On November 1, 1996, M.J. Ecker single-handedly changed the world. With a few swift keystrokes on his Macintosh Centris 650, the pseudonymous 30-year-old reached a hand out to the timid, the lost and the sexually confused. JackinWorld.com was born.
Ecker deemed the website “the ultimate male masturbation resource” and crowned himself editor-in-chief. But JackinWorld wasn’t just meant for smutty, pre-pubescent humor. In fact, the only reason Ecker started the site was in response to President Clinton forcing Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders to resign after she said masturbation was “part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught.”
“It was an early example of cancel culture, and it pissed me off,” Ecker says. “I agreed with what she said, so instead of letting her and her message disappear forever, I started JackinWorld and dedicated the site to her.”
If schools wouldn’t teach kids about masturbation, he would. Such was the beauty of this new thing called the internet, after all. “Before social media, if you wanted to talk about masturbation, you either had to take the risk of confiding in a friend, or ask an anonymous question on a slip of paper in health class,” Ecker says. “On JackinWorld, you could ask anything at any time and read what everyone else had asked. I made sure to keep the site sex-positive, before many people were doing that.”
If You Build It, They Will Come
Within two weeks, Ecker says, JackinWorld exploded. He promoted the site on a few Usenet groups, and it didn’t take long before he was inundated with emails and search traffic. He admits he had no idea what he was doing, but he had to learn some SEO basics quickly. “For a while, JackinWorld was always very near the top, if not the top result, for ‘masturbation,’ and for some reason, it ranked near the top of Google for ‘male,’ too,” Ecker tells MEL. The search traffic alone ranked JackinWorld in the top 1,300 websites in the world, “according to an early version of Alexa,” and became too much for several internet service providers to handle.
“I was kicked off several ISPs because of the bandwidth. They’d just host your website and assume you’d be a run-of-the-mill local business, and if it crashed their server, you were eventually terminated,” Ecker explains. “Mind you, these were dial-up days, before any mobile internet — real Stone Age stuff.”
As his site became young masturbaters’ first foray into sexual wellness, Ecker didn’t take his role lightly. He had to establish some ground rules. “The door was wide open to discuss almost anything about masturbation or fantasies. The only rule was that you couldn’t use slang words for anatomy or other sexual things. You said ‘ejaculate’ or ‘penis.’ If you didn’t, I would edit the language rigorously,” he says.
Ecker also made a point to keep all degrading and dangerous verbiage off the website. For instance, he says many users would ask about auto-erotic asphyxiation. “They’d heard about a way to enhance orgasm, and wanted to know more, [but] I decided as policy never to touch it,” he says. “If I explained it openly, they’d know how to search for it, and bad things could happen.”
A Stroke of Genius
JackinWorld started as a single-page explainer about what masturbation was and how to do it. By 1999, it grew to include a forum, a page for “techniques,” a place to submit questions, a guide for parents, and much more.
Above all else, Ecker wanted to make sure everyone felt welcome and “happy with the skin [they’re] in.” He worked to maintain a vibe that was safe, informational and not so boring it’d turn its target market away.
He also refused to allow pornographic ads. Instead, Ecker set up a paid membership system in order to handle the site’s traffic. “JackinWorld was doing really well financially from about 1999 to 2002,” Ecker says. “I was selling memberships for slightly more access to things like user submissions for the ‘Question of the Week,’ and I had several freelancers getting a steady paycheck.
“It worked flawlessly, and everyone was happy,” he continues, “until it all collapsed overnight.”
The Come Down
In October 2002, eBay bought PayPal and changed PayPal’s terms of service. “There were to be no more fringe customers like gambling or pornography,” Ecker says. “They deemed my site pornography.” Ecker had to scramble to find a new credit card processor — “a nightmare.”
Eventually, he gave up. Managing various ways to keep the website above water became too much to handle, especially on top of a full-time job (he worked as a magazine editor until 2003), and he handed the JackinWorld keys over to an early user who offered to host the site for cheap.
“I guess I had shot my wad by that point, as it were, and lost interest,” Ecker says. “By the mid-2000s, online message boards had taken over, which provided an immediacy and less of a filter than JackinWorld ever did, and site traffic started to tank. People had moved on.” All he asked of the new owner was that he keep the site online as long as possible and refuse to sell the domain to a porn company.
Looking back, Ecker is acutely aware of the unique situation he stepped into. “The site was stuck in a weird crack between a print magazine and the peer-to-peer, instantaneous communication of social media,” he says. “I joke about the internet losing its innocence, but back then it was just a decentralized patchwork of ugly webpages. Once major corporations took over, everything got homogenized.”
There’s the Rub
But the old internet’s ugly, clunky disconnectedness allowed comparatively small communities like JackinWorld to thrive. Unlike today’s massive forums, Ecker says, his site never saw problems from the toxic communities we know all too well today. “I can’t say I remember any type of incel culture,” he says, “and I think the toxic movements are more prevalent today because the more extreme voices are amplified by the huge social media platforms, though I did have one user who sent me long emails about not letting me corrupt his younger brother.”
Further, Ecker argues that the advent of search engine optimization has snuffed out smaller websites like his, in lieu of data-driven powerhouses to elbow into top spots. Case in point, a 2015 study found 60 percent of students turn to porn to fill gaps in their sex education.
Nevertheless, Ecker has long since removed himself from JackinWorld. “I wonder what all of those people who loved JackinWorld remember about that chapter of their lives. Where did they go?” he says. “But I could die now and know that if only for a brief window, JackinWorld was able to influence a ton of people all over the world for the better — and that’s pretty gratifying.”
You gotta hand it to him.