Paper presented at the 3rd Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Touch me I'm sick"
8 & 9 September 1997, University of South Africa Regional Office, Durban


Cybersex: No mess, No Fuss? The search for the virtual orgasm
Andrew Thatcher & Andee Feldman

Psychology Department, University of the Witwatersrand

018ajt@muse.arts.wits.ac.za

Our world is shrinking. One hundred years ago it would take a person months to travel from England to the shores of South Africa, now it takes about ten hours. Our "bodies" are expanding. Twenty years ago we actually needed to be in the same room to have "sex", now we can be on opposite sides of the world. The Internet, the World-Wide Web (WWW) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) in particular, is changing the way we interact with one another, at a fraction of the cost. This paper investigates how the Internet is altering our perception of that most intimate of physical acts, "SEX". Responses to questions related to respondents' perceptions about their online sexual experiences were obtained from 23 email respondents with different cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations. The questions probed respondents about their reasons for indulging in, or their abstinence from, such electronic activities, their preferences for physical and emotional contact and support, and the advantages and disadvantages of cybersex. The implications for future social interactions are discussed.

Introduction

The Internet

Floridi (1995) defines the Internet as the "international system of digital communication, emerging from the agglomerate of thousands of networks that interact through a number of common protocols all over the world" (p.263). In recent years there has been a rapid expansion in the number of people accessing the Internet, with rough estimates putting the number at anywhere between 30 and 50 million users world-wide, and that estimate for the World-Wide Web (WWW) alone (Kehoe & Pitkow, 1997).

The Internet was originally conceived as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in 1969, as a computer network that would be independent of normal communication systems, as well as of its individual components (Goldstuck, 1995), that would allow groups of collaborators in remote sites to share ideas on research issues (Berners-Lee et al, 1994). Each component would be connected to every other component, not through one connection, but through numerous alternative routes. Since 1969 the Internet has expanded into a global network with USENET (consisting mainly of bulletin boards with news groups and discussion forums) and the WWW being the most widely used (and most recognisably known) part of the Internet. The Internet itself consists of the WWW, bulletin boards, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), email (although this is generally not seen as something separate), and gophers and file transfer protocols (FTP) (the predecessors of the WWW).

South Africans have not been left behind (this time) in the quest for the globalisation of knowledge. Currently South Africa is one of the top twenty users and providers, by country, of the WWW (Network Wizards, 1997), and our influence and presence is expected to increase in the near future (Reeves, 1997). South Africa's previous isolation has probably meant that South Africans have embraced this opportunity for international socialisation with open arms. Where does this leave South Africans in terms of relationships with people from around the globe?

The Development of Cybersex

In the 1970's we had Single's Bars, in the 1980's we had Dating Agencies, and in the 1990's we now have Cybersex. Cybersex is the new way of meeting and dating someone. This is not to say that the traditional face-to-face encounters still do not predominate, but rather that people are utilising a relatively new technology to meet, date, and mate with new people. This medium allows users to interact with people they have never met, seen or heard before. Cybersex thus provides users with unprecedented anonymity and distance which goes hand-in-hand with an increased feeling of safety and security. This has many advantages such as not having to worry about your physical appearance, not having to "dress up", and most importantly an ability to log off when feeling bored, threatened or tired.

It is important to draw the distinction between cybersex and cyber-romance. This is not an easy distinction to draw as in many instances the two concepts overlap. The difficulty in drawing a distinction is reflected in the lack of consensus (on-line) about what various terms actually mean. Cyber-romance includes cyber-flirting, cyber-foreplay, and general "getting to know" your cyber-partner. Cybersex in its strictest sense is concerned with physical sexual interactions (or descriptions thereof) in a virtual sphere. In many instances of cybersex partners make no attempt to identify with one another, discuss common interests, or even exchange names. While in other scenarios flirting and foreplay can extend for many months before any sexual endeavours are attempted. In yet other instances of cyber-romance partners do not engage in sexual contact at all.

There is much complaint from women that men are not as interested in cyber-romance as they are in cybersex. This phenomenon is easily proved. All you need to do is enter a chat room with a female persona, and wait. Within seconds greetings flash on your screen. Before you have had a chance to exchange ages, star signs and common interests, you are invited to a "private chat room". Here you are able to interact privately with individual users as opposed to remaining in the general chat room. There is no courting, no flirting. Graphic, physical descriptions appear straightaway, and if you show any disinterest, you are unceremoniously dumped. The overriding attitude seems to be one of shameless hedonism in the form of sex. If you don't want to play, you are wasting the time and effort of other "serious" users.

