The sex issue 

Including: Missoula-made Sexplanations educates the masses, sex on campus, eco-friendly sex toys, and more

House call

Sex, sci-fi and cisgender: Dr. Doe’s new web series reaches the masses

Clinical sexologist Lindsey Doe sits in the doorway of a tent—sans rainfly—breaking down the signs of sexual arousal with the aid of a line graph and emphatic hand gestures. She describes how during excitement, or the first phase of sex, the walls of the vagina thicken and lubricate and the cervix lifts. “This all works like an accordion. It makes more room for things,” Doe explains. Just as her audience may be questioning the purpose behind her camp-style setting, Doe’s voice rises. “And we call it tenting!”

That video, posted to YouTube Aug. 7, now has 66,851 hits.

For years, Doe has been Missoula’s de facto guide on the path to better sexual health and awareness. She founded Birds & Bees, LLC, as a sexual health collaborative in 2009 to give her community a safe place to discuss all things sex, and teaches the University of Montana’s wildly popular human sexuality course as an adjunct professor. Now she’s broadening her sphere of influence through a new YouTube channel called Sexplanations, the latest of Missoula web guru Hank Green’s many online endeavors.

“I’m not YouTube record-breaking at this point,” Doe says. “But the realization that some videos reach more people than there are in my entire city is really cool.”

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  • Cathrine L. Walters

Doe has already tackled a wide variety topics in her first three months of filming Sexplanations, from dental dams and dry humping to the history of sexology itself. She’s done so with a mix of clinical frankness and candor, combining education and entertainment to make a complicated, frequently discomforting subject informal and approachable. At the end of her Aug. 7 video on sexual arousal, Doe somersaults into the tent for the hell of it. In another segment, she caves to her inner sci-fi nerd and reenacts a scene from the film The Fifth Element in describing the human orgasm. She wears an orange wig, Leeloo style. A plush octopus acts as a stand-in for Bruce Willis. The video has been viewed 80,231 times.

“To have the responsibility be so far out of my control and to really feel like that four minutes is a big deal is a lot of pressure—sometimes,” Doe says. “And then sometimes I just say, ‘Heck with it, I’m going to have fun.’”

Green had singled out Doe as a promising personality for a sex education series years ago after appearing on a panel in her human sexuality class at UM. The stars never really aligned until six months ago, when Doe rekindled the conversation and Green paired her up with local videographer Nicholas Jenkins. Doe and Jenkins fleshed out the foundation for Sexplanations based on the areas each felt comfortable covering. They shot an unscripted introduction, the second-most viewed episode of the series so far, and met Green on a hillside above Missoula in mid-June for a pre-launch get-together. Green, who later posted video of the gathering to his own YouTube channel, asked Doe how she felt on the eve of Sexplanations.

“I’m excited, nervous,” Doe replied. “I don’t want people to attack me.”

While Doe’s goofy, charismatic persona—and, tangentially, her confession of “Firefly” fandom—has sparked an endless stream of positive feedback, that initial fear has at times materialized. The comment boards below numerous videos contain the occasional heated or even derogatory remarks; other comments have been removed entirely. Doe’s use of the terms “biosex male” and “biosex female” rankled several viewers. (Doe prefers these terms when discussing health care, as opposed to gender identities. It doesn’t mean the person identifies as masculine, feminine or trans, but a biosex female, for instance, does need regular pelvic exams.). People were also “all sorts of feisty,” she says, over her inclusion of “allies” in the acronym LGBTIQQAA2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, ally, asexual and two-spirit). Doe responded by filming a two-part interview with Eden Atwood, well-known Missoula singer and intersex activist, to discuss the importance of allies to the queer community.

“There’s one that stings where somebody felt like our channel compromised the integrity of (Green’s) Vlogbrothers (brand), that we lowered the standard of performance,” Doe says. “I don’t give it power. Hank is the one that determines whether or not this compromises his integrity.”

