Let’s start with the basics: What is cybersex? Researchers at the University of New Brunswick found that people actually have varied ideas of what activities fit into the term cybersex. Based on their findings, they propose that we can broadly define cybersex as “a sexual communication between at least two people that is focused on sexual relations and occurs via synchronous Internet modes.”1 This definition allows cybersex to occur across many modes and forums of online communication (e.g., e-mail, chat rooms, etc.), and can occur with or without masturbation.
The majority of research on cybersex has focused on compulsive (or chronic) use and cybersex as a form of infidelity. Clearly, both of these outcomes can be damaging to relationships. Importantly, the vast majority of people who engage in cybersex do so recreationally (casual or occasional use) and only a small percentage of them report experiencing problems with infidelity or compulsion.2
One of the issues with cybersex research to date is that researchers have often not considered who people are having cybersex with, and this likely makes a difference in how it is experienced. Researchers often assume that people are having cybersex with a stranger, but there is some evidence that people in romantic relationships are more likely to have cybersex with their offline (i.e., real life) partners than with someone they don’t know; such trysts can be positive for the relationship. For example, in geographically distant partners, the Internet may be a good tool to help maintain the sexual connection. In fact, partners who engage in cybersex with each other have higher levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction.3 Cybersex with a relational partner can encourage honesty, openness, and sexual communication in a relationship, greater comfort with sexual desires and in some cases increased frequency of offline sex.4
So it seems that recreational cybersex can be good for your relationship when you are having it with an offline partner.
To learn more about the latest research on cybersex from the UNB lab click here.
1Shaughnessy, K., Byers, E. S., & Thornton, S. J. (2011) What is cybersex?: Heterosexual students’ definitions. International Journal of Sexual Health, 23(2), 79-89. doi: 10.1080/19317611.2010.546945
2Cooper, A., Delmonico, D. L., Griffin-Shelley, E., & Mathy, R. M. (2004). Online sexual activity: An examination of potentially problematic behaviors. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 11(3), 129-143. doi:10.1080/10720160490882642
3Blair, K. L., & Pukall, C. (2009, November). Gender and sexual orientation differences in the frequency of online sexual activities: Implications for relationships and sexual satisfaction. Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality Annual Meeting: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
4Grov, C., Gillespie, B. J., Royce, T., & Lever, J. (2010). Perceived consequences of causal online sexual activities on heterosexual relationships: A U.S. online survey. Archives of Sexual Behavior, doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9598-z
Amy Muise – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Amy’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.