A Sexual Evolution II
Last week, Part I of A Sexual Evolution? took a look at how the cultural equation was changed when the purpose of sex shifted from reproduction to recreation. It also explored how sexual fluidity and gender shifting could mean the end of sexual identity, as we know it. This week, we explore how we get off, who we get off with, and how those choices define our concept of both sex and self.
Is Web Cruising Hazardous to Your Mental Health?
Has the computer screen replaced the television as the most important boob tube in your life? Has the void in your lonely heart been filled by intimacy forged from the exchange of messages and photos? Have you found a worldwide community of like-minded people who share the same kinks, peccadilloes and perversions that you feared were yours alone? And, if so, are you better off knowing that there are others out there with the same hopes, fears and needs?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, chances are you’re a member of Generation X, Y or beyond. Although Baby Boomers have certainly embraced the Internet, whether you use it for self satisfaction or self discovery seems to depend on whether you grew up with it as a given or grew into it when it was the next new thing.
"We don’t commit the resources to really understanding what’s going on with sexual behavior." says Kinsey Institute Director of Communication Jennifer Bass. "If we did, we’d be looking at the real impact of the Internet." Bass cites a preponderance of anecdotal evidence seeming to indicate negative consequences resulting from heavy viewing of web-based erotica: "There’s a lot of fear around this; a new phenomenon where people are compulsively using the Internet for sexual release or pleasure to the exclusion of relationships." Bass is concerned that we do not yet now what the effect will be on children who’ve grown up consuming these materials with y regarding the Internet’s physical disconnect as a normal way to explore and engage in relationships.
Drawing on her experience as a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist Stephanie Buehler (website - the Buehler Institute) links the net’s unlimited access to sexual expression to intimacy issues within a committed relationship: "One thing I’m observing is that mature women are not putting up with their partner’s porn addictions. A lot of men are looking at pornography on the Internet; pretty hardcore stuff. The woman are angry." That anger stems not just from the consumption of sexual imagery, but at what it says about how they regard others as sexual objects. Buehler sees women frustrated that "at this age, they still haven’t gotten that you are supposed to love the person behind the eyes."
But what will the long-term effects of web-based sexual exploration be for the current generation? As a technology still in its relative infancy, the Internet’s effects have yet to be fully realized. Surely, we’re all poised to grow hideous tumors in a few decades from constant exposure to plastics and cell phone radiation. Might we also eventually display irreparable damage (or at the very least, lasting psychological influences) from our time spent in front of the computer exploring various forms of sexual expression? Not so fast, cautions Ross Dale. As author of the book "Embedded: Confessions Of A TV Sex Journalist’ and as a producer for Playboy TV’s Sexcetera, Dale acknowledges that the Internet’s "Knowledge and exposure is always good" but adds that "porn is a powerful drug you need to be able to handle like your booze."
Bass backs up that assertion by citing "some studies out of Sweden and Europe that show young people who are exposed to porn who have problems in late adolescence" not only bonding with real life people, but separating what’s "normal" from what truly constitutes deviant behavior. Bass calls for much more extensive research so we can "know the effects on the way you live your life and form deep, intimate relationships outside of the Internet."
For Dale, however, the Internet’s detrimental effects on intimacy are outweighed by its democratization of access to information and its normalization of sexual curiosity: "The Internet helps get everybody out of their own closet, promotes dialogue The more strange or bizarre the fetish, they all have the same story, I thought I was the only one." Lifting the veil of shame regarding something as extreme as fetishes or as innocuous as preferences significantly helps to "promote dialogue. Before, they’d have to go into some store; and not everybody wants to do that. The Internet allows people to explore their curiosities, their own sexuality and the sexuality of others in private."
Still, surfing the web for sex can be like hitting the stores with an unlimited credit card. With that in mind, Buehler notes that "When it comes to looking at porn, you have to do it with some consciousness." Dale, however, emphasizes the nonjudgmental nature of the web: "Google does not come with a disparaging remark when you ask it something. It will just tell you like it is."