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  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Lindsey Doe films an episode of Sexplanations

Sexplanations has been working up to a segment on circumcision, Doe says, but even brief mentions of the topic in past episodes have wound up dominating the feedback. “If you bring up circumcision, that becomes the focus,” Doe says. “That is one of the goals, but I think we’re holding off on it right now because it monopolizes things for a while. We want people to hear what we’re saying when we get there.”

Doe and Jenkins have remained painstakingly cognizant of every syllable that makes the final cut in any given episode of Sexplanations. To get four minutes of footage, the duo will sometimes film for two hours. Every pronoun and verb is subject to intense scrutiny, a consideration that Doe admits can sidetrack her far more than the simple verbal flubs that dominate her first gag reel.

“This is why Nick is so helpful,” she says of Jenkins. “He thinks very similarly to me when it comes to being sex positive, but he’s also able to think like the audience and say, ‘Move on. Don’t get stuck there because you’re scared that they’re going to be upset that you said boys and girls. You’re communicating a message, and it is their issue if they get trapped in a component of that message and can’t hear the intent.’”

Ten years ago, when Doe first came to Missoula, “people didn’t have terms like asexual and cisgender.” (Cisgender refers to an individual whose self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.) Doe would tell locals what she did professionally and receive curious or offensive reactions.

“They would hear clinical psychologist, or they would sexually harass me, or they didn’t know what I was talking about,” she says. “Now, they know what a clinical sexologist does and they treat me with respect.”

The staggering number of questions coming in from viewers—which Doe tackles rapid-fire in separate segments called “Ask Lindsey”—has led Doe to the conclusion that she, Jenkins and Green are navigating largely uncharted waters. Not every community shares information about sexuality in the same way, Doe says. Many communities might not be as open or as educated as Missoula, which just three years ago passed its non-discrimination ordinance after hours of impassioned testimony. As stories from outside Missoula show up in Doe’s inbox and she hears “the voices of desperate teenagers and parents and students of all ages acknowledging how deprived they’ve been,” the gravity of the global role Sexplanations has taken on becomes more real.

“I’ll write a script, and so often I want to keep Missoula out of it because I don’t want to be this geographical spot when I’m communicating,” Doe says. “But if I’m storytelling and I’m in the moment, and not so concerned with the tightness of the script but the message I want to get across, bringing Missoula into that story is the fastest way to access some of that passion. Part of the story Missoula has to tell is how our view of sexuality has changed over time.” (Alex Sakariassen)

Play time

Sex toys take a turn toward safety and the environment

In April, a sex toy company called Lelo announced a new eco-friendly vibrator called the GÄSM. Features included a rechargeable battery with a manual hand-crank and a casing made from 100 percent recycled material colored in a “lush shade of forest green.” As it turns out, it was a fake GÄSM. Lelo was making an April Fool’s joke. Yet, six months later the company still receives requests for the nonexistent product and has had to post a disclaimer on its website for would-be buyers.

A few silly details about the GÄSM should have given the joke away. For one, you had to assemble the product yourself to save on production costs. And the recycled material was wood particle. But other features—like the rechargeable battery and hand-crank—are similar to those being incorporated into an emerging market of natural sex toys. In recent years, sex toy safety advocates have popped up to demand better designs, and young, hip consumers in cities like Portland and Minneapolis have opened up the conversation on sex toy usage, making it a less verboten subject. The sex toy industry has reacted with new products like Earth Angel vibrators, which don’t require batteries and essentially work like wind-up toys, and the Solar Bullet, a vibrator powered by the sun.

