A MAN sitting in front of a computer in a dark room is having sex alone. How is that possible? Sexual intercourse is generally understood as a physical act between two distinct people. However, with the development of technology and the spread of the internet, a new word, "cybersex," has surfaced. Paradoxically, sex, one of the most corporeal and sensual acts, is being performed in a virtual space. The Yonsei Annals compared two previous Survey articles providing figures of the rate of Yonseians' sexual intercourse in 2002 and 2008. Surprisingly, despite people's growing interest in sex, the percentage of people who have had sexual intercourse did not change much during this period. Taking into account the hypocrisy of Korean society when it comes to the topic of sex, one is led to suppose that a substitute to sexual intercourse exists. The Annals will try to solve this apparent contradiction, and understand the social and psychological factors behind the prevalence of cybersex.
Cybersex, at the heart of the digital sex culture
Sex is a perfectly normal human desire, just like the desire for the three basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter. In the past, when most people could barely provide for their daily necessities, fulfilling their sexual desires was not a priority. Yet with the recent advances in economic welfare and social organization, people are now usually able to find satisfaction for these three "musts." "If we used to live in an era of appetite during the last few decades, today we are living an era of carnal desire," says Ma Gwang-soo, a writer and poet of erotic literature (Prof., Dept. of Korean Language & Lit.). As a result, sexual desire has emerged as one of the most vital concerns of human beings.
Sex, just like any other aspect of human culture, is constantly evolving. With the digital sex culture, sex is no longer confined by boundaries of space and time. During the so-called "analog era" of the past, which lasted until the 20th century, people had to get sexual materials such as pornographic videos, magazines, and erotic cartoons offline. But today, in the digital era, it is possible to access whatever information or content one desires through the internet without having to leave the room. The most common forms of online sexual activity are internet pornography, videos, erotic sex stories, webcam chat, X-rated games, and cybersex.
Cybersex is commonly understood as a sexual act performed online, and thus without any physical contact. Yet because it encompasses a range of different activities, it is in fact quite hard to define. Perhaps the most common form of cybersex is the online viewing of pornographic photographs or videos. Another common type of cybersex is the Multi User Dungeon (MUD), a text-based multi-user real-time virtual world. Users freely meet online to talk about sex and also enjoy virtual sex, and they also participate in role-playing games and interactive fiction. 3D cybersex games using software is another option. Rapelay is a 3D Japanese erotic game, which, as its name suggests, is about a man who stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters. The game attracted attention soon after its release because of its content, and is still the subject of controversy. It is, indeed, so realistic that the player is able to choose various sexual positions and is even free to choose internal or external ejaculation. The Annals was surprised to find a lively dialogue surrounding the game on www.naver.com, the most commonly-used Korean search engine site, with players asking such questions as "How do I undress the girl?"
Without a doubt, cybersex occupies an important part of today's culture. One social explanation for the growing importance of cybersex is that it reinforces individualism. People are becoming more and more used to doing things on their own. "Today's younger generation is constantly under pressure and stress. That is why there are more and more people who find it hard to form normal relationships with other human beings," says Choi Hyeong-ki (Urologist, Gangnam Severance Hospital).
Cybersex, moreover, has many characteristics that correspond to today's individualistic culture. It is an act that can be performed in complete isolation, guaranteeing one's anonymity. "People who do not have confidence in personal relationships tend to feel at ease when their identity is not revealed," adds Choi. Another reason is its low cost and availability compared to other forms of pornographic material. People can easily gain access to numerous websites providing obscene videos for a cheap price or even for free. Moreover, even though the materials are made to reflect reality, the gap between the real world and the virtual one still exists.
Emergence of virtual fantasies
With the improvement of living conditions, the development of information technology, and the emergence of the internet, the sexual act has come to be expressed differently than before. Even so, this phenomenon is not totally new. The preference for virtual reality and the fantasies regarding cybersex in particular can be seen in movies, literature, cartoons, and games. "Mass media is dependent on the viewing rate; therefore, it hardly takes the risk to embark on totally new trends or culture forms but rather chooses to tarry with the flow of mass culture," says Ku Bun-il (Researcher, Women Culture Theory Institute).
The Matrix is a science-fiction action film released in 1999, which had a great impact on people's thoughts. The movie depicted the French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard's famous Simulacra and Simulation Theory. Baudrillard denies the commonly accepted concept of reality and claims instead that there is no such thing as reality in the current world and society. Today, The Matrix still serves as one of the most common points of reference whenever a new movie or book concerning the virtual world is released. In literature, William Gibson's Virtual Light is one of the representative novels tackling cybersex. The story deals with a pair of virtual light glasses capable of transmitting images directly to the optic nerve, and thus enabling a virtual sexual experience. Thomas est Amoureux is a French movie released in 2000 that offers an exaggerated but insightful view of the typical human being in modern society. The story takes place in a time in the near future when everything can be done through computers. He lives completely isolated from any outside contact and he eventually has cybersex with a computer-generated avatar in order to avoid loneliness. Likewise, culture reflects a society's interests, concerns, and flows. All these books and movies suggest that cybersex is an issue of great concern to the present age. As a whole, cybersex seems to be the realization of what people have dreamed about for quite a while.
Where is cybersex headed?
