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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Craigslist a Good Place to Find a Sexual Partner?

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I've been on the Craigslist personal ads a few times to look for someone with which to have a sexual encounter. I've never built up the courage to meet with anyone from the site, though. I was wondering if it is a safe place to find someone for a sexual partner? Any help/advice would be appreciated!

Craigslist has been a popular site for personal ads because it's free and you don't have to create a profile or sign in to browse listings. However, its reputation took a hit after the high-profile case of the 2009 "Craigslist killer," Philip Markoff, who murdered a masseuse he met through Craigslist and later committed suicide in his jail cell. Since that time, Craigslist has removed its "Adult Services" listings, but "Casual Encounters" listings still remain. More recently, a woman was sexually assaulted by a date that she met through Match.com, a subscription dating site that charges a fee to users, demonstrating that any online dating sites, paid or free, carry some degree of risk.

Free sites that don't require a profile are easy to use and nice for those who would like to remain anonymous, but it's important to remember that those qualities can be attractive to criminals as well as sexual adventurers.

There are a plethora of paid and free websites out there with the mission of connecting people who would like to hook up. The safety rules for all of them are similar:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. People lie online all the time. Read ads with a skeptical eye.
  • Create a separate email address to respond to postings, one that does not contain any identifying information (such as your first or last name, place of employment, birth date, etc.). Use this address only for this purpose.
  • Establish your interests and boundaries via online communication (email, chat or communication through the site) before making arrangements to meet in person. While you can't always rely on others to be honest, it's in your best interest to be as upfront as possible about your desires, wants, needs, etc. No one likes a "bait-and-switch."
  • Trust your instincts. If you believe that someone is lying or being manipulative, you are probably correct. It's better to be safe than sorry, as many a mother used to say. Stop communication and move on if someone gives you a bad feeling. You don't owe anyone anything.
  • If you decide to meet up with someone, make arrangements to first get together in a public place, one that is well lit and likely to have people around. Plan to spend some time chatting with the person in this public venue, re-establishing your interests and boundaries. Create a clear, mutual agreement about what you would like to do together. Again, if you get a creepy feeling or someone seems completely different from how they were represented online, leave—you do not owe them anything.
  • Make sure at least one person knows where you are going and when you plan to be back. You might even want to arrange to have a friend call you mid-date to make sure things are going OK and give you an "out" if you feel the need to leave. You don't have to tell your friend all the details of what your hookup might entail if you want to keep that private, but date, location and time are essential. Make sure you have your cell phone with you.
  • Avoid alcohol and any other drugs when meeting up. Alcohol clouds your judgment and makes you an easier target for someone who is looking to rob you or assault you. Although it's tempting to have a few drinks to "relax" or calm anxiety, it's safer to avoid this. Some people will use alcohol or other drugs to deliberately incapacitate someone in order to take advantage of them.
  • If your meeting goes well and you want to proceed to someplace private, make it a hotel or a secluded area in a public space, NOT your home or the other person's home.
  • Always practice safer sex. Use condoms (female or male), dental dams, and latex or nitrile gloves for any and all genital contact. Sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex and any other type of activity that exposes you or your partner to blood, semen, vaginal fluid or the skin of the genitals and anus.
  • If you're looking for kinky play, be cautious. Don't allow a partner that you just met to fully restrain your limbs or take away your ability to call for help if necessary. Bondage play is best practiced with someone that you know and trust or in a public setting, such as a club or play party, where others can intervene if things get out of hand.

There's some degree of risk involved in all sexual encounters, so even if you follow the suggestions above, you may still have a bad experience. Many sites have liability waivers that you must agree to when entering. Keeping all this in mind, there are a lot of people online who are not creeps and who are genuinely interested in finding partners for sex. Good luck!

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.

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