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  • Cathrine L. Walters

In eco-aware Missoula, sex shops are starting to carry a few lines of sustainable and non-toxic toys. At Fantasy For Adults Only on Main Street, a case of high-end rechargeable battery designs includes vibrators from a green company called Leaf, which is endorsed by outspoken vegan and Clueless star Alicia Silverstone. The Leaf line has a distinct look to it, featuring bright green rubber and curvy, ergonomic shapes that make them look more like trendy kitchenware than anything overtly sexual. One of the Leaf vibrators is called “Touch” and resembles a plant leaf designed to “hug nipples or outer vagina.” Another “G-spot” stimulator called “Bloom” resembles a flower.

At Adult Avenue, also on Main, you’ll find glass dildos and all-natural lubes among the usual array of plastic and dyed rubber items. Glass dildos are considered green because you rarely have to replace them like you do with more traditional toys. They’re considered healthy because they’re easy to clean—in the dishwasher, no less—and glass prevents bacteria.

Adult Avenue owner Shane Madsen says he’s seen the sex toy industry change over the past decade. When he and his wife, Jessica, started their shop in 2002 in the Montana Center before moving downtown, they were hearing of some wild and disturbing sex toy disasters.

“When I first opened, a lot of the materials for softer products like the rubbers and jelly coatings they would use on toys sometimes had toxic chemicals in them,” he says. “You had to be careful back in the day because the materials were less stable. You couldn’t have certain material touching other ones. You’ve got a toy box and you’ve got two different kinds next to each other in the box and the chemicals would interact and melt down.”

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  • Cathrine L. Walters

Nowadays, even sex toys that aren’t marketed as eco- or body-friendly are made with safer materials like thermoplastic elastomer and silicone.

“The industry has really cleaned itself up in that aspect,” Madsen says, “and it’s a good thing too. There were really toxic ingredients like cadmium in the old vibrators. They made these things mass-produced in China, and they still do, but at least they have industry standards now. Of course you still want to be a label reader. You’ve got to be educated about what you’re buying, but you don’t have to worry as much.”

Progressive sex toys are part of a larger attitude change within sex stores. Seedy porn shops still exist, but progressive sex and “intimacy” shops are on the rise. Brightly lit sex boutiques have opened up in trendy metropolitan neighborhoods across the country. These are often billed as woman-owned and/or woman- and couple-friendly, and they offer a more curated, stylized environment with enlightened attitudes about toys. Smitten Kitten in Minneapolis, for instance, offers “earth-friendly strap-ons” as well as ethical porn. The company description on its website says it all: “The knowledgeable and supremely uncreepy staff makes browsing a fun, exploratory experience—no trench coat required.”

Similarly, there’s the woman-friendly shop Babeland, in Seattle, which opened in 1993 and was one of the first shops looking to sell progressive sex toys. And Feelmore in Oakland takes the sex shop boutique idea a notch further by offering vintage sex magazines, erotic art and other sex antiquities.

Missoula’s newest sex shop, Adam & Eve, isn’t a boutique, but it does offer a different type of shopping experience. It’s housed in a large, brightly lit building on West Broadway and has the atmosphere of a department store. Employee Amy Martzolf says the store is trying to shift away from the stereotype of a sketchy sex shop. It offers a few brands of eco-friendly sex toys, including colorful glass dildos from Don Wand and Blow. The store also stocks rechargeable vibrators made by the April Fool’s jokesters at Lelo.

“We try to cater more to women and couples and make it more of an intimacy shop rather than a porn shop,” she says. “We do research for people and order things based on their needs. And people come in and talk about their personal problems and life and we try to listen.”

Missoula is forward-thinking in many ways, but is there a market for progressive sex toys? And if so, will Missoula follow in the footsteps of Portland sex boutiques?

“I think there’s a lot of people in Missoula who would be okay with that,” Martzolf says. “But sometimes I have to go open the back door for people who won’t get out of their cars until I do so. I think we would lose a lot of customers if we were more open about it, but I personally think that would be cool. It would be healthier.” (Erika Fredrickson)

Image isn’t everything

A letter to all the boys I’ve ever dated

Girls are taught, from very young ages, how to attract male attention. It gets particularly ferocious in our teen years, when social worth begins to be measured by who is coupled and who isn’t, who’s had experience and who hasn’t. As a lonely teenager, full of unrequited desire for various clueless dudes, I pored over magazines like Seventeen and Cosmo, sure that they held the secret to how I could be prettier, sexier. Thereby, I would get a boyfriend and join the cool club.

