"We were in a pub in Uxbridge and I whipped out a vibrating pantie set and said, 'go and put it on in the toilet.' Then I spent the evening controlling the vibrating knickers with a remote." Neil, who's 25, is telling me about a date he went on after answering an ad in Casual Encounters, part of the now defunct Personals section of Craigslist. "We got a taxi back to mine and had some fun, then afterwards we chilled to Prince.
"We were in the room my grandmother died in, so it felt almost spiritual."
Neil, who's posted over 200 ads in Craigslist's Personals, is one of many who's gutted the section has now gone. It was removed due to a US sex trafficking bill which holds websites more accountable for ads placed by users. A statement posted on Craigslist says:
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.
While the change to the US site was widely reported in March, the Personals quietly disappeared from the UK site in May 2018, with users only noticing when they went online. Neil, who's used the Personals for the last eight years, says: "It's a hole in my life! It's something I've done since I was a teenager — checking the ads was like a ritual.
"The Personals can be seedy and raunchy, but people are intelligent too. I'm still in contact with the people I connected with."
Craigslist's Personals consisted of:
- Casual Encounters: X-rated and often detailed descriptions of sexual encounters sought.
- Miscellaneous Romance: random ads for dating, relationships, affairs, and lunches that might lead to more.
- Men Seeking Women (and every variation of this imaginable): As above.
- Strictly Platonic: Inviting randoms to join you at the theatre, the pub or the Proms (but not averse to a shag if it happens).
- Missed Connections: where optimists hope they'll find the bae they passed at Bond Street or the hotty they saw in Sainsbury's. Bit like Metro's Rush Hour Crush.
- Rants and Raves: Inexplicable shit.
The good news is that Missed Connections survived the cull (along with Rants and Raves, bizarrely). They've both been moved to Community. But it's the end of an era for everyone who made friends, met shag buddies, had affairs, started relationships, and even produced babies, all via the Craigslist Personals. So here are a few Londoners who'd like to pay tribute to the online meat market where you occasionally found some Wagyu beef amongst the offal.
"There wouldn't be any talking. Just little whispers, like, 'do more of that,' Then they'd leave."
RJ, who's 40, is bisexual. He's used Craigslist for the last two years, and met over 30 men and women via Casual Encounters. He tells me, "the email exchange system would mask the original email address with a Craigslist one. The anonymity meant you were less inhibited about saying what you wanted, so things would happen faster. It was easier to be forthcoming in an anonymous message, than if you were face to face in a club, where you might feel shy or ashamed about saying what you wanted."
Several of RJ's Casual Encounters involved acting out a faceless stranger fantasy: "I'd give them the postcode for my street, then when they were a few minutes away, I'd tell them where I live. I'd buzz them into the building, or leave the fire exit ajar, then I'd leave my flat door open so they could just walk in. All the lights would be out, and sometimes I wore a blindfold. When they closed the door, I'd be ready. While we were intimate, I could be the man with no face, and they could be the man or woman with no face. There wouldn't be any talking. Just little whispers, like, 'do more of that,' Then they'd leave."
I ask RJ how he feels about end of the Personals. He says, "I'll muddle through without it, but I'm disappointed and I think it's a shame."
"She arrived at my house at 11pm, and got an Uber home at 2.30am"
Josh, 39, came across Craigslist Personals when he was looking for second hand furniture online. He says, "I was fascinated that there were so many people looking for every kind of human connection you could possibly think of." He responded to ads in the Women Seeking Men section. He says, "I loved that women were in control, choosing the type of guy they wanted, what they wanted him to do, and when they wanted him to do it. I liked the power shift, and found it interesting that women could be confident enough in themselves to post ads for exactly what they wanted."
In the six years Josh used the site, he met fewer than 10 women. Like many men who used the personals, Josh believes that a lot of the ads supposedly posted by women were actually the work of bots, scammers, women soliciting sex for money, and — sometimes — men. He adds, "the women who were real were very specific about what they were looking for, and put it this way, if someone's looking for a BBC [big black cock] I know I'm not the man for the job!"
Describing his most memorable encounter, Josh says, "it was with a girl who had a fantasy of meeting a stranger, getting what she wanted from the sex, then leaving. She was like, 'this is what I want, and this is how I want to do it.' She arrived at my house at 11pm, and got an Uber home at 2.30am.
"I got the impression that it was less about the sex and more about the power move."
Josh adds that the Personals weren't just a place to look for sex. "I've met someone for lunch before, and we've just gone out and got a burger. And there was a girl from Canada who had two tickets to see the comedian Dave Chapelle. The tickets had been sold out for months and I really wanted to go, so I answered her ad to go with her — the only provision was that I had to take her for a nice vegan dinner. We were very different people, but we had a good time, then never saw each other again. There was something amazing about that."
So how does he feels about the demise of the Personals? "It was a place where people could be honest about their needs and wants, and experiment with people who shared similar interests, with no harm to anyone. For that to go is really sad. I share a lot of sympathy with people who don't have that avenue anymore." He adds, "I fell across Craigslist as a happy accident, and I'm not going to break my back trying to fill the void. But looking at the site over the last couple of days, people are already posting personal ads in Community!"
"She still gets in touch every now and then for free legal advice!"
Toby, a lawyer in his 30s, says he stumbled across Craigslist Personals in 2009. He says, "at the time, the usual route to casual sex was getting drunk in Infernos on Clapham High Street, but I was doing my masters and suddenly found I had lots of time to browse random web sites and get up to all sorts!" Toby remembers a night when he got a cab from Balham to Shoreditch at midnight, to meet a woman whose ad he'd replied to. "Turning up at a stranger's doorstep on a whim, late at night, on the understanding that you're meeting to sleep together feels pretty surreal." He adds, "she still gets in touch every now and then for free legal advice!"
