Cybersex: What is it, and is it bad for you?
Cybersex is one of those terms that hasn't quite found its place yet; kind of where 'selfie' was in 2011. Unlike ‘selfie’ though, Cybersex is struggling to be understood. The word will cause some to envisage a virtual chat room where you'd find your very own Howard Wolowitz, or bring to mind all those cybersex news stories relating to cyber crimes where the sexual element is abusive rather than consensual. This is partly down to a lack of clarity within mainstream media who use the term ‘cybersex’ when they should really label it as ‘illegal cybersex’ (see current ban by the Philippines where syndicates are formed exploiting minors). And finally, there’s also confusion between cybersex and pornography, though the two are distinctly different.
So let’s look at what cybersex actually is and what it’s not. Then look at how people use it, and whether it can be a positive element within your own relationship.
Cybersex is best defined as “interactive, online sexual activity”1.
What is it?
Immediately this definition highlights that cybersex is not the consumption of pornographic material. The interactive element implies that both parties are present and aware of each other, which gives cybersex its own domain. Even if two people were watching online pornography together, that’s not cybersex as they’re not either side of an internet connection. They’re actually just viewing online content together. Cybersex could therefore be a webcam scenario where either one or both parties masturbate, it could be sexting (sexual messages via mobile text) or it could be sending pictures and videos of a sexual nature. It’s all cybersex as they all involve sexual interaction through an online platform.
Over the last few years we've heard many a tale of celebrities cheating on their partners by sexting another woman, or exchanging pictures via Facebook messages – which are both forms of cybersex. After reading and hearing so many of these stories, you'd be forgiven for thinking that cybersex was predominantly a gateway for people who were looking for a convenient way to cheat, keep secrets hidden behind a log-in wall and have fun outside their committed relationship. One would assume that the convenience of being able to quickly hide, delete or switch off an evidence trail surely helps those looking to cheat? Well it might, the research really tells a different story about the kinds of people that are generally using cybersex.
The research states that amongst both men and women who have had cybersex, participants are significantly more likely to have had it with their current partner than with someone they know who isn’t their partner2. And those having cybersex with a stranger were the least commonly reported. The hook-up and shack-up model some might expect is apparently not commonly in play when it comes to cybersex – even in a world where apps like Tinder have 10 million active daily users. On the contrary, the research suggests that it’s actually plain regular couples in a relationship that are practicing cybersex most often.
Is it good for your relationship?
So it might be ‘normal’ (whatever that is) but is cybersex actually good for your relationship and your sex life? One particular finding from research on cybersex showed that both men and women in partnerships found it ‘easier to talk about what they wanted’ during cybersex, and that it made them more ‘open to new experiences’3. With the quality and enjoyment of sex often being reliant upon the confidence we have in ourselves and our body image, if cybersex were to create a space for that confidence, then it’s arguably a very positive thing. It may even help participants to become less sexually withdrawn and pave the way for a freer more confident version of themselves in the bedroom.
Rather unsurprisingly the research also reflected well on couples that were facing a long distance relationship4 , meaning that sexual intimacy could transcend the large spaces of terrain and oceans in between.
Despite stories of leaky clouds, dodgy online syndicates and gross invasions of privacy through the compromise of highly personal content, the internet still ultimately provides the fundamental means to connect in ways that you might not be able to in person. If nothing else, it’s just a different avenue to explore, and if the research is anything to go by, an avenue that could bring a new sense of sexual freedom and confidence.
1 (Shaughnessy, Byers, & Thornton, 2011) 2 (Shaughnessy & Byers, 2014)
3 (Grov, Gillespie, Royce, & Lever, 2011) 4 (Neustaedter & Greenberg, 2012)
As a charity, it takes a lot of effort to keep DAD.info up-to-date and relevant.If you feel that we've helped you in some small way please consider texting DAD10 followed by a donation amount of either £5 or £10 to 70070*
*Your donation via text may be eligible for Gift Aid. You may be contacted on the mobile number you used to give you the opportunity to add Gift Aid to your donation. If you are sent a link to a page to submit your details, as with any mobile browsing, you may incur charges from your network provider when visiting that page. If you are asked to text those details, then a standard network message charge (based on your service provider rates) will be incurred.