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    Virtual Sex: Threat to Real Intimacy?

    The online sexual revolution may be having an impact on real-world relationships.

    New Technology, New Choices

    Email, instant messaging, the ever-handy text message via cell phone, webcam, chat rooms, and the tried-and-true telephone -- all the technologies of choice for those looking for cyber pleasure.

    With a new generation well-versed in the language of high-tech love, what about those who think of an online world as foreign? And what does virtual sex have to say about the real deal? Is old-fashioned hanky panky a thing of the past? And intimacy and honesty -- too much of a hassle?

    "Virtual sex infiltrated the culture about five years ago when it wasn't just the techies anymore -- it was anyone who was interested in this type of sexual stimulation," says Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a board-certified sex therapist in Fair Oaks, Calif. "The average person could participate without having to be technologically fluent."

    For the "average person," explains Weston, online sex offers a new option to an act as old as humans.

    "This provides a good option to people who are not as sexually desirable because of their physical appearance," says Weston. "Now, people who were disenfranchised by virtue of their appearance have an outlet to be sexually active in a nondiscriminating marketplace."

    Weston explains that single parents who don't have enough time on their hands or widows who are reconnecting with new people are other good examples of those who might benefit from virtual sex --beyond college students.

    While this new wave of sex is a solo act, in some cases, it can encourage communication between partners. In others, not so much.

    "There are instances in which virtual sex is helpful because some people work up the courage to speak to their mate about something that arouses them that they found online, that they have not been able to talk about before," says Weston. "Sometimes, though, the virtual sex draws a person away from their partner. Sometimes it can promote secretness and deception. While the former does happen, it's the latter that probably happens more often."

    Changes in Sexual Communication

    For those who meet in the online world -- something that is as commonplace today as meeting in a smoky bar -- maybe virtual sex provides an opportunity to open doors that were previously closed.

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