Women’s magazines, television ads and culture at large hold dozens of messages about how to lure boys. Be friendly, laugh at all his jokes. Be thin and have perky breasts and a round butt. Be soft-spoken, not argumentative. Wear nice underwear at all times. You’ll intimidate him if you’re too tall. Don’t wear short skirts if you have knobbly knees. Hide your cellulite. And so on and so forth. Don’t even get me started on Cosmo’s bizarre and convoluted sex tips.

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So I want to thank all you boys I’ve dated, because you have taught me that those messages are crap. I want to thank you boys, in all your wonderful sizes and shapes–tall and lanky, short and stocky, clean shaven or scruffy, and everything in between–for taking a chance on the make and model that I come in.

I used to try really hard to fit myself into the mold I thought would get boys to like me, stressing about my weight and maintaining burdensome long hair and wearing itchy contacts. But in the freewheeling atmosphere of college, eventually I said to hell with it, wore what was comfortable and started going out on the town with my buddies, being as loud and gross as I felt like. (Along the way, I also shed any idea that my worth is tied up in being in a committed relationship.) Curiously, I started getting the much sought-after attention from boys I’d always wanted. It was perplexing. You boys, in the process of falling into bed, did not stop to critique what I was wearing or how I looked. You boys praised the parts you liked, and my, did you like them.

Cultural messages break our bodies down and separate us into concepts like puzzle pieces, the easier to make us buy products or services to try to counteract them. You know: thunder thighs. Cankles. Arm flab. Saggy boobs. Big noses. Enlarged pores. But the best sex with the best people has taught me that I am a whole person, and my attractive bits are inseparable from the ones I consider unattractive. And sex is so much more than how you look: It’s about how another person feels, about how well they communicate, about how giving and generous and sweet they are.

I can’t really say what boys see in me, nor can I explain quite what it is about certain guys who drive me to distraction. But I had a small revelation recently, while reading Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, by Betsy Prioleau. She writes about the lives of famous ladies’ men known throughout history, like Casanova and Lord Byron. Many of these men weren’t devastating sex machines to look at; Prioleau describes some who were destitute, plagued by health problems and missing teeth. She deduces that what seductive men have in common, though, is a general respect and like for women, a lust for life and endless enthusiasm. I would argue that these traits are pretty hot in anyone, regardless of time, place, gender or orientation.

I’ve dealt with my share of weird, messy, screwed-up relationships, and nothing will ever completely erase my insecurities. But I count myself lucky that most of the men I’ve known have been safe, kind and consensual in bed. I’ve certainly met dudes who are not as awesome, dudes who buy in to the cultural narratives about gender roles and how our bodies should look, and to those dudes, I say: your loss.

So thanks, boys. You continue to delight, infuriate and mystify me. Human attraction is too strange and glorious a thing for any single person to ever really understand, but I’m happy to study it for the rest of my life. (Kate Whittle)

Sex ed

How has hookup culture changed on campus in the wake of the DOJ investigation? The answer depends on whom you ask.

On a recent evening, roughly three dozen University of Montana students gather on couches and chairs near an assortment of lubes and condoms displayed on a table inside a room on the top floor of Jessie Hall. The students are asked to select from several foods listed on a screen in the front of the room—whipped cream, chocolate sauce, sushi—and say where each could be placed on a lover’s body.

“Sushi goes nowhere,” says a young man in the back of the room, “because it’s gross.”

Curry Health Center’s Wellness Program is hosting the event, called “I Wanna Sex You Up,” which is billed as “a sex-positive program … guaranteed to light your fire.” It’s just one of an evolving array of educational programs launched by UM during the past several years aimed at helping students cultivate a healthy sex life.

