Australia captivated by sex and dating blog

At 22, Sam Brett is one of Australia’s most widely read writers. But it’s not her insights into politics, the economy or even sport that have her readers hooked.

The pithy columns on Brett’s blog are far more personal, delving instead into the intricacies of sex and relationships in the cyber-age.

One day’s talking point will be why men cheat; another’s whether office relationships always end badly or whether blondes really do have more fun.

In the five months her columns have appeared on the website of the Sydney Morning Herald, Brett’s blog has attracted more comments than any other hosted by the respected 150-year-old broadsheet.

Brett, whose Sam and the City collects tens of thousands of hits a day, with each topic typically attracting hundreds of comments, puts her appeal down to the universal nature of the discussions.

“Whether you’re 18 or 80, everyone wants to talk about the exact same topics,” she said. “You know, the biggest mystery in life is men and women and relationships and dating.”

Brett’s blog has tapped into Australia’s love of the internet and what it can do to boost a flagging sex life.

Ample places already exist on the web for lonely hearts to meet like-minded souls, with some sites boasting hundreds of thousands of subscribers. But Brett’s is one of the most high-profile to offer relationship guidance.

“I think the reason why the blog works is that I don’t tell anyone how to date,” she said recently. “I don’t preach and I don’t give advice. It’s more like I open up the discussions for debates. And I choose topics that are going to bring out a little bit of conflict between either the sexes or the ages.”

And it’s fun. As one recent post from a 40-something reader explains: “This is the best entertainment I’ve ever come across when your [sic] on an incredibly tedious conference call with a horrific 3 sets of lawyers all pontificating.”

Brett, who is also the author of a book on text messaging and dating entitled Luv n Txt: The Secrets of Text Appeal, said her first attempt to run a dating column at the Sydney Morning Herald was knocked back. “They said online no, dating no.”

But the owner of the broadsheet, John Fairfax Holdings, which also publishes Melbourne’s The Age, has more recently signalled its faith in the cyber-romance boom by last year splashing out Aus$38,9-million ($28,9-million) to buy online dating business

“It’s been a while since we referred to ourselves as a newspaper company; we’re a media company,” group executive Alan Revell said at the time.

The approach gels with a recent study of more than 1 000 Australians that found that 13% had formed social relationships over the web. Of these, 21% had formed romantic links using the internet.

“It seems that online romance, or cyberdating, has emerged as a distinct type of contemporary relationship,” wrote the study’s authors, psychologists Elizabeth Hardie and Simone Buzwell. “Those who experienced online romance spanned all age, gender, political and religious groups. Most met their cyberpartner face-to-face on many occasions and relationships tended to be lasting.”

The survey also uncovered a trend for people already in relationships to experience online romance, “indicating that many cyberdaters may be cybercheaters”, they said.

“Only relatively rarely did the romantic online relationship remain purely in cyberspace,” the authors said, concluding that it appeared the internet may be replacing traditional routes to friendship and romance.

According to Brett, as people become more comfortable using the internet to further their romantic aspirations, the number of dating options has “absolutely exploded”.

“You’ve got internet dating, then you’ve got speed dating. Not only have you got speed dating, where you sit at a table and you date lots of people, you’ve got salsa speed dating, cocktail-making speed dating, you’ve got wine-tasting speed dating. And then you’ve got all these internet websites,” she said.

Brett, who looks like she could have stepped out of the Sex and the City television series with her faux fur jacket, mini-skirt, knee-high boots and immaculate make-up, may be a little young to be handing out relationship advice. But her blog is certainly filling a need to help readers avoid the dating crises she sees happening around her.

“Everyone is talking about their relationships all the time,” she says. “I’m always leaning over, got my tape recorder out, you have to.” — AFP

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