Craigslist also provided Toby with the opportunity to experiment. He explains, "I had a brief curious phase when I was intrigued about how I'd find being with a man." Toby had been to gay bars before and found, "the guys tend to be rather full on verging on aggressive." Meeting via Craigslist, Toby was able to "chat and sound them out," and went on to meet up with a couple of guys.
Toby is sad to see the Personals go: "People should be free to get up to whatever takes their fancy." However, he won’t actually miss it. He says, "it's been rubbish for a few years, having been surpassed by things like Tinder. Latterly it tended to be women looking to be paid and I've only been going on there to laugh at the weirdness of the ads."
"I haven't met her in person yet, but it's getting serious. I've just got to sit tight until my kids grow up."
I first spoke to Tom and Daniel 18 months ago, when I was writing a feature about men who'd placed ads in Strictly Platonic. Tom, 49, had placed an ad headed, "A good man but married and bored." He wanted to meet a woman in a similar situation, and wrote that he'd be, "open to things developing further" – as long as she hadn't voted for Brexit. Tom told me he'd used Craigslist because, "you don't have to give any details — it's for people who want it discreet." He chose Strictly Platonic because, "the other sections are full of nutters and weird stuff. I think people in the Platonic section are looking for something real — they're more earnest."
Catching up with Tom, he tells me he's still in his sexless marriage, but has spent the last year messaging an American travel journalist whose ad he responded to on Craigslist. "She wanted a pen pal in London," he says. "Now we speak three or four times a day on WhatsApp. I haven't met her in person yet, but it's getting serious. I've just got to sit tight until my kids grow up."
Although scrolling through the Personals had become habitual for Tom, he doesn't care that they've gone. He says, "I'm not missing it — this woman in America's giving me the distraction I need."
"Wearing spandex, it's hard to hide, but in the heat of a wrestling match you're not really thinking about it."
Daniel, 43, had advertised for a female wrestling partner. Posting the same ad every few months, over a period of seven years, Daniel met two women who were willing to lock his head between their legs, while wearing a leotard. Despite describing it as a fetish that turns him on, Daniel said he didn't worry about getting an erection. "Wearing spandex, it's hard to hide, but in the heat of a wrestling match you're not really thinking about it."
On the pruning of the Personals, Daniel says, "I'll miss it, it's such a shame. I found a great wrestling friend on there and having the opportunity to find another like her — it won't happen." He tells me he's on FetLife where he's come across female wrestlers, "but they live all over the place — and it's not really Craigslist."
"Since then, Terry's got another woman pregnant via his Craigslist ad"
I initially talked to Terry and Becky just over a year ago, for The Londoners Making Babies Online. Terry, now 39, had posted in Craigslist's Personals under the heading, "Looking to impregnate a MILF." He'd written: "Man wanting to find a hot married milf to let me creampie and impregnate her. Love the idea of fucking a married wife with the goal of getting her pregnant. I can travel to you & just want to dump all my cum in your pussy and leave, no strings attached. I'm ddf [drug and disease free] and you should be too."
Explaining why he'd posted his ad, Terry told me, "sex is enjoyable — bareback sex even more so! And if you add on the heightened risk of pregnancy when no contraception is used, it really takes it to the next level!"
At the time of our first interview, Terry's ad had led to meeting a woman in a lesbian relationship who'd told her partner she was attempting to conceive via artificial insemination, using sperm she'd bought off the internet. In fact, she'd had sex with Terry at her sister's house.
Catching up, Terry tells me the woman in the lesbian relationship sent him a text six weeks after their encounter to let him know she was pregnant. He's tried to call her, but her number has now been disconnected. Since then, Terry's got another woman pregnant via his Craigslist ad — this time with her partner's knowledge. He says, "it was a couple in their mid-30s, who'd been trying for a while. They got tested and it looked as if the issues were on the husband's side." That's when Terry stepped in. "She got pregnant the second month we tried," he says, adding, "I was hoping to have a bit more fun but it's working too well!"
Terry says the end of the Personals is, "a bit of a loss. Although I hadn't been terribly active in the last few weeks, it was one of my go-to sources for those sort of activities. It's a bit like where do I go now? But I'll probably spend more time on Fab Swingers, and with the contacts I have on KIK."
"She and the guy are now engaged — living as a family with their six month old daughter.
Becky advertised in the Personals for a man to make her pregnant. Under the heading, "Safe, bareback babymaking" she explained that she'd given up on meeting Mr. Right but hoped to conceive with a man who'd be involved as a co-parent. In case of any ambiguity about how she intended it to happen, Becky wrote: "I don't use turkey basters when cooking & am not using one at conception." She received about 50 responses, and met up with just one guy. At the time of our original interview, Becky had seen him three times. First for a chat over a drink, then for his 'n' hers STI checks - and the third time they met, they slept together. "I wasn't ovulating, but it gave us a chance to see how things would work," says Becky, who added, "I enjoy his company, but it's not a relationship. A relationship would be an amazing bonus, but it isn't the goal."
Catching up, Becky tells me that she and the guy are now engaged — and living together as a family with their six month old daughter. How does she feel about the removal of the Personals? She says, "for a lot of my friends, it would be like closing down The Underworld in Camden, because that was where they met the people they got seriously involved with, and had children with. Our world is no longer just physical, it's much more part of virtual reality, and changes to the internet landscape are every bit as worthy of being grieved over as physical changes.
"I'm sure there are lots of other couples who've met and had significant, meaningful relationships through Craigslist."
Does the closure of the Personals means other women are missing out on that avenue for getting pregnant? "There is that concern, but I also know that you reach a point and there is a need. It's not a want — it's an absolute need. They will find a way."
So she's glad she took a chance on Craigslist Personals? "I am totally delighted."
All names have been changed.
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.