Casual encounters among the online ads
Users of a Dublin-based casual-sex website describe their motives and experiences – and the addictions and hazards that are part of the scene
New ads seeking casual sex appear all day. They compete for space on the Dublin section of Craigslist, a classified ads website with a presence in 700 cities around the world, under the heading “Casual Encounters”. The posters vary from curious first-timers to the openly unfaithful. Their ages range between 18 and 67; the locations span every county in the country.
Some submit phone numbers and intimate images; others offer money or solicit payment. The messages are usually frank, sometimes graphic, and often contain acronyms such as NSA (no strings attached) and DDF (drug- and disease-free).
Unlike sites offering similar platforms for casual sex, Craigslist is instant and anonymous, and relies on its users to flag inappropriate content. Despite, or perhaps because of, this community moderation, browsing for a sexual partner is as easy as seeking a flatmate.
But what motivates someone to post ads on the site? Who responds? Is it safe? What goes through their mind as they step into a stranger’s home?
“These are not straightforward questions,” says Robert who, in an email conversation, describes himself as a 24-year-old from Dublin. “Depending on whom you ask, you may get a completely different picture about online connections.”
The lack of apparent identity online, he explains, allows people to get straight to the point: once someone reveals where they are and what they want to do, and gives a number to contact them on immediately, little more needs to be said.
Robert is right about piecing together a complete picture. Of the hundreds of posters contacted on an intermittent basis over several months, few welcomed the opportunity to shed light on the subject.
Of those who did, each had a different story – and on a site such as this, you’re never quite sure how much of a person’s story is true. They include the openly inexperienced 19-year-old from Longford who posts ads for sex on Craigslist because he needs money; the 37-year-old fetishist who’s had 32 affairs in 10 years of marriage; the fantasist who sees Craigslist as little more than a “talking shop” for gay men; the two friends, aged 57 and 20, who pretend to be father and son, seeing Craigslist as a cheap alternative to escorts.
Stepping into a subculture
Barry, a 26-year-old Dubliner, initially took to the site out of an interest in role-play – one he never felt comfortable discussing with girlfriends. It took time to summon the courage to post something and, initially, most responses were from either prostitutes or men. But stepping into this subculture made him feel less alienated. Eventually he began to offer money, reasoning that an open-minded woman of the same age would gain something from the experience even if she didn’t enjoy it.
“I’ve only met a few people, and most of them are very nervous and shy about this,” he says. “People are worried it could ruin their careers if someone found out. Most set up separate email addresses with different names so nobody really knows who they are.”
By Barry’s own admission, internet hook-ups are frowned on in Ireland whatever the circumstances. He doesn’t expect the general public to understand the nature of his encounters, and it’s something he’s worried about revealing in future relationships. But, for now, exploring his curiosity while single feels important.
“I would personally view it as [comparable to] people meeting in a bar and having a one-night stand, only both parties are honest and in agreement about what they are truly looking for. I doubt that’s the view most people would have, and perhaps I am just trying to justify this behaviour to myself. I think most people looking for casual encounters do it for similar reasons to me: they have something they are embarrassed about and will only reveal it anonymously in the hopes of meeting someone with similar interests.”
The 50 billion page views Craigslist generates every month place it among the world’s top 40 websites. Since its inception, in 1995, the California-based site has extended to 70 countries; it launched its Dublin site in 2004. But, as it is less familiar locally than other online ad sites, its traffic appears relatively sparse. The Casual Encounters section is a clear exception.
Across a one-week sample, 1,277 ads were posted (excluding those flagged for removal and deleted). Though many are clearly reposts by the same people, conscious of being washed away in the tide of new messages, about half were by men seeking men and almost 30 per cent by men seeking women. The next-largest quota consisted of group propositions, followed by those relating to transgender. Posts by women number as few as one or two a day and are often deleted quickly.