Cybersex: Types, Benefits, and Risks

Though cybersex can be seen as a means to commit infidelity or waste time, it can be a positive way for individuals or couples to explore their sexuality in ways that don't put them at risk of sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.

It's also an option when in-person sexual activity needs to be put on hold, like when an individual is sick, a couple lives in different states, or during the social distancing era of the current novel coronavirus pandemic.

What Is Cybersex?

Cybersex isn't one thing. Instead, the word describes a group of activities that has one critical thing in common—it takes place over the internet or another electronic network. In other words, cybersex is fundamentally virtual and does not involve person-to-person physical contact. It can be an activity for one, two, or even more, and can be anything from sending a sexy text to exploring teledildonics.

Cybersex is usually safe sex. As interactions are taking place over a computer network, there's no risk of transmitting an STD to a partner or getting them pregnant. However, it's not entirely risk-free. Individuals should be aware of the possible loss of privacy if materials they share are passed on to others. They should be careful to practice proper hygiene with any sex toys. It's also important to be aware of any local laws that may be relevant to cybersex activities. Other than those concerns, the biggest risk of cybersex is using up your data plan or running up a big phone bill.

Legal Issues for Minors Considering Cybersex

In the United States, people who are under the age of 18 should be aware of the very real legal risks of cybersex. Many states have laws that explicitly criminalize the sending of suggestive or nude photos of teens and adolescents. While designed to protect young people from exploitation, even teens engaging in consensual "sexting" may be at risk of legal consequences from these activities. These laws vary from state to state. In addition, even in states that do not have laws about teen sexting, federal child pornography laws may also put individuals at risk.

Sexting

Sexting, or "sex texting," involves sending sexually explicit or sexually suggestive messages, emojis, and images to a partner. Sexting can be used as a way to flirt when you're apart, or even to get things flowing when you're together. When sexting, it is important to be aware of how and where your partner uses their phone. It's one thing to send a teasing text message that may get inadvertently read by your partner's co-worker. It's another thing entirely to send nude photos that could get your partner in trouble with their boss (or their roommates).

It's also important to be aware of your own privacy when you sext. Sexting isn't something you should do with someone you don't trust implicitly. Remember, most phones allow individuals to capture and save screenshots of whatever is on the screen, in addition to just directly forwarding a message. Therefore, think about whether you'd be okay with someone other than your partner seeing your sexts, as well as whether you trust your partner not to share them.

Webcam Sex

Webcam sex is exactly what it sounds like. Two—or more—people open up webcams and engage with each other sexually. It could be FaceTime with body time, or it could be sexy Skype. Webcam sex can be fun, it can be awkward, or it can be both. If you're considering webcam sex with one or more partners, it can be helpful to set some boundaries and expectations in advance. How will you be private? Should you each have sex toys? Are there things that are off-limits or things that you particularly want to try?

There are as many ways to have webcam sex as there are to have in-person sex. As with in-person sex, it helps to be aware that the experience may be awkward the first (or fifth) time. It also helps to do a little planning in advance. Figure out a way to set up your phone or camera so that you can be comfortable when you're playing with your partner. You don't want to knock your tablet off the dresser with your foot in the middle of an exciting moment.

Pornography and Erotica

Whether you're solo or not, one way to engage in cybersex is through viewing or reading erotic content on the web. There are websites that provide erotic content suitable to just about anyone's interests, whether those interests encompass explicit lesbian sex or romantic heterosexual erotica. People think of pornography as something used solo, and many do. However, couples can also watch or read porn together in bed, or together at a distance. It can be a way to build sexual tension or generate fun new ideas.

Teledildonics

The word teledildonics refers to the use of connected sex toys. For example, the category includes vibrators whose vibrations are controlled by the internet or by app. The goal of teledildonics is to provide stimulation at a distance—a way to simulate the experience of a partner's touch. While not the cheapest option for cybersex, they can be fun for people who have the resources to afford them.

Alternate Reality and Virtual Reality Sex

The grandfather of alternate reality relationships, and sex, is the online community Second Life. Second Life is a virtual world. Originally created in 2003, it has millions of users living, working, and even having sex in their virtual environment. Second Life isn't a quick fix for when you're looking for an online love life, as the initial investment in time, skill, and sometimes money can be substantial. However, some people have very fulfilling romances and sexual interactions in this 3-D virtual world. Virtual sex also allows people the opportunity to experiment with different avatars, genders, and forms of sexuality that wouldn't be possible in the physical world, something that many consider to be a big plus.

There is a virtual reality interface for Second Life, but there are also makers of virtual reality porn. These range from 3-D videos to more immersive options that resemble video games. It's important to note that virtual reality options can be quite expensive, requiring the purchase of virtual reality systems or headsets if users do not have them already.

Negotiating Cybersex with a Partner

The way that you negotiate cybersex is going to be very different if you're doing it with your spouse than if you're planning to try it for a first, long-distance date. Things to think about ahead of trying cybersex for the first time in any relationship include:

  • What are you comfortable sharing and doing with your partner?
  • What kind of cybersex are you each interested in?
  • When do you have time and space to play?
  • Do you have particular limits or triggers that you want to make certain your partner respects?
  • What, if anything, do you need to practice or purchase in advance?
  • Do you have any concerns about maintaining your privacy?

The more clearly and explicitly you can talk about these things, the more likely that your cybersex encounter will be something you enjoy. Clear communication and setting of expectations also reduces the likelihood that either of you will do something you'll regret.

A Word from Verywell

In this time when we're unable to explore physical relationships as easily as usual, cybersex is a safe option. However, be aware that you should not use any equipment (phones, computers) or accounts (Zoom, Skype, e-mail) that are owned or managed by an employer. Depending on your company rules, your activities may be monitored. Use of work equipment or accounts for personal business may also violate your employer's policies, which could put your job at risk. There's very little business that's more personal than sex.

It's normal for the current COVID-19 pandemic to make you feel lonely while social distancing. Being proactive about your mental health can help you keep both your mind and body stronger. Learn about the best online therapy options available to you.

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  1. Liberati N. Teledildonics and new ways of "being in touch": a phenomenological analysis of the use of haptic devices for intimate relations. Sci Eng Ethics. 2016;23:801-823. doi:10.1007/s11948-016-9827-5

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