The 1980s image of nerds as desexualized virgins was as outdated then as it is laughable now. For a start, there's no longer one kind of nerd. The intense following of niche interests that the internet accommodated has sparked a proliferation of nerd subcultures, which overlap and intertwine like a long gray braid down the back of a seasoned RuneScape master.
The word itself is now basically just a synonym for "fan." For example, you've got everything from Airfix nerds to sneaker nerds, equals in their level of obsession but very different when it comes to the obsession itself—one spending hours painting a miniature wing to make it look like it's flown through a sandstorm, the other spending hours arguing with strangers about the merits of ventilated toe caps.
Even sex, something that was always supposed to be kept secret from nerds, has its very own nerds nowadays: sex nerds—the kind of people who get into polyactivism and livestream discussions about sexual fluidity.
What makes someone a nerd is no longer an interest in RPGs or history or comic books, because all of those passions have, to a certain extent, become mainstream in the past decade or so. In fact, in The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida wonders if “perhaps the nerds were the mainstream all along, and the jocks were the deviants.”
This is maybe the nerdiest thing you could ever possibly say, but you have to wonder—with the popularity of shows like The Big Bang Theory, the enduring obsession with dressing like Screech, and an increasing cachet associated with technological ability—how much longer we can pretend that nerds couldn’t also be leading the way sexually, as well as culturally.
As a group, nerds may be especially suited—if not wholly predisposed—to great sex and/or relationships. After all, what is a nerd but someone who's thought about something longer and deeper than you? A 1976 study by psychologist Jacquelyn Knapp noted that individuals in multi-partner relationships shared many of the same qualities. They tended to be individualistic, academic, non-conformist, and stimulated by complexity. Basically, an archetypal nerd.
Sure, classic nerds might be into MythBusters, Magic: the Gathering, and Minecraft. But they’re also into sex. In fact, the crossover between sex and the more traditional realms of nerd interest is longstanding; science fiction, for example, is frequently pointed at as a source of progressive and even transgressive sexual theory.
In devising alternate universes, authors, filmmakers, and fans imagine new ways of living, loving, and fucking. Sci-fi and comics are full of latex and leather and futuristic orgy planets where anything goes. Everyone loves it. Conventions like Arse Elektronika exist exclusively to provide an intersection for the worlds of sex and tech.
Robert A. Heinlein—who wrote sci-fi short stories, novellas, and novels from 1939 until 1987—is often held up as an early promoter of sexual liberation and polyamory. As early as 1939, his works dealt with group marriage, multi-partner relationships, and the elimination of sexual jealousy as a positive force for society.
The cult classic Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961, features a protagonist arriving to Earth from Mars, bringing Martian values—among them, non-monogamy—that transform society. If you ask a nerd about it, they'll tell you that Heinlein is not a perfect example of a secret crusader for alternative sexualities, and that his work is problematic in a lot of ways. But that’s what nerds do—they argue and complicate and think.
Yes, sometimes that culture of imagination leads to things like this fuckable dragon’s mouth, but that’s honestly not much weirder to me than the disembodied vagina and butt combos you can buy anywhere online, or those Twilight dildos you're encouraged to toss in the fridge for an "authentic experience." I would also venture that nerd sex is less about realistically salivating over mythical creatures and more about what nerd culture has always concerned itself with: debate, dissection, and discussion.
So this relatively new breed of sex nerds who get all earnest and intense while discussing their copulation habits are simply doing what nerds have always done: talking about their passions.
What makes things interesting is how crucial these discussions are to good sex and healthy romantic relationships—which arguably can't be said for more conventional nerd pursuits. Dedicated Trekkies will probably disagree, but in theory, your enjoyment of Star Trek is not predicated on the ability to discuss each episode with your message board. The quality of the episode remains the same, regardless of any additional pleasure derived from going on Reddit and debating the realism of an alien planet that’s been hiding from the rest of the universe via a planet-wide cloaking device.
However, ask any relationship or sex expert about the key to both of those things, and across the board they will tell you that one factor is more important than any other: communication. In their instinctive desire to talk about, question, and critique their interests, sex nerds might have hacked sex.
So what are sex nerds into? Consent. The destigmatization of kink. Sexual fluidity and the dissolution of gender binaries. Feminism. Sex positivity. Figuring out a place for BDSM in a world where rape culture is the norm. LGBTQ activism. Polyamory and other alternatives to traditional monogamy. Hacking sex toys to make them bigger, better, and scarier.
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list. As with any nerd interest, there are hundreds of specific subcultures that bleed into one another or exist completely disparately. However, the general message of sex-nerd sex seems to be: “You do you, and whomever else you want, however you want, as long as you’re being safe and responsible with their and your physical, emotional, and mental health.”
As with many nerd or alt interests from the past (tech, graphic novels, bands that play songs about ships on antique instruments), some of these issues are now picking up steam in more “mainstream” communities.
Which, of course, makes complete sense. If you wanted to know about the future of technology, would you just talk to some guy who texts a lot? No, you’d find someone who’s been making use of wearable tech for years. If you wanted to buy something expensive, would you ask your parents what they did 30 years ago when the economy was completely different? No, you’d probably consult real estate experts or some kind of car fetish message board or your old classmate who collects boutique electronics.
So why look to conventional pornography or Hollywood for the future of sex? Sex nerds know more about sex not only because they're talking about it and passionate about it but because forging their own paths is what nerds have always been doing. Sexual experimentation and individualism is simply a natural extension of the nerd lifestyle. If you and your friends already exist on the social fringes for your clothed interests, why bother continuing down the path of vanilla sex when you could at least survey the other options?
In recent years, the internet has done for alternative sexuality what it did for comic fans, anime otaku, and gamers—uniting like-minded but geographically distant subgroups and revealing the “fringe” to be larger and far more passionate than anyone had expected. And considering how deeply nerd subculture permeated fashion, film, and television, you have to wonder if the sexual fringe can even accurately be called a fringe at all.
An American study found that more than 40 percent of millennials think that traditional marriage is becoming obsolete, while OKCupid data indicated that more than 34 percent of its users have had a same-sex sexual experience or would like to. The numbers are similar regarding threesomes, according to an ABC survey.
Gen Y’s much-discussed hyperconnectivity, constant communication, and desire for gratification on their own terms actually puts them in a prime position to become a generation of sex nerds. They can figure out the parameters of their relationships on an individual level and eschew conventional sexual and romantic codes in favor of ongoing discussion about their own needs and interests, and the needs and interests of their partners.
But it’s not just young people. The slow mainstreaming of alt sex and love is picking up speed. How much longer can we classify BDSM as a niche interest while Fifty Shades books and paraphernalia fly off shelves nationwide? Sure, it's not exactly an ideal introduction to BDSM, but it implies a large-scale interest in kink across North America, the UK, and elsewhere.
And if a single trashy trilogy can ignite global interest in an allegedly “deviant” sexual subculture, what else are people interested in? How can they access it? Are they already doing so, in quiet corners of the internet after the kids have gone to bed? Are body-positive threesomes the new functional bum-bags? Is queer-friendly feminist tumblr porn the next Star Wars?
Are you ready to start having sex like a nerd?
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