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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 continued...

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.

"Just like any other form of human communication, sexual communication is evolving," says Gurza. "People communicate their sexual desires quite freely via virtual sex, which might not be the case in real- time sexual connections. Many virtual connections are just precursors for the real thing and as such, this initial openness might lead to increased openness when the sexual deed occurs -- this is a good thing."

It's easy to access, you can do it in the privacy of your own home, it's free (or at least cheap), and you can do it as often as you want -- morning, noon, and night. But is there such a thing as too much virtual sex?

Intimacy Issues

"A lot of people are engaging in Internet sex," says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles who specializes in family and marriage counseling. "But for people who are doing it regularly or are substituting their intimate relationships for online sex, we're talking about people who have intimacy issues."

By consistently choosing a computer over the real deal -- whether it's for sex or for human interaction in general -- one can sense the problems that might arise.

"When you are using a long-distance method to achieve sexual intimacy with a stranger who you never get to know, you are not achieving true intimacy," says Berman. "And if you are using that on a regular basis, it's preventing you from getting sexual and emotional intimacy in your life. Anytime you prefer to have online sex to actual human company -- a friend calls you up and asks you to dinner and you choose not to go because you'd rather engage in online sex -- that's when you're headed for trouble."

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