What is Cybersex?

For the purpose of our survey we defined cybersex as :

"written sexual interactions, with a stranger, where sexual acts are described and participants engage in fantasy physical encounters. This can range from kissing, fondling, or touching to licking, sucking, fornication or more. This does not include spoken or physical encounters or sexually explicit pictures."

This specific interpretation we have termed carnal cybersex (in the virtual realm). Cybersex is in no way limited to the abovementioned activity and many other forms of interaction exist. The main categories of cybersex are described below.

Firstly there is Cybersex in Chat rooms. The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) allows computer mediated communication with other users in real time. IRC users communicate through the exchange of sentences (although this also consists of new language conventions and emoticons - smiles, frowns, winks, etc.) typed into the computer which appear simultaneously (or maybe after a short time delay) on another user's computer screen. Hamman (1996a) distinguishes between two forms of cybersex in chat rooms; computer mediated telling of interactive sexual stories (in real time) with the intent of arousal, and computer mediated interactive masturbation (also in real time). While these two forms describe the intimate sexual nature of many cybersex interactions, they do not include cyber-flirting, cyber-foreplay or cyber-romance.

Then, we have Online Pornography. Although pornography itself is nothing new, its present availability and accessibility is unprecedented. With a good modem and reliable service provider, you can now see anything from nude pinups to hardcore porn clips, in the comfort of your own home. Gone are the days when you had to sneak a well-thumbed copy of Playboy into the loo. You can now sit at a computer terminal and even gain the respect of family and co-workers as a hardworking, committed individual, as you sit late into the day or night staring intently at your monitor. The advent of Microsoft Windows allows you to switch from "Lesbian Love in Lisbon" to company financial statements on an Excel spreadsheet at the touch of a button (click of the mouse).

A keyword search using the word "cybersex" on the major search engines reveals literally thousands of sites (4307 Infoseek sites, 13880 Altavista sites, 11894 Excite sites, 2840 Lycos sites and 26 Yahoo sites, on the 22 August 1997 - these numbers are likely to increase daily). The vast majority of these sites refer the searcher to online electronic pornography resources where one is able to find pictures, video footage, online telephone chat lines and home shopping. While many of these resources are only available to those people who subscribe to the particular services, many of the sites offer free previews and the chance to win free subscriptions.

Electronic Pornography is a form of cybersex similar to Chat room cybersex except that instead of exchanging written communications, people in the chat room exchange graphics files (Hamman, 1996b). The pictures are usually sent by email to whoever enters a particular chat room. Obviously this only qualifies as cybersex if the pictures are of a sexually explicit nature.

Email cybersex consists of trading sexually explicit stories by email. This is roughly the equivalent of exchanging sexually explicit letters through the conventional postage system, except that this method of communication allows the sender to deliver the letter to a recipient in a matter of seconds instead of days (or in some cases weeks). If two email correspondents are online simultaneously, it is possible to exchange email's in a similar way to the chat room scenario.

Rafferty (1996) describes new software, Software-based Cybersex, available in Japan, where users create their own virtual girlfriend. The software appears to be increasing in popularity as Japanese men become able to program their cyber-lovers to assume "traditional" (patriarchal) roles. Users of this technology either select a virtual partner from a range of pre-designed "partners", or design their "partners" from scratch (choosing shape, size, eye colour, personality, interests, etc.). Users then interact with these virtual partners according to their design specifications. Hamman (1996b) suggests that Japanese men are in fact looking for the experience of being loved by a woman, and not a virtual alternative. How they will use this experience to their advantage in later "real" relationships is questionable, considering the fact that they are building up preconceptions (and misconceptions) of their ideal women.

Virtual Reality Cybersex is also becoming more easily available. The current scope of this technology allows users to interact sexually in a virtual world with the use of high-tech goggles and movement sensitive body suites. Cybersex in virtual reality presents less of a threat to the development and maintenance of "real" relationships. It is highly unlikely that this form of sexual interaction will ever replace the "real thing", however, there are certain aspects which are certainly appealing. Imagine never having to suggest condoms. Never having to worry about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Never having to sleep in the wet spot. And most importantly, never being confronted with the spit or swallow dilemma!

Finally there are Multiple User Domains (MUDs). While this form of cybersex is not significantly different from chat rooms it does warrant a separate explanation. MUDs are virtual places where characters (users), objects, rooms and actions are all graphically represented. Users are required to select a character (or in some cases create a character) and enter graphic rooms where other users are present. Users manipulate their characters through typed commands, and to a limited degree keystrokes and mouse movements.

