Peculiarities of Cyberspace

Intimate at a Distance

There is love on the internet. Man and women meet each other on the internet and fall in love. For most people it is an exciting event, sometimes leading to steady relationships and marriages. For some, however, cybersex may end up in a nightmare when they leave their partner and are in pursuit of their intriguing cyberlover.

Internet has the power to radically change our sexual practices and cultures, and specifically our sexual experience. It even changes the definition of sexuality, next to the earthly physical sexuality a new reality of fantasy sex arises.

Making use of computers to establish an intimate relationship with somebody is relatively new. For some people this is very exciting, exactly because these relationships originate through that powerful and mysterious thing called Internet or Cyberspace. The loved one enters your living-room or office without being physically present. That is pure magic.

Skeptics regard netlove as cold, computer-mediated 'false love', damaging everything that is authentic and valuable in human intimacy. How can you possibly fall in love with words and sentences dancing on your computer screen?

Cybersex: illustration of  Jeremy DawsonIn the virtual world of internet people appear to fall in love sooner. Why is that? Why is there so much flirting in chat rooms? Does it have anything to do with the relative anonymity and playing with identities? What are the particular characteristics of netlove? What is the distinction between netlove and local love? Who fall in love on the net? What are the possibilities and restrictions of netlove?

'Cruising for love' is the most popular motivation for chat room forays. Netlove (love on the Internet) is accompanied by a number of problems and presents a whole different set of questions. Does online flirting count as cheating on your local partner? How erotic can a cyber-romance be? Should you have cybersex on the first date? What may be the local consequences of a love affair at distance?

You cannot touch each other on the internet. How is it possible then to build up an intimate relationship? Isn't physical contact a basic element of human intimacy? Can we have telesex with someone whose body stays on the opposite side of the planet?

Studying the romantic and erotic sides of virtual relations we have to look at the borders of these phenomena, and beyond. We certainly should not ignore the darker aspects of cybersex. Where does indecency end and obscenity begin? Where does eroticism end and pornography begin? And last but not least: what are sex crimes on the internet and how can they be contended?

Bodiless Intimacy

CyberSex without touch or smell
People spend a lot of time on finding a person to be intimate with and to love. They search everywhere to find this unique person: at school and at work, in pubs and discos, in the train or at the internet. Cyberrelations are relationships that originate online: through websites, e-mail, chat rooms, discussion groups, IRCs, webcams or video-conferencing. There's certainly a chance of finding a partner through the internet, with whom an intimate cyberrelationship can be carried on, even if this affair isn't pursued in real life.

For some cybersex is primarily a form of recreation or entertainment. They have way of lying about their bodies and ages, their jobs and hobbies, and even about their sex and sexual preferences. For others cybersex is a serious matter; they use the internet as a welcome addition to the existing relation markets.

Cybersex is the art of making use of the internet to indulge sexual fantasies and to play sexual roles while interacting with another person on the internet. Texts, pictures and sound are exchanged in order to rouse the other emotionally and sexually. During this interaction they visualize the amorous and/or sexual act in their minds.

A major difference between virtual and local sexual interactions is that we cannot smell and really touch each other in the virtual world. Of course the most elementary forms of touching can be somewhat duplicated in the virtual world. But even the sensation of the most simplest kiss cannot be digitally duplicated.

CyberSex: distance fusionThe stories about intimate relations which were established via the internet do have one thing in common: the lovers experience a grievous and sometimes tortuous split between body and mind. In computer-mediated interaction and communication many mental and psychological aspects of intimate relations can show up well. But this is not true for the bodily side of the coin. The potential lovers create their intimate virtual reality, but they share the same physical room at the same time.

This lack of corporality should not only be evaluated in a negative way. The physical distance may under certain conditions offer unique opportunities to embrace and kiss everyone in the virtual world. Some people say that they dare to express all their emotions on the internet because they know they leave their bodies at home.

The internet makes bodiless intimacy possible. The intimate relations which develop in the virtual worlds only exist 'between the ears' of the participants. They share the illusion of intimacy. But there are real, sincere emotions attached to these illusions. So for the lovers themselves the virtual relation is anything but fictive. There are virtual lovers who value their bodiless intimate relation more than their physical personal contacts in their own environment. In such cases the limitations of computer-mediated intimacy become visible: it is a digital torture when in the end there is only that black screen staring at you.

