What if you hide but nobody seeks you? In its vastness, cyberspace lets you remain as hidden or seen as you wish. It is a place of wonder, risk and discovery. You are in control of who seeks you. You decide whom to interact with. Losing interest in someone? Just block them. Ultimate choice, ultimate possibility, ultimate detachment. When our time spent online with another human being is so fleeting, can it truly bring us the satisfaction we need to evolve and grow?
One expert claims that our cyberlife will prevent us from developing fully as humans as we lose the ability to read even the most subtle cues. This is simply because we act and treat each other differently online. Within the pages of the book i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing our Brains, our Behaviour, and the Evolution of our Species, the author suggests that online we pay less attention to changes in facial expression and voice intonation.
So how, in heaven’s name, can cyberspace be a platform for sex, even cybersex?
Well, according to the famous American author Andy Warhol, “The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.” The cyberworld lures all with the power of connectivity and disconnection. That regardless of age, disability, sexuality, appearance, race, income level or religion we can be opposite but equal is one of modern life’s great accomplishments and by levelling the playing field, everyone can come out to play.
Anyone can have access to sex wherever and with whoever they want, at home or in the office. Particularly for the shy, it is a very attractive place to start up and maintain romantic relationships as opposed to trying to find someone in a bar or otherwise.
“The internet has started a quiet sexual revolution and is now a major site for sexual activity,” says Ross, Rosser, McCurdy and Feldman (2007). It has made it not only easier to meet-up online but also hook up in real life with a partner.
The same researchers interviewed over 7,000 Latino men who sleep with men in the US, with most respondents lauding the internet for breaking barriers of inhibition and any shyness that comes with meeting face to face. Online sex offers secrecy, safety, control over the interaction and the environment as well as the constant thrill of experimentation. Irrespective of one’s sexual inclination, it provides safe, accessible, frequent, fast and cheap sex without all the drama – unless you want it. Unlike reading erotica or watching porn, cybersex provides the possibility of actively participating in co-writing your own erotica story – not knowing what will happen next.
Can we cyber love as deeply?
Certainly, coupled with the excitement it presents to its user, the landscape of cyber love brings all the heights and depths of human emotion in spite of the distance. Love is love, and we humans experience the same intensity of this emotion, whether on or offline. When people are connecting based on what they have to say, both can open up for deeper listening, self- disclosure and, in turn, intimacy.
Is it as harmless as it seems?
Pursuing an online relationship can be risky especially if it is used to find real life partners for the purpose of cheating. This can pose a threat to a marriage. Some married couples say they enjoy the aliveness cybering with others brings to their bedroom. It is popularly known as, “whetting your appetite but eating at home”. For some this might work. Yet it becomes problematic when the other person reveres the sanctity and exclusivity of their bond. In such cases, having an online affair can be treacherous to the stability of a marriage since it paves a path to finding sexual satisfaction outside the union.
Online sex bears no better description than sex-citing! However, the ease of access means that there is always more to be had. This drive to always seek a more heightened, exhilarating sexual experience to become only slightly aroused has its price. The book I-minds counsels against excessive online sexual engagement as arousal templates which form the basis of our sexual appetite are raised to such heights that some can no longer be sufficiently stimulated by real life sexual experiences.
I-sex is revolutionary. But in many ways it is a hairy, yet prickly entryway into our own narcissism and disconnection. Cybersex, for the most part, means no commitment, no compromises, no demands, no expectations and no give or take. Our brains are being rewired to believe that sexual pleasure is a ‘solo’ event, independent of catering to the needs of another. Well, what’s wrong with that some may – nothing if your only aim is to fly solo.
(Cherith Pedersen is a clinical mental health counsellor and expressive arts therapist)