Tonight, students working with the Wellness Program cover a wide range of subjects, including the benefits of kegel exercises, which they explain can strengthen pelvic muscles for both men and women and intensify orgasms. Also discussed are the dangers of sexting and the importance of using communication as a means to achieve emotional safety. It’s the topic of erogenous zones that prompts the food question and elicits the most giggles from the crowd.

When it comes to erogenous zones and snacks, nearly anything goes, advises Curry Wellness Program staffer Carrie O’Herron. But there’s a significant caveat: never apply edibles to the genital area. Sugars in food help grow yeast, meaning a whipped cream or chocolate sauce application can trigger an itchy and perhaps painful candidiasis infection. And, yes, O’Herron warns, men can get the bug, too. “You do not want to be attacked by the yeast beast,” she says. “Yeast love warm, dark, moist areas.”

Presentations such as this—and the topic of sex in general—come at an interesting time for UM students, many of whom are away from home for the first time and looking to experiment with things like sex and alcohol. Just how those desires play out in light of the Department of Justice’s recent investigation of UM’s handling of sexual assault allegations, along with a string of new federal mandates governing how the university deals with victimization, depends on whom you ask.

At the “Sex You Up” event, Ashley Lindvig, a 20-year-old senior, holds a pillow in her lap while watching the presentation from a couch in the front row. She says the controversy has made her more cautious. She always tells a friend where she’s going, for example, prior to heading out. “A lot of people are more careful, for sure,” Lindvig says.

Lindvig’s wariness is not universal. Other students say they were already cautious or that the assault scandal was blown out of proportion. Freshman Lilly Brogger decided to attend UM just as the DOJ announced its investigation and wasn’t spooked by the news. “I was never worried,” she says. Brogger and others interviewed all stressed that they take certain precautions when going out and mostly socialize with a small, trusted circle of friends.

In fact, local and national data indicates that, despite media portrayals of a wild collegiate hookup culture, many young people are relatively conservative when it comes to sex. For example, data collected by UM shows that students in Missoula are most likely to engage in serial monogamy, says UM Director of Health Enhancement Linda Green.

“The average number of sexual partners in the past year is 1.5,” she says. “I would say they’re a lot less promiscuous than a period of time in the ’60s.”

UM Women and Gender Studies co-chair Elizabeth Hubble notes that national statistics show a similar trend. She points to research compiled by Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade, who’s identified what’s increasingly being called the “myth of hookup culture.” Wade has found that the average number of hookups for a college student during their academic career is seven, with only 40 percent of those encounters involving intercourse.

“To me, that’s not hookup culture,” Hubble says.

Based on that data, students at the “Sex You Up” event are likely already well aware of the importance of the last bit of advice bestowed by Wellness Center student employee Bristol Horton.

“Communication really is the key,” she says. “You really want to talk about (sex) ahead of time.”

After imparting those last words, Horton and the other Wellness Program staffers send the students home with small bags full of strawberry-flavored condoms, candy and a pamphlet detailing techniques for better sex. (Jessica Mayrer)

The reveal

Dating can be difficult, especially when it’s time to tell someone you’re trans

In 2008, when I came out as a transgender person, I made several big changes in order to achieve my transition. I moved back to Missoula to go back to school and get a job so that I could pay for my transformation. I started practicing outing myself to my friends and family in my head, repeating, “I’m changing my name, taking testosterone, and living as a man.” I had chest surgery to remove my breasts, and I grew a sweet beard. People started calling me “sir” and I was ecstatic. These steps were part of my five-year plan to cover all possible contingencies during the change. I thought I had everything covered. I began to feel like the person I was supposed to be.

There was only one problem: I forgot about dating.

