Virtual Sex: Threat to Real Intimacy?


As convenient as the drive-up window at your favorite fast-food restaurant, online sex requires little effort short of booting up and logging on. With its easy access comes an increasing number of people who are banging away at their computers for some electronic satisfaction. A survey of Canadian college students found that 87% of more than 2,500 respondents ‘fessed up to technology-assisted sex via tools like instant message, webcams, and text message.

But what does the online sexual revolution have to say about the future of psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles who specializes in family and marriage counseling. “But for people who are doing it regularly or are substituting their intimate relationships for online sex, we’re talking about people who have intimacy issues.”

By consistently choosing a computer over the real deal — whether it’s for sex or for human interaction in general — one can sense the problems that might arise.

“When you are using a long-distance method to achieve sexual intimacy with a stranger who you never get to know, you are not achieving true intimacy,” says Berman. “And if you are using that on a regular basis, it’s preventing you from getting sexual and emotional intimacy in your life. Anytime you prefer to have online sex to actual human company — a friend calls you up and asks you to dinner and you choose not to go because you’d rather engage in online sex — that’s when you’re headed for trouble.”

Cheating Online

And then, of course, comes the question that’s as old as the Internet — is online sex cheating?

“When one person in a marriage is going to the Internet to get sex, it erodes the intimacy in the marriage,” says Berman.

Does it also erode a person’s sense of faithfulness?

“It’s cheating if your spouse considers it cheating,” says Berman. “It’s hard to give a blanket definition of cheating, because it’s based on the morals and beliefs of the marriage. But what matters is: does your spouse consider it cheating?”

For some, engaging in high-tech-relationship treason is just as unforgivable as the real thing. For others, maybe it can be overlooked.

“Whether any orgasm-seeking behavior outside the relationship constitutes cheating is up to a couple,” says Weston. “And so each relationship defines it on their own terms. Some would say virtual sex is sexually arousing, so it is a failure to keep the agreement. Others would say if there isn’t any physical contact, it’s all fantasy and it doesn’t bother me.”

The New Sexual Revolution

The Internet is here to stay, and with it comes a new sexual era.

“One can almost say that there has been a technological sexual revolution,” says Gurza. “With every new advent in technology, virtual sex evolves. With the increasing bandwidth and cheapness of procuring oneself with a webcam, it has added the dimension of video, which fundamentally alters virtual sex. In the past it was either completely auditory or written-word based.”

Cell phones offer another choice to the world of virtual sex, adding a different dimension to “can you hear me now?”

“Cell phone text sex is also changing the rules, as it makes it transportable, and can be done from anywhere, not having to be confined in front of a desktop,” Gurza tells WebMD. “It makes it much more immediate and getting down to the point, as text messaging is all concise communication.”

As the technology evolves and continues to expand into our lives, so will the opportunity for virtual sex. The line between the virtual world and the real world, however, is drawn clearly in the sand.

“Virtual sex can be a great means of pleasuring, and a great precursor or additive to an already healthy person’s sex life,” says Gurza. “It is hoped however, that it will not replace or negatively affect an individual’s propensity for real, sensory sexual pleasure.”