural divide by race/ethnicity and nativity. Moreover, a gendered pattern is especially salient as men mostly take the initiative to start online exchanges and ask to meet in person. Our findings inform the mechanisms of who partners with whom and further illuminate the implications of dating technologies for social boundaries. We also reveal the complexity and difficulty in navigating romantic lives faced by racial minorities, especially by racialized immigrant men.