But there's another function: I decided to dive into Craigslist's "Casual Encounters" — a section made for no-strings hookups — to see if any of what I assumed about that virtual place was true. Is it populated entirely by perverted sexual deviants, serial killers, prostitutes and scammers as rumors insist?
Or can two regular people really make the connection that the section's name suggests? I should admit that I had no intention to actually hook up with someone, should the opportunity arise, if for no other reason than it would be inappropriate and manipulative to an unwitting partner to do so and write about it. But it's not a stretch to say that even if you abstain from the goal, spending a week on Casual Encounters can teach you a lot about human beings and how the web has changed how we pursue one of our most essential and important desires.
It goes without saying that the content of this article is not intended for children or those made uncomfortable by such topics. But if you're interested, read on for the story of my seven days on Craigslist's Casual Encounters — my failures, near misses, discoveries, insights and successes. Following that, I interviewed two women to learn how they used the site successfully for their own fulfillment. Each day I tried a different approach to see what would be most effective, though I never lied or posted fake photographs.
One day my message was intended to be sweet and normal; I suggested starting with drinks and fun conversation to see if we had chemistry, then going back to my place to cuddle on the couch with a movie and see where that led. Another day, I described it as a rebound. In yet another, I explicitly detailed sexual activities and used very aggressive language. Ultimately, only the "sweet and normal" was successful, even though very few posts by women had that same tone more on that later.
I received about a half-dozen responses each day. Most were scams, some were men, some were prostitutes, and just one was legit. All the responses I got from real people on my first day weren't from women — they were from men.
I made it very clear in my post that I was only interested in women, but a large number of men chose to ignore that. They all offered oral sex. I responded to them politely, saying, "Just interested in women, but thanks for the offer! Have a good one. I began to suspect that no women actually used the site. The stereotype is that women are interested in relationships, and that only men would be interested in totally casual sex, right?
We know that's not true, though. In fact, I was inspired to write this article when a friend told me many of her female friends had owned up to using it. Over the next couple of days, I actually received a lot of posts from women.
Or at least, they said they were women. To be honest, I doubted the veracity of the claims. It didn't take long to realize that almost all the replies I received were scams.
The situation is so severe on Craigslist Casual Encounters that posts by real women who are actually seeking hook-ups are often flagged for removal at the slightest cause for suspicion. The most common scams are "safe dating" websites. An alleged woman will write a man saying she's interested, but that because of the Craigslist-based serial killers and rapists in the news, she needs some extra assurance that it's safe. If you follow the link she provides, the website asks you for your credit card number — y'know, so it can do a background check to make sure you're not a criminal.
One individual tried to get me to buy him or her virtual currency in online games like MapleStory before agreeing to hand over contact information. Yeah, right — moving on! What little luck I'd had so far. The week was half over and I hadn't had a single bite. I decided I would have to take the initiative, so in addition to posting my own ads, I started responding to every ad from any woman who seemed at all interesting. I cast a wide net in my searches, looking up posts by straight or bisexual women between the ages of 18 and 35 who lived anywhere in Chicagoland — a large metropolitan area that's home to close to five million females.
Most of the women wanted something very specific they couldn't find in their normal lives: Someone to help play out a particular fantasy, someone vastly older than them or someone of another race. Very few of the women who were advertising seemed to be looking for anything I would consider a "normal encounter. I typically wrote two or three paragraph replies and matched the tone of their own messages, then attached a couple of tasteful photos of myself. I didn't get a single reply from an actual prospect this way.
It turned out that most of the ads were fakes from scammers, and quite a few fell into another category all together. Prostitution is what made Craigslist controversial. There's technically another section for that — "Adult Services," formerly "Erotic Services" — but that's not the only place you'll find practitioners of the world's oldest profession. The prostitutes of Craigslist speak in code, but it's not a difficult one to learn.
They advertise "French lessons" — an odd thing to advertise under "Casual Encounters," don't you think? Well, it's obviously a euphemism for something else. Many of the ads that weren't from scammers were from prostitutes. The ads are so obvious that it's surprising the euphemisms are effective in fending off law enforcement. Then again, maybe they are law enforcement. Amidst all those failures, I had one near-success. A woman wrote in response to my sweet "cuddling first" ad saying she was in town for only a couple of months, and that she was frustrated she couldn't find a relationship.
When she sent her pictures, she looked plain but attractive. We exchanged a couple of e-mails over the course of two hours, tossing back and forth lists of interests and the like. He came to my dorm room and we rode up in the elevator together. I never even had to bother to put on shoes. I posted and responded to many ads over the 17 years since that first casual encounter.
Near-immediate, easy, anonymous, it served as a playground for my not-insubstantial id. All manner of perversions were laid bare, all interest groups represented. Men sought women, women sought men, multiple men sought men, couples sought women and all other permutations one could calculate. It was an underbelly of sorts, but a beloved one.
Where else could a woman decide she might like to engage in some light bondage at 2 a. Even as technology advanced and others moved on to Tinder and other apps, I remained loyal to Craigslist, preferring the anonymity of the platform as well as the democratic base of people attracted by the free, low-commitment interface.
The message users receive if they attempt to click on any of the personals sections reads:. I was capable of losing a whole day to the section, refreshing my email inbox and responding in a trancelike state...