Merel Mirage is a young Dutch women who lived in Nicaragua, Japan and Tibet for many years. During the World Video Festival in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum (October 1997) she showed a video that allows the viewers to share the feeling of falling in love in cyberspace. In Subject: emotions encoded she and her lover struggle through all stages of cyber love: starting with total delight and ending with profound doubts about the sense of a computer-mediated love affair. Hands that begin to shake as soon as the online contact has been established. The excitement you feel when the Other gives you a compliment. Uncertainty about the question whether it could be something in real life: 'Suppose I don't like your smell?' And finally that remarkable liberation when you decide to meet each other in one physical room: 'Why should you try to meet each other on the internet afterward?'

Computer-mediated telelove is a game of exchanging meanings. Human energy is invested in different kinds of symbolic interaction. People invest a lot of energy in these virtual relationships and they gain typically human experiences. They feel real pain when they are left by their virtual partners, they become desperate when they are neglected by their virtual partners and they can thoroughly enjoy the role play made possible in a virtual world.

The symbolic interactions taking place in virtual worlds are neither more nor less real than those taking place in the 'real' world. People are and remain symbol-making and symbol-exchanging animals. Through association with symbolic objects (textual, visual or auditive signals) we even experience physiological reactions: titillation, cold sweat with fear, nauseating disgust, shivers with emotions, etc.

The Mystery of NetLove

The playing human

Human beings are 'tool-making animals'. But our humanity is mainly determined by our ability to make meaningful symbols and to exchange them. That is only possible to the extent that we possess imaginative powers and a desire to play. The modern 'homo ludens' enjoys living one's life to the full in a fantasy-world. Just like with every other form of play this is only possible when the participants construe a common hallucination: they draw up the rules of the game, they all play their own role and persuade themselves into thinking that this is reality. We are playing animals who use our imagination and who highly value the element of 'make-believe', which already played a part in primitive religions. That is the frivolous essence of cultural life.

One of the best and best-know Dutch historians, Johan Huizinga, analyzed this frivolous character elaborately. He has shown that it is much more than simply a retorical comparison when culture is analyzed as a special case of playing, sub specie ludi. Already in 1938 he wondered what the 'fun' of playing was. His conclusion was that real, pure play is the foundation of our whole culture:

  • "Culture arises in the shape of play, culture is initially played" and "she unfolds in play and asplay" [Huizinga 1938/85: 45, 170].
Play is something particular. It is not necessarily the opposite of seriousness because a play can be very serious. In the virtual world of cyberspace a great deal of more or less innocent, only amusing games are played. But cyberspace is not a slot-machine hall in which one can let off steam with nice games. The fictions and simulations which are required to create virtual worlds are serious. In cyberspace it is a serious play.

Before people start with cybersex they have no clue that words on a computer screen can be so influential.

  • "Electronic communication appears to surpass 'normal' contact in intensity time after time. People tell each other thoughts and experiences that they would probably never bring into the open. I must be very intimate with someone to talk about favorite sexual techniques and unfulfilled desires. By computer this only takes a few minutes.

    It's still a mystery how this is possible. Obviously there is on the one hand the noncommittal anonymity, the mysteriousness that is easily taken for security. On the other hand there is the lack of face, of gesture, of attitude. The latter restrictions, i.e. the lack of any sensory stimulus, are at the same time the great strength of the 'system'. Nothing else is left but the mutual passing on of thoughts, there is no other source but fantasy. It can be best compared to taking part as a character in a novel" [Francisco van Jole, De Internet Sensatie].

Cyberspace enables people to relate fantasy to fantasy: they go straight away to the core of the feelings and thoughts of another person. The moment I write or read sexy things, I am fully concentrated on that fantasy — it becomes my reality. The loved ones aren't hindered by all sorts of corny realities of the other: no bad breath, no fat stomachs, no wrinkles, no absent-minded glances. There are no visual, auditory or tactile signals that keep a person from projecting any fantasy on the other person. Based on their own fantasies (the best motivators of any form of sex) people can design portraits and attitudes of their cyberlovers.

