They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I don’t think I ever truly understood or felt the phrase before as well as I do now.
Pretty soon, it’ll be about two years since they officially declared Covid-19 a full-fledged pandemic. I personally feel like so many things have changed since then about society as a whole. But also, specifically, in terms of how we ask for social interaction and how we view relationships.
Restrictions may be loosening, and now more people are going out. Movies and concerts. Restaurants and work trips. We’re all just trying to adjust to the so-called ‘new normal’. But I still think the period of long isolation had a lot to teach us about our human needs — both physical and emotional.
What is Virtual Sex?
It’s not surprising that there was a major spike in video dating and virtual sexual activity since lockdown began. But what does fall under virtual sex? How is it different from watching porn?
This particular survey defined virtual sex as “any kind of sexual expression through a phone or a computer”. That meant sexting, phone sex, dating apps, and messaging through various social media.
But there’s also much newer technology in the mix. From remotely operated sex toys you can control with mobile apps to interactive porn and even virtual reality — it’s safe to say things have come a long way since grainy webcams and shady internet chatrooms.
Is virtual sex “real sex”?
To begin with — what is ‘real’ sex?
There’s a larger conversation about what kind of things people expect from intimacy. The ‘sex talk’ is no longer about the birds and the bees or penises going into vaginas. Because now we know, different kinds of people have different kinds of sex all the time for different reasons. Now we know it’s not always about love, and it’s not always about babies.
Now we are learning; it’s not even always about touch.
If you’re pressed for a common denominator, we can boil it down to sexual intent and sexual stimulation. Sending nudes or putting on a live show on camera. Dirty talk over the phone, telling someone how to touch themselves while they masturbate. The difference between masturbating to someone’s voice versus a recording is that there’s a person on the other end. And that person can consent, be involved, and even reciprocate.
Who is having virtual sex?
Surveys like this one from way back in 2006 are often referenced when it comes to this question. At the time, you might be surprised that an overwhelming majority of a college population was engaging in virtual sex. Now, with the internet being what it is, numbers like this shouldn’t be so surprising.
Even this one by drinkbasic.com had 2000 respondents, but all were under the age of 35, unmarried, and most identified as heterosexual. Either way, they all prove that virtual sex is at least acceptable for dating conventions, if not part of the norm.
Still, it would be nice to hear more insights from less represented demographics, such as the LGBTQ+, the disabled, or the elderly.
No Longer So Taboo
There was a time when virtual sex — specifically cybersex — was only ever a negative keyword. Many relevant studies at the time were bent a certain way.
Popular funded research often looked for correlations between cybersex and infidelity or between cybersex and sex addiction. Such connections are valid and are important to study. However, overwhelming the field of research with studies linked to deviance helped reinforce the idea that cybersex was only performed by people intending to cheat on their partners or by people who weren’t desirable enough to attract partners in real life.
Putting us in the same boat forced a more sympathetic outlook towards virtual relationships.
The truth is, despite negative connotations, online dating and virtual sex have always been valid options for many groups of people.
For example, if you were in a long-distance relationship, or your job required constant traveling. Or if you want to meet new people with values and interests less commonly found in your geographic vicinity. Not to mention people who have to deal with lifelong health conditions, including HIV/AIDS.
Also, historically, being candid to people you know in real life about sexual orientation wasn’t (and sometimes still isn’t) so safe. It’s common to hear about women and LGBTQ+ growing up finding virtual sex spaces easier, freer, and possibly even safer to navigate.
On the flip side, however, the risks and dangers are still very tangible, particularly regarding safety and privacy.
What about virtual sex is dangerous?
Virtual sex being so accessible is a double-edged sword.
Using dating apps, even just sexting is designed to be easy even for those who aren’t tech-savvy. And if you’re not careful about what you put online, you could be exposing yourself to more than the intended recipient of your photos, videos, or personal information. Even the simple act of sending a faceless nude can make you susceptible to revenge porn.
Another risk with virtual sex is when it becomes a replacement for accessible real-life relationships. Sometimes, it’s just easier to talk to strangers online about your experiences or your feelings. However, isolation and an echo chamber are a bad mix, and you may walk away with a skewed view of reality or unrealistic expectations from real life.
Finally, just like we mentioned earlier, virtual sex does still count as cheating. In fact, it makes it easier — just ask Ashley Madison.
Outlook: Still good
There are many good rules and tips you can live by if you plan to engage in virtual sex. Never show your face. Use encrypted apps. Be mindful of identifying information, be it distinctive birthmarks, tattoos, or even IDs and nametags.
Even sex parties have gone digital, and it can be a great experience whether you’re single or have a partner.
Despite everything, virtual sex is still inevitably part of the ‘new normal’. And it’s a good way to still be sexual while eliminating the usual hazards that come with real-life sex, such as protection, travel, or logistics. Really, the only way to adapt is to study it and keep adding to the measures that help make it safe.
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