Modern Mating

When Technology and the Sexes Collide

Monday, February 27, 2006

Pimping the Internet

When not combatting the insurgency in Iraq, soldiers - even those stationed in "Forward Operating Bases" - can communicate online with their loved ones. In prior wars, a father in combat had to rely on letters and infrequent phone calls to stay connected with his kids. Now, the mothers and father on the front lines stay connected far more easily. The military sets up rooms full of computer equipment, complete with webcams, as a means of promoting morale.

These Internet connections aren't always being used for wholesome purposes, however. Online dating has become the recreation of choice for many of the US soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jokingly referred to as "pimping the Internet", it is considered one of the key ways for the soldiers - who are predominantly male - to arrange a little sexual action when they return home from the military action.

HotorNot.com, for instance, is a huge hit among soldiers deployed abroad, where many of the soldiers kill time and try to meet people by posting their photos and profiles. Young and fit, the servicemen and women are ideal candidates for a site where the emphasis is on physical appeal. A buff body is bound to elicit far more attention than a thoughtful write-up. Typical military profiles read:
“Hi, I am currently in Iraq (again, geez!). Originally from Texas, I love drinking, mudding, and football.”
“Howdy! I just like to laugh and make people laugh. I am the beer pong champ! If you think you can beat me, bring it on! I like to travel to a new place every year. This year it’s Iraq, next year maybe Germany.”
“Hanging out in Afghanistan. Always looking for someone cool to email with. I'm into motorcycles, golf and running.”

There are niche sites which cater specifically to a military population like MilitarySinglesConnection.com and MilitaryFriends.com. The conventional dating sites also draw a military crowd. It's not all about the brief hook-up, however. In the Washington Post's article, A Bed of Roses , we learn about Melinda Jackson who met her boyfriend while he was deployed in Iraq as a combat medic. Their relationship began on Yahoo! Personals and continued through instant messages, emails and the odd phone call. Their relationship was virtual for 9 months before they finally met in the flesh (but after they had begun talking marriage).

Soldiers go online for more than just relationships, however. Servicemen, unable to purchase membership to porn sites because credit card companies blocked charges originating from Iraq and Afghanistan (areas considered "high risk" to the credit card companies), found a fan in Chris Wilson. His site, NowThatsFuckedUp.com permitted users stationed overseas to trade authentic photos for access to the site's porn. Some of the soldiers forwarded gruesome images and videos of Iraqi war dead. This became a diplomatic mess for the US government and a legal mess for Chris.

Not long after the photos became public, the Polk County Sheriff charged Chris with 300 misdemeanor and 1 felony count of obscenity. By charging Wilson with so many individual counts, law enforcement made it very difficult for Wilson to secure bail (his family had to find a bail bondsman willing to write a bond for each charge, and though the bail was set at $151,000, the family also had to secure more than the typical 10% bail as there was a minimum bail of $100 for each charge). Wilson wound up languishing in jail for an additional day, even after his family had paid the bail bondsman the required $30,100. Though his parents secured the bail on Monday, October 12, 2005, it took a whole day for the Sheriff's office to process the 301 bonds, so Wilson was not released until Tuesday afternoon. Wilson wound up back in jail two months later, when his bail was revoked because the State Attorney's Office and the Polk County Sheriff objected to the fact that his site was not shut down. Wilson remained in jail for almost two weeks, through Xmas, until a three judge appellate court ordered that he be released immediately. The appellate court neglected to give a reason for its opinion.

Ultimately, Wilson cut a deal and pled guilty to five misdemeanour obscenity counts. No jail time was required, though Wilson was ordered to pay the state's investigative costs of $3,785.56 and to pay a fine of $500. As part of his plea agreement, Wilson agreed to shut down his website and turn it over to the Polk County Sheriff. The Sheriff intends to post a message on the site that says that the owner of the website was criminally prosecuted and that the violation of Florida's obscenity statues would be punished. Unexpectedly, Wilson was given three months to shut down his site, before the Sheriff would get possession. The reason for this delay is astonishing and inconsistent with the obscenity prosecution. Since Wilson had agreed not to accept any new customers, the court permitted Wilson's final customers, those well-intentioned consumers of porn who'd made a good-faith purchase of a 3 month subscriptions, to enjoy what they had paid for.

Though no-one may be getting laid in Iraq, it's clear that some are still getting off. --Or at least they will be through the end of March.