Carnal cybersex as defined above specifically excludes online pornography and electronic pornography. While these activities still fall within the realm of cybersex, the amount of social interaction with other users is limited (or non-existent). Since we were interested in looking at the impact of online social encounters, these forms of cybersex were deliberately excluded from our definition.

Aims & Rationale

The primary aim of this research was to explore this emerging concept of carnal cybersex on the Internet. We hypothesised that carnal cybersex (as well as other forms of cybersex) will have an impact on the development and maintenance of "real-life" interpersonal relationships now and in the future. The impact of these virtual interactions warrants further investigation as our concepts of courting, dating, and establishing long-term relationships evolves with technological advancement.

Methodology

When looking for an appropriate methodology to investigate this phenomenon, we were presented with a number of alternatives. Our first choice would be to conduct face-to-face interviews with users. Face-to-face interviews usually allow the interviewer to establish a rapport with the interviewee which enables clarity of expression and a deeper understanding of the content matter and questions. In addition this methodology allows the interviewer to observe and interpret non-verbal communication (i.e. facial expressions and body language) and verbal intonation. However, in the context of the current research this methodology is unfortunately not viable.

Due to the sensitive and intimate nature of the subject material such a rapport would be almost impossible to establish in such a short space of time. Other authors working in this area have reported difficulties with locating subjects who are willing to participate in studies on cybersex (Hamman, 1996a). In addition, face-to-face interviews are prone to the perennial problems of social desirability and subject reactivity, particularly when dealing with issues where a violation of confidentiality and anonymity could be perceived as threatening (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1991).

A second consideration was to employ a method of direct observation. Direct observation, in this case, would involve "sitting-in" on real-time carnal cybersex encounters. This type of method faces the same resistance in terms of recruiting willing subjects as face-to-face interviews. In addition there is the danger that the participants would censure their interactions or attempt to impress the observer (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1991).

Alternatively participant observation could have been considered. In this method the primary problem would be experimenter bias, which would be evident in the interpretation of the encounter and the experimenter's ability to articulate in the written medium.

The methodology employed in this research was a type of written survey. This method enabled subjects to respond to the questions in surroundings familiar to them, hopefully resulting in a greater sense of security. This should lead to subjects being more honest and open in their responses. Subjects are not directly confronted by an interviewer who they may fear will pass value judgements, criticise or become aroused by their responses. Using a survey also allows subjects to spend more time formulating answers to questions. The survey method is also ideal for "obtaining personal and social facts, beliefs and attitudes" (Kerlinger, 1986; p. 386), especially if using open-ended questions (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1991). Also, by ensuring confidentiality, it is possible to reduce social desirability in the responses (Esposito et al, 1984).

However, the survey method does have its limitations. First and foremost it is self-constructed and has no proven reliability, validity or norms. The survey used in this research does not purport to be a psychometric instrument and is used to gain exploratory information, opinions and ideas. Despite the fact that confidentiality and anonymity is assured, and that an attempt is made to ensure that respondents are put at ease, there is still no guarantee of open and honest responses.

Procedure

Items for the survey were constructed based on available literature and researcher input from initial interactions and exposure to the cybersex environment. The survey probed biographical information, respondent's involvement in cybersex activities, respondent's reasons and motivations for involvement, physical and emotional aspects and the impact on respondent's close relationships. This survey was then sent via email to 50 potential respondents (described under sampling). Potential respondents were first sent an email requesting their participation in this research, and assuring them of the confidentiality of their responses. If respondents agreed to participate the survey was sent via email. Twenty three surveys were returned via email, three of which were incomplete and had to be discarded (a final response rate of 40%). Thematic content analysis was performed on the completed surveys and is reported in the results section.

Sampling

Subjects for this research were selected on a non-random basis. Due to the current economic situation in South Africa and the resultant distribution of wealth and resources, Internet access is still limited to the privileged few. It is therefore not possible to sample randomly from the South African population. It is not even possible to sample randomly from Internet users, as this population itself is too diverse. It is possible to assume that people who engage in carnal cybersex are more experienced Internet users who have some knowledge of where to look for cybersex and have the accessibility options. This portion of the Internet population is not easily identified, and since the vast majority of English-speaking chat rooms are "inhabited" by US citizens, looking for a South African sample here would be futile.

