This week the U.S. Senate passed a bill to fight online sex trafficking, which could subject websites to more criminal and civil liability for the content that third parties publish on their platforms. As a result, Craigslist decided to remove its personal-ad section, posting the following statement: “Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day. To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!”
What is a note about happy couples doing in a move made in response to a bill to fight sex trafficking? Well, this is the vast possibility and danger of Craigslist. For decades, it’s been the place where someone might find the perfect or most horrible roommate; a steal of a couch or total piece of junk; casual sex or even a spouse. One of my oldest childhood friends, for example, posted a Craigslist ad back in the mid-2000s and met her husband. Now they’re expecting their second child!
As these ads go offline, we spoke to a 25-year-old man in New York who used Craigslist’s personal ads — specifically the casual encounters section — as a way of finding casual sex in his early 20s. He spoke to us on condition of anonymity, because, well, that’s what Craigslist personals were all about. It’s part of what made them successful, he thinks.
Unlike dating apps that often require being linked to a social media account, on Craigslist you could be nameless and Facebook-less.
“Most people didn’t even have pictures of their faces,” our 25-year-old Craigslister says. “I didn’t know what they looked like until I met them.”
And sometimes he didn’t even get to see what they looked like:
He estimates that he would answer hundreds of ads, which might net about 10 replies, which might then lead to one in-person interaction. That’s a LOT of email. But the encounters were memorable. “Usually the person I would meet would be someone unattractive or would have weird tendencies,” he says. In one encounter, a woman insisted on having porn blasting the entire time. Another made him put on a blindfold the moment he arrived. “She was going to have sex with me, but I wasn’t allowed to touch her,” he recalls.
He’s not happy with Craigslist’s decision, even though he’s not using the platform anymore. (He has a girlfriend now.) “There’s a lot of ads on there, for sure. But there’s a lot of people out there just looking for casual sex and some people find dating apps intimidating.”
He acknowledges that dating apps have lost a lot of the stigma they used to carry four or five years ago. But the public nature of dating apps — friends and friends of friends can see your profile — can make it harder to be forthcoming about just wanting sex, if that’s what you’re after.
People worry that saying “just here for a hookup,” on an app “makes them look like they’re slutty or whatever,” he says, “so people use Craigslist.”