Who the hell forgets about dating? And that’s my point. I didn’t forget about it as much as I avoided it like the steaming hot pile of poo that it sometimes can be. I mean, here’s this skinny brown-skinned guy with reasonably good looks, a career, a house, a dog, and who literally runs away when other reasonably attractive people ask him out or say “Hi.” Rather than deal with dating I stayed at home much of the time. I deleted and revised my online dating profile, repeatedly. I masturbated, a lot. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the actual date itself. I was afraid of the reveal.

I’m pretty open to people knowing that I’m a trans guy. I’m not afraid of people knowing that I was born female. Obviously, if somebody has a problem with it, I’m pretty sure that’s their issue. I’ve been on so many panels and attended so many workshops and conferences to talk with complete strangers about how I’m a guy with a vagina that I could probably write a thesis paper at this point titled, “Awkward Conversations About My Trans Status.” Woo-hoo! Break out the marching band! Now leave me alone. All I’m trying to do is watch football while I bake muffins.

The problem I have with dating is probably the same problem that many single people deal with—feeling comfortable when the relationship reaches the moment when two people spend more time together, usually naked. This doesn’t even cover the issues associated with a random hookup. With those, an almost endless stream of scenarios plays out in my head like terrible reality television—like, “Tommy Lee Goes To College” terrible. And don’t even get me started on the challenges associated with the incestuous microcosm that far too many of us have dipped into, better known as the “Missoula dating pool.”

A couple of my really good friends, folks who have known me for years, always joke with me, saying, “Dude! How is it that you’re so confident in other aspects of your life except for this part?” Then I say things like, “Well, I’m waiting for the right person.” But in all honesty, I’m waiting for someone to make it easy for me. I’m foolishly waiting for some imaginary character to come up to me and say, “Hey, you’re trans? I don’t care. I want to date/make out with you because I find you interesting and I want to get to know you better … biblically.” I know, I know—it isn’t that easy for anyone. Except this one time, it was actually that easy.

My roommates and I were at a bar downtown and hanging out with some roller derby girls after their practice. It was a tough time for my roommates and I, as we were dealing with the death of a friend. The only thing that felt good was getting drunk. I automatically volunteered to be the designated driver. (Special note: When I volunteer to be DD it’s actually a carefully crafted strategy that allows for an easy out if I ever find myself in a potential hookup scenario. I have seen all manners of bar hookups, but I’m usually not involved with any of them. I prefer to go home at a reasonable time, cook an elaborate meal and eat my feelings. But like I said, this night was different.)

I was sitting at a table with two women I had just met and some guy who had made it painfully obvious he was trying to hook up with at least one of the two women we were sitting with. This gave me the distinct impression that I was interfering with his chances of getting laid. I carefully kept my conversation as neutral as possible so as to not give any signs of competition. He seemed increasingly intent on grabbing the attention of the shorter of the two women, yet she pointedly ignored him. In fact, she made extra effort to engage me in conversation. My roommates had just ordered another round and were not ready to leave, so I suppressed the urge to blurt out, “I have to work in the morning,” and duck out the back door.

As quickly as my fear had come, it left—and so did the other dude with the other woman. I was suddenly aware that I had been comfortably talking with someone I had just met at the bar, and she liked me. I felt like I was somebody else, like somebody with some sort of magical hookup confidence. That’s when the feeling of dread hit me. I would have to tell her that I was trans.

I began to feel like my same old insecure self. Then she asked me for a ride home. I agreed and told my friends that I would be back. I remember one of my roomies pulled me aside and slurred, “Dude, now’s your chance. Don’t worry about us. We can make it home okay.”

I gave my new bar friend a ride home. The make-out session that occurred once we arrived at her studio apartment was amazing, to say the least. She was amazing. She was smart and funny and I started feeling queasy. I actually felt ashamed of one of the best make-outs I’ve ever had because I knew I needed to tell her that I was trans so she wouldn’t feel like I was trying to trick her or that I was a liar or whatever it is people think about trans people. I decided to get the potential rejection over with right then. I stopped kissing her and she asked me what was wrong. I managed to stammer out, “I’m trans. I’m a trans guy.” I closed my eyes and waited for her to call me a freak, punch me in the face, tell me to get the fuck out, anything. But nothing happened.

