June 25th, 2006

Is cybersex really sex?

It’s a much debated question, and attempting to answer it has only left us with more questions: Is virtual cheating really cheating? Can virtual encounters have meaning? Or is virtual fucking just porn?

As for answering those questions… Well, nothing’s so simple. Besides, if it was, what fun would it be?

So in the spirit of fun and controversy, I’d like, if I may, to add another question to the heap: the question of consent.

Cybersex is, almost by definition, consensual. Exceptions of course can occur. But it’s always possible to exit a room, an area, a site. And the physical response, the physical dialogue of a real-life sexual encounter (be it pleasurable or painful) can’t exist in a virtual space without a second participant’s willfully-typed “Yes!”, or even “No!”

To enter into cybersex is to enter into something actively. In very few situations can it be forced upon you. It requires your response, and thus your consent.

However, it’s a widely-accepted belief–at least here in States–that consent is not enough. The ability to say “yes” (so the thinking goes) is restricted to those old enough to understand it’s meaning.

If cybersex really is sex, does that mean it too should be restricted by age?

Whether we like it or not, an undeniable portion of cybersex participants are under eighteen. After all, all it takes is a means of basic communication–like text chat–and we’re at it like bunnies, regardless of our age.

When we think of teens having sex online, we often think of so-called “cyber predators,” older men who lurk the nether-reaches of the internet for innocent youngsters to lure into their dens of pain. And surely, such people do exist. Children have been harmed, in real life. This should not be ignored.

But what about under-aged cybersex explorers (or even experts. Don’t think, just because they’re young, they need us to protect their innocence) who are having sex online willfully, happily?

In a world–the real world, that is–that bombards our youth with sexual images, fears, and desires, who are we to draw the line when it comes to cybersex?

Tags: Blog

6 Responses to “The Age of Virtual Consent”

  1. FerrousBuller Says:

    “Is cybersex really sex?”

    As with most things in life, it depends on your definitions. If you define sex as “physical intercourse,” then no, it obviously isn’t. But by that definition, a lot of things don’t count as sex. OTOH, if you include things like porn and masturbation and flirting under the general banner of sex – or “sex-related activities,” if you prefer to make a distinction – then I think cybersex has a seat at the table too.

    Or to put it more generally: do you define sex in terms of the mind or the body?

    Because if you define it in terms of the body, then cybersex isn’t sex and therefore shouldn’t be regulated or restricted, or at least not on the grounds that it’s sex. OTOH, if you define sex in terms of the mind and the ways in which our brains respond to sexual stimuli, then cybersex counts and there are the same grounds for regulating it as, say, porn, IMHO.

    My view is that cybersex is “close enough” to “real” sex that it not be rated E for Everyone. That said, however, it isn’t “real” sex, either, so treating it as one and the same is silly. As with ESRB ratings, however, I’m ambivalent as to how such ratings should be enforced in a virtual age.

  2. Bonnie Says:

    I'm ambivalent as to how such ratings should be enforced in a virtual age.
    And how they ever can be enforced…

  3. FerrousBuller Says:

    It’s hard enough enforcing, say, statutory rape laws in cases involving willing minors; how on Earth would you police the cybersex dens of iniquity? “Pray nothing bad ever happens” doesn’t exactly work as a social policy…

  4. Bonnie Says:

    how on Earth would you police the cybersex dens of iniquity?
    That’s my point. And I’m glad no one seems to be up to it yet, I do wonder what it would be like…

  5. Eric from Minneapolis Says:

    The only way to enforce such a thing is to more closely tie the digital persona to the actual reality of the person (removing the ability to hide, but limiting other freedoms as well).

    I would like to note that although you point out that cyber rape is possible, in Sociotron, its a part of the game. I feel the odd one out on this issue, but I find that more disturbing than the idea of people killing each other virtually (fps and avatars).

    Perhaps because if someone’s digital avatar dies, they can be brought back to life ( no harm, no foul), but how do you un-rape someone?

  6. Bonnie Says:

    Perhaps because if someone's digital avatar dies, they can be brought back to life ( no harm, no foul), but how do you un-rape someone?
    That’s a good point, but remember, even this virtual rape is in a way consentual. When you sign up for Sociolotron, unless you really haven’t done your homework, you know what you’re getting into, and even if rape isn’t what you “want,” it must be, indirectly at least, otherwise you’d be off playing Second Life, where the worst that can happen is a little unvited Xcite! groping.

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