Maybe they're telling the truth. Maybe "Mike" and "Diane" -- the shadowy, pseudonymous virginal couple who have announced their intention to deflower each other live on the Web -- really do hope to prove that streaming video sex feeds aren't just for perverts, that the act of procreation is a beautiful thing.
There's some evidence to support their claim of altruistic motives: Their site, Our First Time, is presently empty of ad banners, sponsors or cross-promotion deals. The site's promised discussion area and opinion polls were up three days before its official opening this coming Saturday, as a preview of the "educational" content to come. The site's creator and mastermind, Oscar Wells, has so far displayed media restraint in protecting the identities and privacy of the couple -- whom he could have landed in conference calls and talk shows by now.
But there's an awful lot that's suspicious about Our First Time, too. Why would these kids go through with their first, perhaps clumsy, no doubt anxiety-ridden sexual encounter on the Internet, of all places -- their embraces captured by Webcams and streamed to hundreds of thousands of lascivious spectators?
The site's HTML code includes search keywords like "voyeur, forbidden, tasteless, gross, naked" that aren't exactly going to draw an audience seeking educational fare. The photos currently displayed on the site aren't pornographic, but they are somewhat cheesy in a pin-up kind of way -- and black bars cover the faces of "Mike" and "Diane," as in an old-fashioned pulp. And then there's the matter of an e-mail spam of suspicious origin "protesting" the site; it hailed from a spoofed Juno.com address and was supposedly signed by the Christian Coalition, but that organization has disavowed any involvement. So has Our First Time.
Are "Mike" and "Diane" sex-ed crusaders? Virginal exhibitionists? Performance artists? Or is this some new permutation of "barely legal" porn?
On the one hand, no one has before proposed to lose their virginity online in a tastefully shot way --"This won't be shot any different than on 'NYPD Blue,' except they don't have a script and are going to be nervous as hell," Wells says.
On the other hand, video feeds of people having sex aren't exactly scarce in the Web's red-light districts.
Wells says that the idea for Our First Time arose in a chat-room discussion with Diane in the wake of the live Internet birth of baby "Sean" on June 16. Wells recalls trying to access the site during that media event -- and being turned away because of the site-traffic overload. "It referred me to an area about family planning," he said, "and there were people bitching and moaning about this event, but there was one woman who was the voice of reason, and she was Diane. She said it was educational and beautiful and it pissed her off that if this could be shown live and considered beautiful, then why not Step One of the conception process? And why are people so spastic about it?"
"Then she said, 'If I could, I would lose my virginity on the Internet,' and I, being a programmer, contacted her," he said.
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Wells says that Diane and her boyfriend, Mike, who apparently agreed to go along with Diane and Wells' proposal, are both virgins who finished high school last May "and plan to get married after college in four years."
On the big night, scheduled for Aug. 4, Wells will give the Southern California couple "their honeymoon," albeit one in front of nearly 200,000 onlookers (the number of viewers Wells says he hopes for, and the maximum capacity of his site's servers).
Along the way, he promises, site visitors can read about the pair's first AIDS test, follow their trip to purchase condoms, discuss the ethics of the act in bulletin boards and vote in polls. The bulletin boards and polls are on the site already, although the journals kept by the pair won't be made available until Saturday, says Wells.
So much secrecy surrounds Our First Time that it's impossible to take it at face value. Who are these kids? Are those pictures really them? Are they really virgins? Is it really going to be Webcast free? And why are they waiting for 18 days from the Saturday opening until Aug. 4? To chronicle their sexual journey -- or to let the media build up their hype? And why is "ourfirsttime.com" registered with Internic under Wells' production company, "First Time Productions"?
Wells says he's received death threats from "religious nuts" who have forced him to exercise extreme secrecy about the location of Mike's and Diane's act, and about the technologies that will be deployed to broadcast it. And both he and his site host say the site is under constant attack from hackers. That might explain why the site was unreachable all day Wednesday -- or maybe its servers were simply overloaded in the wake of widespread media coverage.
About the production company, Wells says, "My attorney said, 'You've got to do something to protect yourself personally.' And I'm hoping that A&E or someone might be interested in this project later." Wells says his personal interest in Diane and Mike, beyond altruistic reasons, is self-promotion for his Web design skills.
The pair's identities, Wells says, will be revealed Aug. 4. "I just hope they don't start following me to find Diane and Mike ... We've gotten e-mail that says, 'You are Satan's spawn and it is my duty to make sure you don't spawn yourselves.' On the 18th day, everything will be open. [Diane and Mike] just want to get there." He also says that because of the hostile reactions, he is giving the pair until Friday night to decide whether they really want to go ahead.
But Wells would not show us that e-mail, nor allow us to interview Diane or Mike before the site's opening, nor see any other sites he has designed. His secrecy could be justified -- or it could conceivably be the cover for a scam. He takes such skepticism in stride, saying, "As for legitimacy, I don't know how to prove this any more than to just do it."
Wells says he's trying to keep a low profile -- but he and his attorney have already talked to Salon, Wired News and Reuters. The first mention of his site in mainstream media came last Friday, when Conan O'Brian made a joke about how the first event would be followed shortly by the first live Netcast of a murder -- by the girl's father. That night, Wells said, hackers exploited a security loophole left by a "hit counter" on the site's front page -- and deleted the entire site. It's been under attack ever since, he said.
Wells' Web host is The Entangled Web, a one-person hosting service with experience in running pornographic live video feeds. Wells explained that other service providers rejected him, forcing him to work with someone unfazed by the nature of the content. The Entangled Web's owner, who asked not to be named, confirms Wells' story: "I want to support him, and get this thing up and running. To me, this is no different than the feed I run from Amsterdam."
About the hacking, he adds, "We learned last Friday not to put up any [Microsoft] FrontPage extensions. I can't believe someone managed to pop the counter." He said on Tuesday the site was under continuous threat from "SYN flooding" -- a technical attack to overwhelm the site's server and make it inaccessible. At the time, the site was functioning normally, but by Wednesday morning, its servers were not responding. The webmaster said he's currently reading three books on network security, and is prepared to delay the unveiling should hackers interfere.
That is, if there are hackers. The obsessive need for security that Wells and his Webmaster invoke for everything from the kids' identities to the technical methods of streaming video and sound to a target of 200,000 people makes large chunks of their stories unconfirmable. As a result, healthy skepticism is the order of the day. Visitors to the site are leaving cynical predictions on its bulletin board, like "come back in two weeks and this will be a pay site."
If they are to overcome the swirl of doubts that surround Our First Time, it looks like Mike and Diane and their impresario, Wells, will simply have to "just do it" -- and prove that their motives are as unmercenary as they claim. At this point, the most far-fetched scenario is that everyone involved is telling the truth. But stranger things have happened on the Net.