She said, “I know. I want you to come in anyway.”

“What?”

Sheepishly, she said to me, “I may have stalked you on Facebook. It wasn’t hard to figure out.”

At that point I seriously felt like I was in my own private version of Say Anything, except I was the lovable underachiever and the short woman I met at the bar was Ione Skye. She went to kiss me again and still I hesitated.

“Thank you,” I said. “I really needed to hear that and I would really, really like to come in, but I left my friends at the bar and I want to make sure they make it home okay.”

I could just imagine my roommates face-palming themselves in disgust. In reality, though, I went back to the bar and picked up my drunk and grieving friends and took them home. I felt better for it, more than my “almost” hookup could ever know. She moved to Michigan two weeks later.

Acton Seibel is co-editor of Out Words, the newspaper that serves as “the voice of Montana’s LGBTIQ community.” (Acton Seibel)

Logging on to hook up

There’s no reason to be embarrassed about online dating

When I first came to Montana in 2009, I imagined an abundance of men. I thought I overheard someone call this place “Mantana” but now I’m thinking that must have been the wind or nothing. The town didn’t live up to my expectations. The men in my program at the University of Montana were too young, or they had girlfriends, or they didn’t want to date me. It was depressing. And how to meet men outside of school?

I thought turning to internet dating would mean that I had failed somehow, and anyway, didn’t most dating sites cost money and cater to older adults? Then I ran into a friend of mine on a date downtown with a hot guy that she met on OKCupid, or “OKC,” as those in the know call it. It’s a hip, free service populated by young people, and I decided that either there was nothing to be ashamed of or I had run out of shame. It was time to open an account.

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The questions in the online profile are silly and many of the men answer badly. What are your favorite books, films, TV shows, etc.? (“Too soon,” I answered.) What are six things you can’t live without? Saying you can’t live without “air, food and water” isn’t clever. Beware a man who loves Fight Club and no other movie. Avoid anyone looking for a “partner in crime.” Spelling and grammar count.

Missoula can be a tough town for dating. It’s too close-knit; we all know or almost know one another. All the men are bearded and holding up a dead elk. If OKC is any indication, there isn’t a soul in the state of Montana who doesn’t enjoy hiking.

Even the founder of OKC says the service works best in bigger cities. In Seattle, for example, where I’m writing from now, you jump into the nebulous pond and if it’s terrible, you jump out again, dry off and no one has to know you were even there. In Missoula, the slime of a date gone wrong clings. You’ll probably run into him again, often.

The internet is exactly the same as life, or it’s a copy of life. You can use it to get laid or find love the same way you use a bar stool. It might even be better this way, because it’s more efficient. The tipping point for online dating is about breached. It’s lame but we’re aware of it, so there’s no reason to be embarrassed.

In three years, I’ve told three people I met on the internet that I loved them. I don’t know if that’s normal or not; I tend to be generous with the word and move at a steady clip. Even the few creeps I’ve met along the way have added something to my life.

I think that more than anything, people are afraid of that first moment of contact, when you’re standing in front of the person who was only yesterday a profile picture and some answers, and they’re judging you. But courage is a virtue. Just keep jumping in.

When I first made my profile, I was teaching at the university and weary of one of my students—or let’s face it, anyone I knew—recognizing my face. I chose what I hoped were flattering photos that betrayed that I was a woman but not much else. Of course one of my students unwittingly wrote me anyway. I wrote back, “Billy, no!” (Not his real name.) “It’s me, your teacher from Comp 1 autumn semester!” I saw him later on that year. We sang a karaoke duet at the Badlander. Now I know there’s nothing left to be afraid of. (Molly Laich)

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