online sexuality a place to grow

Every time there’s a new innovation in technology, people apply it to sexual expression. The printing press? Chaucer’s bawdy tales put English on the map. Photography? Brand-new “French” postcards made life in the Civil War bearable. Cars? That’s how lovers’ lanes started. Every such enhancement of sexuality appalls some observers, who predict a virulent outbreak of promiscuity and depravity that will destroy civilization. The video game now joins this distinguished history – both in its sexual applications, and in the fear these usages have inspired.

I spoke at the first annual Sex in Video Games conference in San Francisco in June. The conference covered various genres, from the poke-the-doll version played by solitary individuals, to the alternative universe version played simultaneously by hundreds of thousands of men and women. We can deride these computer games as a juvenile waste of time, but their usage is a fascinating window into human eroticism. For example, why does every large multi-player alternative reality game eventually evolve virtual prostitution? Why do so many players feel free to indulge in a wider level of sexual experimentation – and communication – than they do in “real life”?

Sooner or later, someone always worries that playing these games will seduce people into withdrawing from their real lives. While this isn’t an unreasonable concern, it frequently expresses prejudice. There is a stigma attached to online activity, negative assumptions about the activities and the players themselves. Uninformed critics – including psychotherapists – speculate about game-playing being a form of avoidance, leading to isolation, encouraging superficiality, and supporting psychological laziness. In other words, people who interact with others in online worlds are losers; instead of reading comics or shooting pool, losers now populate virtual worlds and online communities. This is a dual prejudice – about both sex and about online worlds. We could just as easily investigate how games facilitate enriched interactions, both online and in “real life.”

Assumptions that online sexuality is shallow betrays a simplistic (and rather common) view of sexuality. When asked, most adult men and women reveal that the emotional and psychological features of sexual experiences are their most compelling parts. That’s why people describe “foreplay” as more mental than physical preparation. That’s why most S/M involves words and symbols more than the application of whip to flesh. And that’s why so many people prefer lingerie to nudity – because it invites the imagination to participate in the looking. The popularity – and depth of experience – of online sexuality proves this once again. People who casually (or angrily, for some reason) condemn online sexual experiences as barren might as well pathologize people who would rather cuddle or kiss than have intercourse. Are those outercourse gourmets afraid of closeness? Anxious about performance? A more sophisticated observer might wonder, in contrast, if such people are more erotically focused, with a wider sexual vocabulary.

Many psychologists and marriage counselors are uncomfortable with “real world” sex, and even more so when the sex is online. Most professionals get virtually no training in the nuances of alternative sexuality – again, sex that honestly admits the enormous role of imagination, psychological experimentation, and self-acceptance – and so of course online sex can look barren or silly. It’s time that therapists (not to mention “morality” leaders) educated themselves about the complexity of human eroticism, rather than relying on simplistic dichotomies of “intimate and healthy” versus “perverse” or “addictive.”

If you spend a lot of time online, if some of your major relationship or sexual experiences are online, only you can decide whether your activity is more nurturing or more isolating. As in all sexual and relationship ventures, the first step is being honest with yourself.

About the Author:

Dr. Marty Klein has been a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist for 25 years. He has aimed his entire career toward a single set of goals: telling the truth about sexuality, helping people feel sexually adequate & powerful, and supporting the healthy sexual expression and exploration of women and men.

Marty has written five books and over 100 articles on sexuality. His books have been acclaimed by everyone from USA Today to The California Therapist to the Playboy Advisor. He has also written and published 7 sets of training CDs for therapists. His wit and expertise make him a frequently-quoted expert appearing in Newsweek, USA Today, The New York Times, and even Ann Landers. A tireless speaker, Marty has given over 600 keynote speeches, training programs, and popular lectures to professional and lay groups across the country. He has also trained professionals in countries including Russia, Israel, Morocco, Latvia, Austria, Turkey, and Croatia.

Marty publishes Sexual Intelligence, the monthly online newsletter about culture, politics, the media, and sex. It goes to 5,000 subscribers and can be seen at Known and respected by his colleagues, Marty has been honored by both the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists.

Article Dr. Marty Klein ©

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