Cybersex enables people to project their own fantasy on the emotions of the other. One may believe that the other person fully understands you and share with you an emotional experience you have never had with anyone else. The ease of communication and the chance of communicating your thoughts with someone else lead to the feeling that you share your deepest and best hidden parts of yourself with another person. Therefore cyberlove may be experienced as more overwhelming —and in a certain sense more realistic— than a local love affair.

Internet doesn't only offer immense space for imagined intimate relationships, but also for anonymity (secrecy) and safety (security), tempting people to share their most intimate thoughts and secrets. The anonymous 'other' becomes a friend who virtually understands anything and who feels responsible for you. The anonymity and security allow for the development of an intense intimacy in a very short time.

Cyberlovers tend to romanticize their online relationships. This may lead to both fantastically exciting adventures and enormous disappointments. Cyberlovers create a fantasy-driven idealized picture of each other. When the contrast between romanticized image and the original becomes more distinct, revenge isn't aimed at this homemade ideal image but at the original [free after B. Brecht].

Simulated and real masturbation
In cyberaffairs people aren't merely looking for pleasure and strong emotions, but also for an opportunity to masturbate during or after cybersex. "In essence cybersex reminds one of an utterly complex version of masturbation" [Karin Spaink, 1994]. Cyberlovers physically and mentally turn each other on and enjoy it when they notice they excite the other sexually. Naturally the orgasm can also be feigned, but that isn't always the case. In cybersexual contacts people masturbate, even though the other person isn't always informed.

Eroticizing the virtual reality

Cybersex with eyes and ears: Webcam & Webprostitution
Cybersex is limited by lack of physical and sensory contact. In the exchange in chat rooms none of the five senses is involved, apart from fantasy. The imaginative powers fill in what eyes don't see, ears don't hear, noses don't smell, tongues don't taste and what our skin doesn't feel.

"The only unnatural sexual act is that which you cannot perform" [Dr. Alfred Charles Kinsey].

The space for fantasy, projection, idealization and deceit in cybersexual relations is at the same time restricted and stretched by the use of visual and auditory signals. In the meantime many cyberlovers have discovered the strength of the webcam, actually allowing them to see their partners in excitement or perversion. This way they can even talk to them in 'real time'. This technological progression doesn't only enable cyberlovers to exchange visual and auditory signals, but also frees their hands from the keyboard.

Webcams are a solution for the separated lovers or for long-distance relationships. But they are also used for commercial purposes on a large scale. In numerous sites visitors can watch women play with themselves or with you, for just a few dollars per minute. By way of streaming video peep shows are introduced on the internet which paying visitors can manipulate by sending messages on their computers. This meat-trade was further democratized by the use of video-conferencing. With this technology anybody can become a pornstar ('exhibitor') in the enclosed and comfort of one's own house. Numerous people —usually women, sometimes men, usually amateurs, sometimes pros— have started a telesex-show in their bedrooms, cellars or attics. Several enterprises (such as IFriends) offer the required facilities and take care of the payments (after keeping half the money). In the meantime this sector attracts millions of paying visitors. The webcam technology created a whole new category of sex-workers: web prostitutes. What started as an arena of free and democratic sharing of erotic pleasure, has transformed into a profitable arena of commerce.

Orgasmic technology on the 'feel-good' internet
It is not the first time in history that people are fascinated by the idea of mechanically controlled sex. It all started with the early medical vibrators of the Victorian era, designed to provide women with an orgasm without the fingers or penis of a man. The first mechanical vibrator was invented in 1880 by an English physician as a faster and more effective form of 'therapeutic massage' [Rachel P. Mains, The Technology of orgasm]. For centuries therapeutic massage was considered to be a remedy for 'hysteria' (a disease which only disappeared when scientists and feminists proved that the 'feminine hysteria' was merely a well-cultivated myth). The doctors massaged women to an orgasm hoping they would be able to ban this mysterious disease. The vibrator was invented to do this work somewhat faster.

  • "Massage to orgasm of female patients was a staple of medical practice among some (but certainly not all) Western physicians from the time of Hippocrates until the 1920s, and mechanizing this task significantly increased the number of patients a doctor could treat in a working day. Doctors were a male elite with control of their working lives and instrumentation, and efficiency gains in the medical production of orgasm for payment could increase income. Physicians had both the means and the motivation to mechanize" [Maines 1989: ch. 1].