Surveys were sent to respondents who had indicated a carnal cybersex involvement to the researchers. As a result, all the respondents in this survey were known to the researchers. We recognise the limitations in the selection of our sample and would recommend in future research where greater resources are available, that the survey be distributed to a larger (more randomly selected) sample group. For the purposes of exploratory research we are aiming more at finding the right questions to ask, rather than trying to find definitive answers.

The average age of the respondents was 27 years old (range: 18 to 42 years old), with 61% reporting that they were male and 31 % that they were female (8% of the sample did not specify gender). These demographics are similar to GVU's 7th WWW User Survey (with nearly 20000 respondents, which was conducted in May 1997). In this sample the average age was 35.2 years old, with 31.3% of the sample being female (Kehoe & Pitkow, 1997). The respondents in our sample worked in diverse backgrounds, from students and researchers to actuaries and investment brokers.

The respondents in this sample had participated in carnal cybersex for an average of 9.8 months (ranging from two years to 1 month) with an average of 4 different people each (with many respondents claiming encounters with several people). Generally respondents had more than five encounters, with some respondents having many more encounters than they could remember. The majority of these encounters were using the medium of email (80%), with most respondents preferring to have these encounters at home (67%). Only one respondent reported having a steady online partner, while 54.5 % reported having a steady relationship outside of the Internet (44.5% reported no steady relationship). Most of the respondents reported having heterosexual carnal cybersex (80%), while 40% of the respondents reported having homosexual encounters (some of the respondents reported having carnal cybersex with both male and female partners). The majority of respondents did not consider themselves to be regular carnal cybersex users, with some respondents claiming that they had not participated in an online encounter for more than a year.

Results

Rather than provide the responses for each of the questions which were asked in the survey, we have attempted to synthesise the information in order to draw out common themes and possible areas for future investigation. This method of reporting has the added advantage of ensuring the anonymity of the responses. While it is possible that respondents might recognise their own feelings in these results, it is not possible to single-out respondents.

Advantages of cybersex?

While it is not possible to speak exclusively about the advantages and disadvantages of engaging in carnal cybersex, it is possible to determine why people find this form of interaction appealing enough to investigate further. Respondents initially engaged in carnal cybersex because it was perceived as a novelty. Respondents found the idea "new and exciting", they were "curious" to see what all they hype was about. Other respondents felt that this new communication medium meant more intense and creative mind-sex. A common thread for continuing to engage in carnal cybersex is the emotional and physical safety of the encounters. On the physical side the geographical distance means that respondents felt safe in the fact that they could not be physically abused. On another note, the threat of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, and AIDS in particularly) is entirely removed. While some of the respondents (40%) said that they had masturbated while engaging in carnal cybersex at some point, this act is not known to be a transmission medium for STDs or AIDS (particularly when the distance between partners may be several thousand kilometres).

Many of the respondents felt that carnal cybersex was also emotionally safe. The physical distance and the "facelessness" of the encounters means that respondents can more easily emotionally remove themselves from dangerous encounters. This can either take the form of switching off the computer (or logging out, or even simply not responding) if the situation becomes too difficult for the person to handle (something which is difficult to achieve in real physical encounters), or by hiding behind a persona that they have created in cyberspace. It is possible in this medium to alter one's physical appearance (blonder, bustier, thinner, more muscular, and even sexier) or even one's gender, to pretend to be someone who has done things that have only been read about, or to engage in fantasy situations which one may never achieve in "real-life". In this way it is possible for people who feel shy or inadequate about their physical appearance to engage in sexual encounters which they otherwise might not have been able (many respondents felt that physical characteristics don't get in the way in cybersex). Carnal cybersex could have important role to play in raising the self-esteem of people who may have physical or sexual disabilities (i.e. someone who is wheelchair-bound). On the other hand cybersex raises important questions about the need in today's society for an electronic means for increasing one's self-esteem.

Linked to this issue is the idea that carnal cybersex extends the mind, allows one to be more creative, and to live out fantasies. There is a general feeling that real-life encounters are restrained by shyness or lack of confidence. The anonymity of cybersex allows users to go beyond their normal boundaries, to explore different aspects of their sexual selves. In some instances there is the idea that people who engage in carnal cybersex have a common goal, to have cybersex. Once this border has been crossed some people feel that "anything goes". If people don't like the sexual acts , they can always switch off their computers, delete their email, or move to another chat room.

Disadvantages of cybersex?

