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How COVID-19 Ushered in a Queer Cybersex Renaissance

From "Moan Rooms" on Clubhouse to NSFW gay Twitter, there are platforms aplenty.

By Steven Underwood

Twitter becomes an entirely different place at 2am. It’s like a city park in the dead of night, when the gay cruisers come out in sweatpants and chinos: full of wanton curiosity and ready for fun. People become new versions of themselves, with funk and flavor and daring they did not have not even 30 minutes ago. It all occurs within a timeframe as quick as libido. In that brief window, you might see a Moan Room.

A “Moan Room” isn’t anything other than what the name implies. Listening in is an unfiltered pornographic experience that simulates the sort of frenzied, anonymous hookup the COVID-19 pandemic has made complicated. It’s performative but also undeniably titillating. You’re expected to intuit that here, headphones aren’t a suggestion; they’re a requirement.

And it all started on a little app called Clubhouse.

Top of the Moanin’ to You: The Origins of Moan Rooms

Clubhouse gained traction in mid- to late-2020 as an audio-first social media platform with voice and exclusivity as its important elements. In its beta stage, it was invitation-only, but invites were eventually rolled out on a wider basis until almost everyone had access. Come July 2021, it opened its doors to the public. People could enter “Rooms” as listeners and request an invitation to the “Stage” to speak by a host or moderator. Typically, these moderators had a green badge that came with the power to remove people from the Stage.

In those early days, some Rooms lasted for almost 24 hours. Others would shut down and spring up numerous “breakout” Rooms. It was predictably horny: Flirtation or innuendo could fly off the cuff at any moment. We were speaking live, after all. And even better, like any app in the beta stage, there was no verification process. In theory, no one could leverage power.

As with many emerging online trends, the earliest adopters were often Black and/or bored. Mikeisha Vaughn of Pussy Rap and All of That, one of Clubhouse’s earliest live radio shows, notes the necessity of Black creators, especially Black femmes, in cultivating the app’s cultural relevance in real time. “When Black people got a hold of Clubhouse, and that October to November time period, [we] were very significant in the culture that was created on [that app],” she tells Logo. “Whether it was ‘meaningful’ conversation or bringing a musical artist on to talk… Black people are really important to the culture of the internet and social media [in general].”

Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

BRAZIL - 2021/04/14: In this photo illustration, the Clubhouse logo seen displayed on a smartphone screen with the Twitter logo in the background. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Following this parade of Black content creators, high-caliber celebrities were suddenly sharing space with local gossipers with zero PR coaching or supervision. You could just as easily find queer singer Kehlani discussing astrology as you could any number of coaching Rooms filled with questionable “spiritualists.” This level playing field made celebrities feel more comfortable to divulge personal information, or generally flirt back. Tidbits would be revealed on Clubhouse and later spread to Twitter for boosts.

It went on for months. And eventually, in December 2020, a tweet rang out: Lakeith Stanfield, an acclaimed actor and avid user of Clubhouse, was participating in a Moan Room.

“The moderators were giving you time limits to give your best moans, and others implemented cash prizes,” Vaughn explains. “For some people who felt [Clubhouse] was for industry people and building connections, [they] turned their noses up to it, and some let their guard down, their professional facade.”

A Moan Room might have a number of speakers on the Stage. It might have only two or three: the host(s) and the performer. Intended ambiance is a big factor here. The bigger the Room, the funnier — and the smaller the Room, the hornier. There was no way to gauge professional clout, so most often, these Rooms were just fun experimentation.

Unfortunately, we also have no means of gauging how many of Clubhouse's users are queer. An invitation-only app that shuns anonymity likely made it unappealing to DL or closeted queer folks. On Twitter, you can be anyone, which creates a lush and open field for exploration. Clubhouse, less so, at least in its beta stage.

A Brave New World for the #HornyOnMain Crowd

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the shame of “being horny on main” has dissolved in a way that could only be accurately plotted by the advent of Moan Rooms. Cruising and hooking up, two pillars of queer sexual expression, now carried a new kind of danger, especially before the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine. But queer people still craved that carnal rush of pleasure, hence the influx of avenues for cybersex. Even in the months following the sudden decline of Clubhouse, “Fleetnik” made headlines as thousands of users used the exodus of the then-ill received feature to share as much of their NSFW content as they could — and dared others to partake.

Dr. Justin Lehmiller, an author, psychologist, and research fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, has studied the culture surrounding the dissolution of online professionalism and turn toward cybersexuality during and post-pandemic-related lockdowns. His findings are fascinating: Physical expressions of sexuality during this period were not what the research team expected, but digital behaviors mirrored what many of us have observed or experience firsthand online.

“What we saw in the data is that people were masturbating less and having sex less often,” Lehmiller tells Logo. “We know that stress can really dampen the libido, and when people do have sex, it can harder to stay aroused or achieve an orgasm. They can face sexual difficulties.”

Before Clubhouse was even widely used, the stakes of audio-sexual content were laid out. In 2017, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, better known as ASMR, became a compelling type of content across platforms. Fans describe the experience of consuming ASMR content as a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and occurs in response to particular audio triggers. Although it is not innately sexual, ASMR content is often sexualized and definitely caters to those who need a lot more voice before they can perform sexually. It, too, has reportedly experienced an uptick in popularity during the pandemic.

Getty Images

Young African-American ethnicity woman is leaning in to listen to the relaxing sound of her fingernails tapping the microphone for her ASMR, autonomous sensory meridian response, video for her social media.