The first electric vibrators were invented at the end of the 19th century. Not until 1988 did a new merger between sex and advanced technology reveal itself. It that year Mike Saenz developed the computer programme MacPlaymate, allowing the user to control a hand (without body) to massage an on-screen woman and lead her to a virtual orgasm. The program was supplied with a 'boss button': with one mouse-click the sex-show was replaced by a spreadsheet with names and addresses.
The introduction of electricity and batteries made vibrators cheaper and portable. Patients began to buy vibrators for personal use and this saved them a lot of money they used to pay to the doctor. Manufacturers began to advertize this new generation vibrators in vague orgasmic terminology. In the 30s of last century vibrators disappeared from the ads. They returned in the 60s as a result of the sexual revolution and feminism. This lead to a completely new industry in erotic shops in the large urban centers. Vibrators are sold without hiding their goals: vibrators rapidly lead women to a stunning orgasm.

The progression in internet and broadband technology now enables having sex with someone else without any bodily contact. The sexual machinery of the new millennium is a body-suit, composed of sex toys including enormous electronic dildos, and stimulation helmets. With these cyberdildonic suits lovers can have sex across the oceans. Squeeze yourself into one of these love-machines, connect to the internet and your partner can control sensations from a distance leading to a virtual climax. Condoms are not required. No fear of pregnancy or aids.

Cyber Sex Suit van Vivid InternationalFor a longer time online sex-industry has played a pioneering role in popularizing innovative internet-technology such as live video and interactivity. The makers and users of cyberdildonics and the cybersex-suit expect their products to continue these trends.

The first examples of the cyberdildonic technology were brought on the market by Digital Sexations (with "Satisfaction Guarantee") and SafeSexPlus ("The internet never felt so good"). The latter offers a package containing a 'black-box' that has to be connected to a computer. The user then connects himself to a number of sex-toys: dildos, vibrators, nipple-exciters and RoboSuck (an oral sex-machine or more precisely a 'blowjob simulator' — "always ready and always willing"). These toys can be manipulated form a distance, via the internet with a mouseclick. Next, by way of digital cameras and chat-software, the online lovers are put in contact with each other. A peculiar characteristic of this product is that via the chat client of the producer the user can hand over the toys to any internet user disposing of the right code. Also TopCo, a traditional producer of sex toys, jumped onto the internet market and fitted vibrating plastic with chips. Teledildonics's site presents a virtual reality application, allowing users to have interactive sex with other users. The site of Remote Control Sex Toys presents a survey of sex toys which can be controlled via the internet.

The term 'cyberdildonics' was introduced by Ted Nelson in 1974. Teledildonic refers to the technological possibilities of distance control of sexual toys for men and women. In 'teledildonics' there is always a real partner involved.

A well-known porn-company, Vivid Entertainment, is working on the very first ""full-body cybersex suit". It is a neoprene body suit provided with 36 strategically placed sensors which, with a mouseclick can give the bearer a number of sensations: tickling, pin-prick, shivering, hot or cold. Because of the speed of the technological innovation the sexual experiences from science fiction appear to be not so far away anymore. Technologies which do not require interaction with someone else are being developed, allowing people to make love with digital model-hologrammes of one's own choice.

The manufacturers present this technology as a major breakthrough, whereas the commonsensical researchers of the technology sector emphasize that the primitive state-of-the-art of the tactile technology will only result in considering these orgasmic toys to be part of the category of curiosa. The manufacturers of the sex-suit, however, hope to stir up the complete pornography business and expect gigantic profits. The first users doubt if they can reach a full orgasm with this technology but underline its primary goal: having fun with one's own partner.

For the users of cyberdildonics the mouse seems to have changed into an instrument to play the hottest sex-games at a distance — with their own partner, another girl or boy friend, or with one or more random strangers. People who can regularly enjoy the flesh-and-blood variety of sex will, however, appreciate the virtual variety not half as much. The reason is that at this moment cyberdildonics resembles much more sex with an electronic instrument than with a human being. It is more 'computer-enhanced masturbation' than 'computer-simulated copulation'. But also the first word processors already belong to the primitive phase of software history. We can be sure that the sex industry will deeply invest in cyberdildonic technologies.