With all these positive associations, why do respondents claim to lose interest in carnal cybersex, and in most cases, abandon it completely? There are numerous disadvantages to carnal cybersex. One of the main problems of cybersex as expressed by the respondents, was the lack of physical contact. Many respondents felt that carnal cybersex was incomplete. Once you have finished with an encounter you are still essentially alone. One respondent expressed this sentiment as "you never get a hug". There is a feeling that even if the mind is stimulated, the body is also asking for some attention. While some of the physical symptoms are alleviated through masturbation, respondents felt that this would never replace the feeling of touching another person, or having another person touch you. While geographical distance may be an advantage is some instances, in other instances it becomes a major disadvantage.

Part of this problem is the medium of communication itself. Respondents felt that there were essential elements of the interaction missing. One of these missing ingredients is body language. Much of what we communicate is through our bodies. How we cross our legs (or don't cross our legs), how we lean towards or away from one another, how close we stand (or sit, or lie), our facial expressions, our winks, our smiles. In carnal cybersex many of the nuances of normal face-to-face communication are lost. Hamman (1996b) refers to this phenomenon as narrow-bandwidth (of online chat rooms). In a communication medium where all you have is text, it is difficult to communicate the full range of feelings and emotions. Some respondents, for example, felt constrained by their difficulty in expressing affection, felt that carnal cybersex lacked emotional satisfaction and was basically "too cyber".

In order to escape from the narrow-bandwidth of cyberspace a number of conventions have developed. In the introduction the use of emoticons was briefly mentioned. Emoticons are usually used as a means of expressing facial expressions. For example :-) or :=) denotes a smile, ;-) denotes a wink, and :-( denotes a frown or a sad demeanour. While these symbols might seem puzzling to someone who has never been in a chat room or used email extensively, they form an intricate part of many cyber-encounters. Another form of expression is through acronyms. Since all that one is able to express to another person is through text, it seems quite natural that long sentences would be avoided. Acronyms are just one of the ways of doing just this. When "rotfl" appears on your screen it is not a misspelling, but actually means " roll on the floor laughing", while "lol" means "laughing out loud". While these conventions obviously don't replace the richness of face-to-face encounters, they are an attempt to do something to broaden the narrow-bandwidth.

Another problem with narrow-bandwidth as expressed by the respondents, was the ease with which text and other written conventions can be misinterpreted. Respondents felt that it was quite easy to misunderstand (or miss completely) sarcasm and irony. Some respondents felt that they were unable to determine the true motives of their cyber-partners. The anonymity and the ability to hide behind created persona now becomes a negative attribute of cybersex. If one is able to "create" a new physical being for ones self is it not possible that a cyber-partner is doing the same thing? It is interesting to note that this is viewed by respondents as fraudulent behaviour when captured in other people, but as part of a process which allows the respondent to recreate their own identity to overcome physical inhibitions. Nonetheless, these feelings of mistrust are just one of the reasons why people move away from carnal cybersex.

Finally, the narrow-bandwidth allows respondents to develop preconceptions about the people with whom they interact, which are not based on real-life appearances. This is probably one of the reasons why the majority (87.5%) of respondents stated that they would not like to meet the people with whom they interact (although 40% stated that they had). The real-life meeting of these people has the potential to shatter the respondents' preconceptions. Very often the imagined is better than the reality. Also, there is the fear that these people might not find the respondents' physical appearance appealing. We can probably deduce from this that the respondents prefer carnal cybersex to remain in the realm of the cyber.

Impressions of infidelity

Another issue which arose was one which Malik (1996) terms "cyberadultery", when a spouse or significant other creates a secret time to meet their carnal cybersex partner. This issue was one on which the respondents did not show a clear preference. Fifty percent of the respondents felt that carnal cybersex was a form of infidelity, while fifty percent of the respondents felt carnal cybersex was not. Some respondents felt that carnal cybersex meant spending time away from one's real-life partner, and unless one is honest about where (and with whom) this time is spent, then one is breaking the trust which exists between real-life partners. Carnal cybersex is a means of actively excluding one's real-life partner, and as such points to problems in that relationship which are being avoided by indulging in this form of sex. Other respondents felt that the "meeting of the mind is more intimate" than just the meeting of bodies, and that carnal cybersex is tantamount to "mentally having an affair". There is also the belief amongst some respondents that carnal cybersex often involves the sharing of intimate fantasies which are best reserved for one's real-life partner.

