Elissa*, 43, is married with two school-age children, and loves the internet. She catches up on surplus office work via the home computer, regularly emails relatives interstate and, just to relieve the suburban boredom, shuffles time spent on eBay with about an hour every few weeks having cybersex in adult chat rooms.
She often accesses them via online dating websites such as redhotpie.com and adultmatchmaker.com.au, which each boast memberships in the hundreds of thousands. Although they primarily act as online dating services, they also offer the forum to "meet" likeminded people who are happy to keep their fantasies purely on the internet.
In the seamy online world she occasionally inhabits, Elissa has had a threesome in a Paris hotel room, been watched by a taxi driver as she was ravished by an enthusiastic young work colleague in the back seat of a cab en route to a business meeting, and performed a sexy strip for a room full of strangers at a lap-dancing club. Her list of more sedate, "bedroom-based" online flings numbers in the dozens.
"If my husband knew, I don’t think he’d like it," Elissa says of her cybersex dalliances away from her husband of 14 years. "He’d feel like I’d been cheating on him."
According to psychologist Dr Janet Hall, a specialist in sexual and relationship difficulties, Elissa’s husband’s fears would be well founded.
"Is cybersex considered cheating? Yes," she says, emphatically. "As soon as secret, intimate, emotional or physical information is shared, it’s cheating."
People who don’t view it that way, says Dr Hall, need to "re-commit to their relationship and agree with boundaries that will be constructive and not sabotage their future". As with any bad habit, such as smoking and gambling, cybersex addicts, she believes, need a "structured plan to prevent the behaviour and overcome the need".
"It is exciting, forbidden and they can get away with it for a long time, so it’s a selfreinforcing loop," Dr Hall says.
She believes it’s also increasingly common.
Matt*, 31, says it’s something he’s been doing, almost weekly, for about four years. Despite what he describes as a "great sex life" with his partner of 18 months, cybersex is a thrill he doesn’t want to give up, and one that he believes is entirely harmless.
"It’s just the modern guy’s version of picking up Playboy and getting off on that," he says.
"I can find chat sites that talk about any weird fantasy I might be thinking about, and usually I can fi nd someone there to talk about it with. My girlfriend doesn’t know, but I don’t think she needs to. She probably presumes that I masturbate outside of my sex life with her – guys usually do. This is just a way to make it more fun."
Those who are already worried about whether or not their partner is swapping intimate details with a net-lover may not like where technology is set to take us. At an April gathering of America’s leading sex researchers, discussions about what the next decade would bring led many to envision a future filled with artificial sex partners, able to cater to every possible fantasy.
According to Julia Heiman, the director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, "what is very likely to be present before 2016 would be a multi-sensual experience of virtual sex".
What that means, she says, is an extension of the cybersex concept that would see "a possibility of developing erotic materials for yourself that would allow you to create a partner of certain dimensions and qualities, the partner saying certain things in that interaction, certain things happening in that interaction".
Already, a field dubbed "teledildonics" allows people at two remote computers to manipulate electronic devices, such as a vibrator, at the other end for sexual purposes.
"People who use it are just blown away," says Steve Rhodes, the president of US-based Sinulate Entertainment. With thousands of internet-connected sex devices sold over the past three years, fans of the Sinulate system include former adult film star turned author and performer Annie Sprinkle, who describes teledildonic technology as "a logical outgrowth of improvements in pleasure devices".
Then there’s the online game Virtual Jenna, in which the fusion of explicit video imagery with real-life tactile sensation allows players equipped with the appropriate hardware to link the on-screen sexual action with a cartoon of porn starlet Jenna Jameson to genitalia.
Brad Abram, president of XStream Multimedia, the Canadian company behind the game, claims several hundred thousand people have already tried their online sexual prowess, and predicts that the hardware area of such simulations will continue to expand.
Another recently released game, Naughty America, meshes the world of online dating with cybersex. Don’t want that blind date to be a complete wild card? Once subscribers fill in a questionnaire that aims to match them with suitable people, they can use the game to have cybersex before hooking up for the real-world version. For the creators, it’s a clever ploy to draw a new audience of people who consider themselves more daters than gamers.
However, when affairs initiated in cyberspace shift into the real world, the results can sometimes be disastrous – something marriage counsellors say is having a profound effect on Australian marriages.
For people trapped in domestic humdrum, where intimacy and communication have been forsaken in the pursuit of clean laundry, work deadlines and child-rearing, the online anonymity, which allows anyone to become a more exotic version of themselves, can seem an alluring alternative. Estimates by one family law practitioner put the internet infi delity-related divorce rate at about one in 2500 divorce cases annually, about one in 20.
Occasionally, the sexual habits of the online world are even more menacing. In June this year, a Brisbane dentist who was allegedly addicted to cybersex was suspended from practising for 12 months after pleading guilty in the Health Practitioner’s Tribunal to unsatisfactory conduct. He had already been given an 18-month suspended sentence in Brisbane’s District Court in 2004, after a police operation found him engaging in explicit internet "conversations" with a police officer posing as a 12-year-old girl.
Just who is who in the murky world of cybersex is something would-be net-lovers can only leave to chance. In the anonymous environment of the adult chat room, that red-hot lover with the dark, good looks could be the obese, sweaty guy from the video shop. That buxom, 20-something Swedish backpacker who says she’s ready for anything could be a lonely widow in small-town Mudgee. Or that obese, sweaty guy from the video shop.
For online-lovers Elissa and Matt, though, concerns about exactly with whom they’re engaging in cybersex aren’t enough to deter them.
"I have thought about it sometimes," Matt says. "The idea of me getting off on dirty chat with a little old lady or some weird guy is strange, but I make sure I don’t think about it. Anyway, I don’t want to have sex with these people in real life. I have a girlfriend. In the end, it’s not about who I’m chatting with or what they really look like. It’s just about imagination. It’s not meant to be cheating. It’s not meant to be real."
*Names have been changed.
SOURCE: Sydney Monring Herald