COVID-19 means our lives are online more than ever before. We Zoom-call colleagues, practice virtual yoga, and laugh with friends on FaceTime. Our sex lives are not exempt from this digital shift.
So, what does online sex look like today and how do we feel about it?
My long-term partner and I have been stuck on opposite sides of the globe for the entirety of 2020. Before coronavirus, virtual sex was not in our repertoire. In fact, I think we had some pretty outdated ideas about digital hookups! Like everything this year, those ideas have been turned on their head, and we find ourselves getting funky over FaceTime. I chatted to an expert in digital intimacy about how we perceive the big wide world of online sex.
Dr. Amy Dobson is a university lecturer in Internet studies, and she’s done extensive research into online sexuality. She says technology takes traditional ideas about intimacy and flips them inside out. Sex used to be something done at a particular time in a shared physical space. Now we can sext, cam, and call across continents and time zones, with long term partners or total strangers.
Dr. Dobson says people often think of online sex as lesser form of intimacy. She says this reaction is not new — from the printing press to Snapchat, people have always worried new technology will destroy relationships.
“Slowly the taboo is shifting, and there’s more openness to the new possibilities that technology facilitates for playful, interesting things,” Dr. Dobson says.
As we normalize digital intimacy, we have to rethink the way we talk about safety and online sex.
People often think using tech for sex is irresponsible; a disaster waiting to happen. But Dr Dobson says we should apply the same attitudes online as we do offline, to emphasize safety, consent, and the right to enjoy good sex:
“We have our heads around this, when it comes to sex and consent, that slut-shaming is not okay in the offline world anymore.”
“We have to make sure the focus when we talk about safety and intimate interactions is not a victim-blaming one — we must not tell people it’s their fault if something goes wrong or if their trust is broken,” Dr. Dobson says.
In fact, Dr. Dobson says online intimacy has the power to create safer and more enjoyable experiences; because online sex is all about communicating desire.
“Research into sexual violence and abuse tells us the more people can articulate both their boundaries and what they want, the safer they’re going to be,” she says.
So, online sex is far from a dangerous, discount version of a physical hookup — technology lets us have sex in a myriad of exciting ways. Even so, the same rules apply online as in the physical world.
Just like traditional intimacy, online sex can be awkward and clumsy and funny, but it must always be consensual. Whether it’s cheeky texts with Tinder matches or raunchy calls with partners, the emphasis must always be on open communication, respect, and a good, sexy time!
Header: Markus Winkler