Fly with me...
In the development of cyberdildonics the sex industry can learn something from military research institutes. The American Navy, for example, developed a new kind of jacket for pilots, which might be very useful in the video games industry and for the sex toys for the internet [Office of Naval Research]. It is equipped with a number of stitched tactile stimulators – tactors – which can be programmed to transmit vibrations that stimulate the bearer. The American Airforce uses the jacket as an orientation instrument for pilots who have lost sense of where they are. The tactile stimulators transmit vibrations based on information of aircraftsensors about attitude, speed, height and other factors.

The same jacket could be used in video games. Through tactile technology games can change into a multi-sensory experience: you can feel the centrifugal forces while tearing over a racetrack; you can feel the recoil of a shot with a virtual weapon; you can feel the pressure when taking off in a virtual plane. Tactile technology can also be used to stimulate someone from nose to toe via the internet, or to stimulate a number of people at the same time.

You smell nice...
Smell from jour e-mailModern internet technology facilitates the digital replication and exchange of more and more typically human experiences via computers. Texts, images, sounds and videos, however, are insufficient to generate complex sensual experiences. Meanwhile, with the aid of tactile technology, a number of basic touch-experiences can be generated. This technology is still in its infancy and is only scarcely applied in the 'net of tenderness and sex'. This counts to an even larger extent for the smell-technology. Companies as TriSenx and DigiScents have made first attempts to bring scent on the internet. With this technology a number of standard scents, such as lemon or strawberries can be produced, but not the more subtile scents that are part of the love-game. Just like all colours of the rainbow have been composed of a specific combination of red, blue and yellow, all scents are composed of some 1,000 primary smells. To transfer more subtile smells via the internet all those primary smells should be built into the aroma-patterns of the olfactory machines. The most advanced smell machines now only contain 60 primary smells.

Virtual and/or Local Relations

Durability, direction and conflict
Cyberaffairs are romantic or sexual relationships springing from online communication. Just like in local life cyberaffairs can have different forms. It can be a more or less durable relationship with one partner or a series of rather random erotic encounters with more tele-lovers. Some cyberaffairs are just virtual, usually very sexually-directed and only for the sexual kick. They don't meet each other in 'real life' and don't want to. Even if they have a local partner they don't consider this to be unfaitfullness. Other cyberaffairs start online, but eventually the lovers meet each other personally. While their relationships grows they use the internet less and less. Finally, there are cyberaffairs which are only an extension of a 'normal' relationship in which the partners are geographically separated. They meet each other a few times a year, but communicate with their loved one via the internet each night.

The internet is used to come into contact with other people with whom a friendly or intimate relationship could be built. Cyberdating is making an appointment via the internet. Meanwhile a complete online dating industry has developed, allowing people to find candidates for a first online date (at a charge). Dating sites are fast, efficient, and have a greater range than pubs or other 'paradises for singles'.

The chance that cybersexual love affairs will also in local circumstances lead to a durable intimate relationship is probably just as high as for amorous contacts made during dance parties. No research has been done into the durability of relationships starting on the internet compared to relationships springing from local contexts. However, we do know that there is a major 'difference in direction' between virtual and local affairs. Virtual affairs develop from 'inside to outside': the communication is about experiences and ideas, work and hobbies, sorrow and desires, before getting to know the 'outside' of the person. Local affairs develop from 'outside to inside'. At first one is attracted by one or more especially attractive peculiarities of the Other, before getting to know the person or personality.

Online romances may become durable and so strong that they may replace local intimate relationships. Many partners by now have discovered that cybersexual relationships may form a direct threat for their local affair. Although it is possible to cheat without being caught on the internet, cybersexual affairs are often a reason for jealousy and may ultimately lead to a separation.

Research into problematic computer and internet use has shown that obsessive users spend less and less time on people in their local environment. Therefore it comes as no surprise that a great part of the internet addicts has serious relational problems [Young 1999: Cybersex and Infidelity Online]. Long-lasting relationships and marriages are most of all disordered by cyberaffairs and obsessive online sex. 'Virtual infidelity' and 'cyberaffairs' more and more become the reason for a divorce.

Internet users can secretly take part in erotic conversations, without fear of being caught by their partners. In the sheltered privacy of cyberspace they easily express their most intimate feelings. This opens the door for a cyberaffair, and possibly for virtual adultery. What starts a an innocent chat in a chatbox can quickly grow into an intense and passionate cyberaffair. Who is looking for one can find it in chat rooms designed for adultery, such as Married and CheatingMarriedM4AffairCheating Wife, and Lonely Husband. For women who are looking more for cyberromance than for cybersex there are special chat areas, such as Romance ConnectionSweettalk and Candlelight Affair. But just like in a soap opera tender moments with a romantic stranger can lead to passion and sexual interactions.