“Sex is a multi-sensory experience,” explains Lehmiller. “It’s not just about physical touch. It’s also about what you can hear and what you can see, what you can taste and what you can smell.… Different people are going to be drawn to different things, but what we do see in the research is for many people, noisy sex is better sex. They’re [signs] that the stimulation is pleasurable, so it’s a form of positive reinforcement. … A lot of us just also take pleasure in other people’s pleasure. So, knowing that someone else is sexually satisfied can make us feel good.”

Twitter had also introduced voice tweets in June 2020, roughly a year before Clubhouse opened to the public. NSFW Twitter users hadn’t waited to cash in on a noted phenomenon: Many people enjoy a moaner in the bedroom. Typically men, and usually queer men, in my experience. My queer timelines have too much discourse about the right amount of just about everything, but we seem to agree on hearing satisfied moans from bottoms and tops.

Alas, as with many fun things on the internet, Clubhouse’s gimmick steadily lost its novelty. Like Vine or YouTubers’ apology videos, it died. A few ghosts can be still seen haunting the app, but people are generally confused as to why anyone remains. Twitter launching its analogous Spaces feature in November 2020 didn’t help Clubhouse, either. Even better, proof of concept was already established: The fun things survived. Roleplay Rooms like “the McDonald’s Late-Night Drive Thru” and Audition Rooms, such as #SpacesGotTalent hosted by @MakeupByShaniah, flourished. Moan Rooms did, too.

Understanding the Appeal of Moan Rooms

We rifle through virtual vices like drummers through tempos. I remember when Twitter was only a theoretical refuge for the openly lewd images on Tumblr (RIP); now it permits full nudity and sex acts behind a barely extant “sensitivity filter.” It’s no wonder that Moan Rooms, and cybersex at large, are thriving.

According to Moan Room frequenters I interviewed, one main factor has driven their participation in these NSFW spaces: the freedom of anonymity. “[As] someone who was never allowed to be explicitly gay, it was very freeing to just say what I wanted, whenever I wanted, unfiltered,” says Kay*, a Twitter Spaces user and a regular peruser of virtual NSFW communities. “Unbeknownst to me, people actually really enjoyed what I had to say.”

The trend makes sense when you consider how many LGBTQ+ users now regard Twitter as a playhouse for sexual liberation. I’ve seen plenty of dick pics. I’m mutuals with more than a handful of OnlyFans models, some of whom seemingly sprung up overnight after amassing large followings on TikTok. (Unlike Twitter or Clubhouse, TikTok does not permit sexually explicit content.)

You can pretty much call TikTok a staging ground for digital sexuality and Twitter where that sexuality is unleashed. It’s so formulaic that a number of TikTok users have even created two separate forms of TikTok content: a SFW, thirst-y version for the clock app, and a NSFW version for Twitter.

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

UKRAINE - 2021/03/12: In this photo illustration the Twitter Spaces page is seen on a smartphone screen with a Twitter logo in the background. Twitter Spaces, the rival of the social Clubhouse network, is working towards a public launch in April, as the company announced on Twitter, reportedly by media. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

On Twitter Spaces, many Moan Rooms were weird gimmicks for social clout and not genuine depictions of a user getting off. No matter what, it was always exaggerated for the public, something Dr. Lehmiller fears is a “potential downside.” “It’s okay if [being vocal during sex] turns you on," he says, "but I think when people feel pressure to be performative during sex, that can take you out of the moment.”

The most captivating Moan Room performances I’ve come across are shocking and over-the-top. And unsurprisingly, they came from presumably cisgender heterosexual women. Their orgasms were deeply convincing — especially if, like me, you’ve never heard a woman orgasm before.

“No one [in my experience] plans a Moan Space. It’s usually just a group of friends talking and they’ll start a space with some quirky title that gains traction,” says Kay. “[And] when the Rooms are actually sexual, it’s mostly heterosexual people behind it. I’ve [heard] people have sex on spaces: women pegging men, women masturbating even… I would love to say you can never be 100 percent sure, but these people would have to be some of the best voice actors in the world.”

I snuck into my first Moan Room on Twitter Spaces during the dead of night. I wish I could say I was plotting it, knowing when one would turn up to slip in for “research.” I’ve had a few friends joke in my own Twitter Spaces about starting a Moan Room. It’s seemingly tongue-in-cheek, but when a Moan Room begins with any seriousness, it usually sticks as users push the limits of their experimentation.

This is in line with trends Lehmiller has observed, too. In 2020, the Kinsey Institute published a study showing that despite expectations of post-COVID-19 life to become a hornier time, the opposite is true. People were having less sex, but their sexual interests were becoming more diverse.

As a card-carrying member of “Blue Check Twitter," partaking in a Moan Room isn’t something my brand can openly support. Not because I’m afraid, although there is plenty to be said about being a hyper-visible creator fascinated by cybersexuality while still having to work a day job. It’s also because I, like many people, become uncomfortable expressing my sexuality when I feel like I’m under a microscope. So, I switched accounts. A lot of verified people do it.

Originally, I thought the Space was going to be parody. I’d seen the headlines: “MOAN ROOM! First Place Gets $300.” It has all the tact of an MLK weekend club promotion flier.

Imagine my surprise when I finally enter a Moan Room and hear the electric hum of a “back massager” and a girl competing for nothing but the glory on the other end of victory. A lot of what went on involved copious word- and power-play. It was very clear that there were traditional D/s roles at play. However, the space maintained a highly inclusive, or at least socially fluid, code of conduct.

It lasted maybe an hour, during which I took the time to reach out to users and request to speak with them about their experiences. Kay, most fortunately, said yes. Others simply ignored me. And who can blame them? It was just another moment of unadulterated sexual expression on a NSFW account that no one in their real life knows exists.

*Subject’s name has been changed for privacy

Hey Rooney