Being a technophobe, virtual sex has never been my thing. So you can imagine my surprise while at a sex tradeshow, there was a booth selling software for animating virtual characters into realistic sex positions.
I had no idea that virtual sex had become so popular. It led me to believe the stigma of online sex has shifted to being somewhat acceptable for the average person.
What is virtual sex you ask? It is when two or more people exchange digital information (including text messages, still pictures, video, audio, or some combination) with the intention of sexual arousal. Some would consider looking at pornography or playing a sexually explicit computer game to be a form of virtual sex.
Not knowing and curious, I took a small poll and asked people what they thought about virtual sex. It was a unanimous opinion: virtual sex was a form of cheating.
They also assumed there was something wrong or missing in a relationship in order for an individual to turn to sex on the internet. Or, if single, the individual was lonely and didn’t have the social skills to meet people in person.
Of course, these two stereotypes are true. However, it never occurred to any of them that internet sex could be a healthy sexual outlet for someone in a stable, happy relationship.
Perhaps it’s because we can only envision faceless predators that are eager and waiting to take advantage of us if we go into a chat room. Or feel the internet is so addictive that people can easily succumb to a world of non reality.
I couldn’t help but wonder why we automatically assume engaging in cyber sex equates to deviant behavior.
Cory Silverberg, Certified Sexuality Educator and co-owner of Come As You Are, has written and given lectures extensively on cyber sex.
Silverberg believes the stigma around cyber sex comes down to a lot of unknowns which makes it seem threatening. As well the internet is still a relatively new medium and people (like me) are playing catch up to the ever changing advances.
He points out there was once a big shame attached to online dating. That is until people discovered en masse what an effective tool the internet is to meet other singles.
“When it comes right down to it,” Silverberg says, “Virtual sex is real people who go on line and have no pretense or hidden agenda. They want to meet other people who have mutual sexual interests.”
Believe it or not, he goes on, there are many benefits to cyber sex. Not only is it safe sex, it’s an easy way for someone to discover a hidden desire and become less sexually inhibited. As well, if you think you might want to try out a sexual fantasy, it’s a safe way to see if it suits you.
I then asked Silverberg if engaging in virtual sex could be considered cheating. He answered with a firm “Maybe. It always comes down to the people involved.”
He encourages couples to discuss and come to agreement on a few things before they venture into the virtual sex realm. The first being: what does the term ‘having sex’ mean to you? Is it flirting, intercourse, oral sex, self pleasuring? Until you can figure this out, it’s almost impossible to go to step two.
Next a couple needs to set boundaries on what is acceptable behavior within their online relationships and personal relationship. Silverberg says, “Most couples never discuss what their boundaries are and therefore find these types of scenarios difficult to navigate when faced with it.”
I agree and believe it’s the secrecy of engaging in virtual sex that causes the majority of difficulty-if not devastation-to a relationship. I appreciate it’s difficult to bring up to your partner that you want to dabble in cyber sex, but it’s even more difficult to try and resolve an issue of mistrust.
Silverberg’s parting wisdom, “Internet sex is neither good nor bad. It’s potential.”
I suppose the biggest concern surrounding virtual sex is if a person falls victim to its lure and delves deeper and deeper into salacious online habits. While this does happen, I find that the majority of people have a good grasp of where ‘the acceptable sexual conduct line’ is and don’t cross it.
Perhaps one day, cyber sex might become as acceptable as fantasy or role play; another safe sex way to titillate the imagination. My guess is, however, it will be many years before it happens.