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She estimates that men comprise 60% of the clients who come to her center seeking help for sexual online compulsivity issues.
Moreover, Young says, the sheer variety of sexual experiences offered by the Internet can present a challenge to monogamous relationships.
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“There’s no safer place to meet,” she says, “than in a virtual world.” The Internet can also be a boon for busy adults, Brathwaite says, allowing people to have social and romantic encounters online that they simply don’t have time for in conventional space.
“For a busy single mom or dad whose life is packed with activity,” she says, “at the end of the day virtual worlds can allow them to socialize.” Brathwaite, who is also a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, says cybersex holds tremendous potential for education on sexual health topics for youth and at-risk populations as well as untapped potential for sex therapy for couples.
Still, says Machulis, teledildonics are “changing long-distance relationships for the better,” allowing couples to “finally be physical over the wire.” And, he argues, we “haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg” in the field of virtual sex toys.
Young says addictive cybersex behavior appears more common among males.
“You could walk a couple through a facilitated session,” she says, “while they are in the privacy of their own bedroom.” Cory Silverberg, a sexual health educator and founding member of Come As You Are, an education-based sex store in Toronto, says, “What’s good about cybersex is that it allows people to conceive of new possibilities,” whether that means a disabled person gaining greater access to the sexual sphere or someone “fulfilling their fetish fantasies beyond anything that we could have imagined.” The keys to healthy virtual sex, he says, include consent of all partners, a “sense of good will” (not going out and “trolling and stalking online”), and a respect for boundaries — “making sure that you’re not exposing more real information about yourself than you’re really comfortable with.” Like any technology, though, virtual sex comes with its risks.
Kimberly Young, Ph D, who is the founder and director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pennsylvania, agrees that virtual worlds can allow individuals to explore new types of sexual behavior.
I don’t know where the real user was located, but our virtual meeting space within Second Life was called “The Netherlands.” Or maybe “she” was really a he, controlling a female avatar. If it’s not clear already, “virtual sex” can be a little complicated.
But there was a real person on a computer somewhere in the world making her avatar have sex with my avatar by clicking a pink ball on the ground.