A few weeks ago I received a request for FeministsSA.com to retweet a call to post free adult classifieds on a site cleverly called Cumtree.co.za. At FeministsSA we publish content that is in the interest of the advancement of women’s rights, including rights to sexual pleasure, and so I went to have a look at Cumtree.
Landing on the first page, I was immediately bombarded by banners of (all-white) people having (all-heterosexual) sex in various positions and with various numbers of partners. The first banner I saw was of a woman giving a man oral sex with the caption “Wife not giving you the love you deserve[?]” and “Cumtree dating” on it. The site also has a link to another called “Rate My Girlfriend”.
South African masculinity emphasises male virility and sexual prowess at the expense of narratives on women’s pleasure. Most social narratives suggest that men’s sexual pleasure is paramount in any heterosexual sexual interaction and they deserve sexual pleasure. Women’s magazines and popular culture promote the idea that it is all about getting him off. Few similar messages exist for women about their sexual pleasure, so I was disappointed, to put it politely, that the site would endorse such boring sexist messages.
I let it know, with Twitter, that FeministsSA would not endorse a site with those messages, asking: “Why all the affair adverts?” It replied to say that it was “just offering an option to our followers”. What it ignored was that using the word “deserve” reinforces problematic messages about sexuality and says much more than just “have a fun affair”.
I scrolled down. The images were predominantly of women and nearly everyone was white and athletic-looking. The site advertised an organisation called SA Swingers, whose banner featured a man connected to a woman connected to a man connected to a woman. Nobody was wearing a condom or dental dam. I scrolled back up to see whether anyone else was wearing any protection in their adverts. Nobody was.
Risky sexual behaviour
I tweeted that a lack of condoms in the images endorsed incredibly risky sexual behaviour. Having sex with multiple concurrent partners without protection is a major driver of HIV infection. I understand that, as adults consenting to sex, we make choices about whether we will practise it safely, but as far as I am concerned unsafe sex with multiple partners is not safe or sexy.
Cumtree’s response showed it disagreed. “Oooo, I better photoshop a condom on all the images of penises, just to be safe.” Later, it said: “Who are you to tell people what they can and can’t do! If they want to go bareback that’s there [sic] issue.” Later still, it said that it had added an image advocating safe sex to the site. It was of a (naked) woman holding up a sign saying: “I practise safe sex, do you?”
The name Cumtree obviously plays on that of the popular classified advertisements site. I imagine it will get a few visits from people not really expecting to be there. In the internet business, that is not surprising. But not all its visitors will be over 18.
South African law does not require you to have a safe landing page where you have to verify your age, so Cumtree is not breaking the law. I had a look at its terms and conditions and legal section to see whether it offered any acknowledgement of grooming and exposure of children to pornography (both illegal in terms of the Sexual Offences Act). Its legal material and terms do specify that the site is for over-18s only and asks you not to expose minors to “this big-tits material”. Yet users are those who “desire to receive or view sexually explicit porn material” including material about “teens”.
Cumtree does not seem to be too worried about children seeing the site, yet pretends that all its visitors will be adults. It is a bit scary that we live in a country in which a painting of a penis can get a rating that restricts the youth from seeing it, but sites such as Cumtree can advocate sexism, multiple concurrent partners and explicit pornographic material – and get away with it.
Afraid to talk about the realities of the sex it advertises, Cumtree discounted my questions, accusing feminists of being no good except for burning bras and complaining. In its legal section, the site makes “no warranty that … any part of this service will be virus free”. So now you know.
Jen Thorpe is a feminist writerand the editor of FeministsSA.com