There still exists controversy about whether to consider cybersex as a personal choice based on free will or as something more dangerous. Cybersex originally began with the purpose of avoiding HIV and other sexual diseases. Some people claim that cybersex can be put to good use as a safe way of providing sexual education or as a means for disabled people, who have difficulty with normal sexual intercourse, to satisfy their sexual desires. "It is time for Korea to let go of its sexual oppression. Cybersex should not be only seen negatively. By letting people express their sexual desires through such means, it could lead to the decrease in the percentage of prostitution and sexual crimes," claims Ma. Others argue it is not even a matter of weighing the advantages or the drawbacks of cybersex. "Deciding to have cybersex or not is one's choice and he or she should be free to do so. Sexual freedom should be guaranteed," adds Ma. The question remains unsolved because the issue of rights and freedom persists.
Yet there are also many who are opposed to cybersex. Some argue that seemingly "safe" encounters via the internet may eventually lead to offline sexual intercourse. In this case, Cybersex would no longer provide absolute protection against sexually transmitted diseases and sexual violence and exploitation. And others point out that cybersex, due to the high level of stimulation, has proven to be very addictive. "It is very self-destructive and as difficult to cure as a drug addiction," claims Choi. Moreover, cybersex addicts are reported to have difficulty entering into normal relationships. The issue becomes much more serious when it comes to married life. Being exposed to highly exciting materials, one is likely to become disappointed with the sexual relationship one has with one's own partner. "It is truly dangerous, especially for the younger generation, because it is very likely that they keep it for themselves and are embarrassed to tell anyone about it. When they get married and realize the seriousness of the illness, it might be a little too late," states Choi. However when one weighs the pros and cons of cybersex, it is clearly a sensitive topic. And it also raises important ethical questions such as, can cybersex be considered as adultery? "Even though there is no direct physical contact, it is an immoral act because it would be impossible to divide the real world and the virtual world completely apart because these are too closely linked," adds Ku.
Cybersex, out of control
What has drawn the most criticism is that cybersex is being merchandised just like pornography, with levels of exposure, and an intensity of experience, that are beginning to rival prostitution and pornography. Hardcore materials can easily lead to obsession. With the adult websites and sex chat rooms becoming more and more available, initial curiosity can easily turn into an addiction. Addiction is one of the most dangerous side effects of cybersex. Cybersex may seem to be the ideal way to relieve sexual dissatisfaction and desires. Yet because it is very different from normal sexual intercourses, excessive exposure is likely to lead to psychological problems. And because it usually involves masturbation, cybersex may also lead to sexual disorders. "A large number of my patients have sexual disorders due to side effects cybersex generate such as erection impotency," emphasizes Choi.
Cybersexual violence is also becoming a threat. Like cybersex itself, cybersexual violence is difficult to define. It is broadly classified as an action, request, insult, or other form of expression that others find offensive.
Cybersex might seem like a new cultural trend of the 21st century, but is it really new? People tend to become enthusiastic about new things, be it a new technology or a new trend or culture. "The appearance of electronic books caught people's attention and some people even claimed that books in form of paper would disappear as time goes along. But this has yet to happen. It is the same with cybersex. I don't think it will replace traditional sexual intercourse," claims Ku. The emergence of cybersex, moreover, should not be seen as a single phenomenon but must be interpreted in the larger context of sexual culture in the Korean society. Indeed, Korean society keeps hushing on sexual topics and the word "sex" is somewhat of a taboo, and yet the reality is very different than the appearance. The surface of the water seems to be calm and peaceful, but if you dive below things are not quite so serene.
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Cybersex may have begun with good intentions, but society has perverted it. It has both its good and bad sides, but its side effects are so lethal that they overwhelm its positive potential. Having cybersex or not is one's free choice. Yet it is crucial to step back and reflect upon the meaning of "sex," and to think of it as something more than just a means to momentary gratification. The attitudes of society towards sex are at the root of the problems that cybersex generates. Unless Korean society becomes able to examine and talk about sex in an honest way, the side effects of cybersex will continue to be a problem.
Virtual sex was implemented at the Univ. of Tokyo for the very first time in the 60's, under the direction and initiative of the U.S. government. The project "Intersex" was undertaken for the purpose of relieving U.S. soldiers' sexual desire without exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases. The soldiers were equipped with a device which could detect sexual reactions. They were exposed to visual and auditory stimuli through the female volunteers' recorded voices or videos. The project itself was revolutionary and innovative, but ultimately ended in failure because of numerous unpredicted side effects, such as the breakdown of marital relations.
Cybersex addiction test
◆ Do you routinely spend time in sex chat rooms and instant messaging with the sole purpose of finding cybersex?
◆ Do you feel preoccupied with using the Internet for cybersex?
◆ Do you anticipate your next online session with the expectation that you will find sexual arousal or gratification?
◆ Do you move from cybersex to phone sex or even real-life meetings?
◆ Do you hide your online interactions from your significant other?
◆ Do you feel guilt or shame from your online use?
◆ Did you accidentally become aroused by cybersex at first, and now find that you actively seek it out when you go online?
◆ Do you masturbate when having cybersex or looking at online pornography?
◆ Do you feel less interest with your real-life sexual partner and prefer cybersex as a primary form of sexual gratification?
◆ Do you frequently use anonymous communication to engage in sexual fantasies not typically carried out in real-life?
- 0-3 (Possibility of cybersex addiction)
- 4-6 (Higher chance of being addicted to cybersex)
- 7-10 (Strong indication of being addicted to cybersex)
☞Please keep in mind, if you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you may be addicted to cybersex. However, this is NOT a diagnosis. Only a doctor or qualified mental health professional can make a diagnosis of any type of mental health problem and recommend treatments.
(source: www.healthyplace.com, America? Mental Health Channel)