The primary incentive to commit adultery via the internet, however, is usually not the sexual satisfaction of a virtual sexual act. The most important impulse is the strive for an emotional or mental escape from the drag of daily life. A sexually uncertain husband can change into a horny cyberlover with whom all women in the chat room want to interact. A lonely woman with an empty marriage can find refuge in a chat room where she is addressed by many cyberpartners. Still, the desire for sexual satisfaction often is the first stimulus to commit virtual adultery. However, the strongest stimulus is the power to cultivate a subjective fantasy world, making it possible to escape from the stress and frustrations of daily life.

Online dating can be a cure for loneliness, but it can be a part of the cause as well. In particular this counts for people who use the internet as a means to escape from their local social world. Their feelings of isolation and loneliness can even be enhanced by a lengthy stay in the virtual world because they become even more isolated of the local world [This mechanism is extensively elaborated on in Social Psychology of the Internet].

An alibi for adultery: cheating pays

The internet offers the possibility to lead a double life. People who commit adultery on internet have a much smaller change of being caught by their partner than in case of local adultery. Moreover, the internet can be used to convince the partner that there is no adultery going on.

The Argentinian web-designer Paul Tello drew a lot of attention in July 2000 with the site Amorios, supplying adulterous partners with an alibi. For $120 per year customers can search for outdoors adulterous pleasure without the risk of being caught by the partner. The customers of receive an ID and password for email. The website offers an extensive amount of services with which not only the partner, but also the boss can be convinced that the adulterous man or woman really is away on a business trip. The internet company provides customers with various fake documents: invitations for congresses, confirmation of participation, airline tickets, hotel reservations and invitations for future congresses. Even telephone calls from husband or wife are answered by the company: the callers are told that their partner has "just gone out", and the cheater is contacted to call home immediately. This way leading a double life becomes a lot easier. provides promiscuous immunity for a certain price. The 'moral' of the exploiter Raul Tello is of a deceptive simplicity: "People who are unfaithful will be so with or without Amorios. I am providing an excuse, noting more". What we are waiting for is the internet company providing alibis for theft and murder in a similar way. The deceptive potential of the internet has been far from commercially extensively exploited.

In the virtual world it never becomes immediately clear what the physical location is of a person. It becomes even more unclear when the virtual world is used to hide that physical location. Adultery remains adultery, even if the traces are carefully removed, and even if the cheating is only virtual. Cybersex becomes adultery when a person in a relationship has a virtual affair without permission of that partner. Who keeps and extra-marital relationship a secret has to lie and cheat. The partner's feelings are hurt, there is jealousy and fear of discovery. Lying about cybersex and keeping it a secret undermines the mutual trust between partners. When this faith has disappeared it is hard to repair. The proverbial trauma of the cyberwidow.

Netlove: a summary

Netlove is virtual love: nearly like love, but also nothing near true local love. 

Netlove has the following three characteristics:

  1. Bodiless love
    Via internet people are able to exchange their most intimate thoughts and feelings. But they can't touch each other. In cyberspace you cannot hold, caress, kiss, or have sex with your loved one. Netlove has an appearance of intimacy. In fact their is only communication of texts, images and sounds on the screen. An important part of the intimacy is realized by communicating with someone by means of a typewritten text ("textual flirtation by one-handed typists"). More advanced imitations of 'real life' intimate interactions make use of video and audio-technology. Via the computer you can see and hear the other person as if he or she is in the same room. Netlove is a particular form of platonic love without bodily contact. Physical contact, however, is a basic element of human intimacy. Yet, internet users say they feel more free to exploit their sexuality on the internet. Because men and women control the physical part of their sexuality, they can afford virtual intimacies and experiments without fear of the consequences: no HIV, no herpes, no unwanted pregnancy.