The other side of the argument is based largely on the fact that some respondents feel that carnal cybersex is nothing but pure fantasy. The carnal cybersex encounters are not seen as real, but rather as just analogous to pornography in magazines or videos. In this respect carnal cybersex can be equated to masturbation ("you are not having an affair if you masturbate"). The cybersex encounters occur as nothing more than entertainment, and provided that real-life relationships are not neglected entirely, cybersex is just another way of socialising and spending time. For some respondents who don't have real-life partners, carnal cybersex is a way of "filling the gap for the sexually unfulfilled", and perhaps a way of meeting people and establishing long-term cyber-relationships.

Discussion

Firstly, a note of caution in interpreting these results. The cybersex survey drew relatively few respondents (twenty completed emailed surveys). While this response is relatively low, poor response rates are typical of surveys looking at material of a highly sensitive nature (such as cybersex). However, a low response rate could mean that the response set is biased (perhaps only those people who are comfortable discussing issues of a sexual nature responded), and not representative of the population of Internet users or even people who engage in carnal cybersex. Further studies are needed to substantiate or refute the findings of this survey. Nevertheless, the results reported in this paper serve as important indicators for future research, and in the best tradition of qualitative research, supply more questions than definitive answers.

We have come a long way since the original development of the Internet in 1969. There is now doubt that the Internet has revolutionised communication, research and many other aspects of our daily lives, but we need to evaluate where it has left us in terms of our interpersonal relationships. There is an aspect of this research which is both sad and thought-provoking. The innocence of first dating and first-love appear to rapidly be becoming icons of a past era. The anticipation of waiting for a response from a distant pen-pal, the elation of receiving that perfume-scented envelope. These are in danger of disappearing.

One of the recurrent themes in the reasoning of respondents, is that cybersex allows you to be someone who you are not. You can meet in cyberspace where it doesn't matter how much money you have, what car you drive, or if you wear the right clothing. Perhaps there is a lot to be said for the anonymity of the experience. We live in a world where the influence of the media is pervasive. On a daily basis we are confronted with role models that are thinner than us, smarter than us, and richer than us. It is not surprising then, that people find solace and fancy in pretending to be someone else. Anonymity allows people to express themselves better, and to become those beings that the media want them to be.

The sad implication from this research is the finding that people feel they need computer-mediated relationships to boost their self esteem. On a level it seems to be an anomaly. One would predict that the sheer number of encounters would lead to a process of deindividuation (Wong, 1994), where users would start to feel like their individuality was being minimised. Instead, they claim to feel special, and attractive, and appealing. The need to be needed, even if it is only in an anonymous, physical manner, is obviously great. It is not surprising then that Kehoe & Pitkow (1997) and Pitkow & Kehoe (1996) found that the greatest impression created by joining the WWW was a feeling of connectedness with people from around the world who share their interests.

Will carnal cybersex ever suffice as a replacement for real human intimacy? We think the answer is a straightforward no. Human contact, touching, holding, caressing: these are all an integral part of our existence. Without them , we would be confronted with the final reality that confronts the vast majority of cyber-lovers. A relationship without physical contact is simply not fulfilling.

As demonstrated in the classic study by Harlow and Zimmerman (1959), physical contact is important in developing social attachment. It is therefore highly unlikely that any significant attachment will be formed in cyberspace, taking into account the physical and emotional distance between cyber-partners.

Carnal cybersex warrants research as a concept in its own right. Its purpose is thus not to replace real relationships, or even to compete with them. It has its own special place. It is a place for experimentation, for fantasy, and for arousal. It is a place where many have gone, and many have yet to go.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank all those respondents who shared details of their sexual lives with us. Hopefully we have maintained the anonymity which we promised you.

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Andrew Thatcher is a Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Wits University, lecturing in Ergonomics and Engineering Psychology to students studying courses in Industrial Psychology. His main research interests are in Human-Computer Interaction, focussing on cognitive and social issues of the Internet. At some stage in the future Andrew intends finding some time to do his PhD. Andrew frequently wastes time surfing the Web.

Andee Feldman is a Tutor in the Department of Psychology at Wits University. On top of all her tutoring responsibilities, Andee makes time to lecture in areas of Consumer Behaviour and Work Motivation. Andee's other research interests are looking at perceptions of the patient-doctor relationship (and how these impact on quality of life and general health), and aspects of the teaching and learning process. Andee hopes to turn her MA into a PhD. Andee is too busy to waste time surfing the Web.


Paper presented at the 3rd Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Touch me I'm sick"
8 & 9 September 1997, University of South Africa Regional Office, Durban
critical methods society - www.criticalmethods.org - info@criticalmethods.org