  2. Imagined love
    Netlove is an emotional commitment with the image the Other has created of him- or herself. People do not necessarily present themselves as they are, but as what they would like to be, or at least as how they would like others to see them. They can create their own character masks - the formal and informal social control mechanisms which stimulate individuals in local settings to present a consistent image of themselves to others are lacking. The unique aspect of this new social situation and the lack of synchronous face-to-face presence offers the actor a greater control of the development of the 'definition of the situation'. It is natural that people pay attention to appearance: to weight, length, age and size of breasts, etc. In cyberspace these characteristics are hardly important: external features can be manipulated in such a way that they meet personal preferences. In virtual environments individuals have the opportunity to present their 'idealized self'. The partial anonymity of cyberspace gives a great deal of room for antasy and conceptualization. One can believe to have found what is missing. One falls in love with the partial self-image, with the idealized image that others present of themselves and one has a free rein to romanticize this self-image further. People can interact in imaginary worlds and with imaginary identities (like the 'holodecks' of Star Trek). Most people do not confuse this fantasy with reality. A cyber-lover is just another type of 'escape-antasy' - but much more interactive and therefore more exciting than the more usual methods (like masturbation fantasies).

  3. Love without consequences
    Telelove is love without immediate consequences for local social life. Outside the internet you do not meet your cyberlove. But when it comes to a real romance on the internet the couple will finally want to meet each other face-to-face, 'in person'. They will have to meet each other if they want to develop their relationship further and make it fully satisfying. For these people the internet is simply a way of meeting each other. Cyberspace is a great, worldwide market for people who are 'looking for love'.

When we take these peculiarities of internet-mediated love relations together we get this definition: netlove is an imagined kind of bodiless love without direct consequences for the local social life. If people define this kind of love as real, it will eventually become real in its consequences.

Cybersex is more a conquest of privacy than a symptom of alienation. In the articulation of their sexual preferences via the internet cyberlovers do not have to take into account the disapproving glances of people in their environment (unless someone's snooping over their shoulder) Online anybody can be as 'sexy', 'horny', or 'freaky' as desired, without fear of a face-to-face disapproval.

Intimate with a mouseIn cybersex no costs and almost no risks are involved. People can have cybersex at any time - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - and it offers great opportunities for the enjoyment of sexual fantasies and experiments. Moreover, it is interactive with a person of flesh and blood at the other side. In this respect cybersex is a serious alternative for pornography. Contrary to pornography and telephone sex cybersex offers something mutual: cybersex is an affair between two or more willing partners who are not paid for their mutual services. That is probably also the reason why - in non-commercial surroundings - nearly as many women as men participate in cybersex.

The internettechnology allowing for sexual interaction at a distance is scarcely out of the egg. Yet, it is not likely that some day cybersex will displace the old-fashioned body-to-body contact. Even the most enthusiastic cyberlovers believe that nothing supersedes 'the real job'. Cybersex is an enriching and far-reaching addition to but not a complete substitute of 'the real job'.

The computers of the future react to any form of human communication, including touch, body movement and -position, speech and eye movements, offering unprecedented possibilities for the eroticizing of virtual realitiy. In the long term internet technology facilitates impressive erotic experiences in completely virtual environments and physical, social and emotional intercourse with another person, without the risk of sexually transmittable diseases. What will be left of the conventional moral regulating our intimate relationships? What will be left of the social rituals and cultural codes which are only alive to enforce this morality? Would virtual intimacy be the starting point of a new sexual revolution?


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    The Technology of Orgasm. "Hysteria", the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction.
    John Hopkins Univ. Press
    Chapter 1: The Job Nobody Wanted.

  15. Mosher, Mike [1998]
    Teledildonic Temptations: The Rise and Fall of Computer Sex
    In: Bad Subjects, 41, December 1998.

  16. Pittman, Frank [1990]
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    Norton & Company.

  17. Rafferty, Kevin [1996] 
    Cybersex: Empire of the Senseless. 
    In: The Guardian. 8 April, 1996.

  18. Remote Control Sextoys

  19. Schwartz, Joe [1999]
    Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Dating and Relating.
    Alpha Books.

  20. Smolowe, Jill [1995]
    Intimate Strangers.
    Time, spring 1995 (special issue), 21.

  21. Winks, Cathy /Semans, Anne [1999]
    The Woman's Guide to Sex on the Web.
    Harper Edge.

  22. Wolf, Sharon [1993]
    Guerrilla Dating Tactics: Strategies, Tips and Secrets for Finding Romance