Is it Real or Is it Netsex?

Taylor and Julie stand on either side of the bed, staring at each other meaningfully. They climb in and embrace, in perfect harmony. Taylor massages Julie's neck, slips his hand under her silk nightshirt and caresses the small of her back. Julie runs her slender fingers through Taylor's light blond hair, then feels her way down to his buttocks. They disrobe, and he rolls atop her. Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" plays softly on the stereo, setting a sensuous rhythm for their lovemaking. They reach orgasm simultaneously, holding each other, breathless.The perfect romantic sex encounter or a scene as outdated as the Rubik's Cube? With the Internet opening the gates to a new sexual frontier, the quaint notion of one-on-one physical intercourse seems less cutting-edge, less engaging than a heated virtual sex romp in an on-line chatroom. It may seem anachronistic, but the cold hand of technology has put the spark back into many a sex life."Our biggest sex organ is our brain, and sex is all about communication," says Lisa Palac, a San Francisco author and former editor of the magazine FutureSex. "You know how it's really hard to be turned on if your mind is in a different place? No matter what someone is doing to your body, if your mind isn't there and you're not focused, it just doesn't happen. What you see on-line is that people are mentally focused. That's why it's so erotic."Ah, but Netsex has its downsides, too. The peskiest obstacle to heightened eroticism is the need to have one hand on the keyboard at all times. According to Palac, many who start sexual relations on the Net later take their desires to the phone, which can be cradled between shoulder and ear, thereby freeing up the hands for increased action. Another problem is that the anonymity of the Internet allows users to let go of their inhibitions, often at the expense of others."On the Internet, everybody grabs your ass," says Debbie Stoller, a co-editor of Bust magazine and a cybersex columnist for the Web site Shift.Stoller, who holds a PhD from Yale in psychology of women, sees many benefits to the Net, from allowing lascivious ladies to discreetly purchase sex toys to providing chatrooms where women can discuss socially taboo topics like their methods of achieving orgasm. But she has found that in many ways, the cyberworld rotates on an axis that looks suspiciously like a penis."I was trying to do research about how girls are using the Internet," Stoller says. "If you do a keyword search on the words 'girl' and 'Internet,' you'll get a lot of hits, but 90 percent of it is girls' tits you can look at on the Internet. It's all sex, and it's really annoying to me. I'm [sick of] being in chatrooms and having every guy who enters proposition me because I have a girl's name. It's just all these guys trolling the Web for sex. It's really boring."There's no denying that the Internet has been a magnet for perverts, fetishists, porn lovers and the merely curious, and this has led to such a proliferation of sites and chatrooms that, at any given moment, it's a safe bet someone somewhere is typing the letters "S-E-X" into a search engine. And most of the resulting sites will probably be oriented toward the male user. One Web site I happened upon recently offered links such as "Balloons from Far East -- professional photographs of Oriental girls with beautiful faces, perfect bodies and above all, large balloons," "Shaved Sensation" (I'll spare you the explanation) and "AAA Teensex -- hottest teen pics on the Net!"So does this mean that the dirty minds of men have led the Internet astray from its promising possibilities? Not necessarily. Netsex has evolved into a serious alternative for people of all types, from those who enjoy S&M to more conservative folk; for those who masturbate while gawking at photos on Web sites to chatroom users looking to connect sexually, socially or spiritually with others.Palac, who once had a love affair with a man she met in a chatroom, says the Net has introduced new dynamics to the sexual environment, teaching us a few things in the process and requiring us to draw from our real-life experience as well."It says a lot about human nature and our erotic spirit that sex without love can be incredibly valid and fulfilling," she says. "There are a lot of people who wish that wasn't true, but I think it is. People use pseudonyms, and that gives them an incredible amount of freedom to say what they want. And if they're looking for an erotic connection, they're not going to be rude and mean-spirited, because the other person will go away."Palac pauses and laughs."If you want to have an erotic on-line encounter, you're not going to type, 'Hey, let me eat your pussy right now!' Someone would slap your face on-line the way they'd slap your face in real life. There's an etiquette to fulfilling your desires. It's a game of seduction. All the methods we've learned to sexually seduce someone in real life are present on-line. They haven't gone away, and people who have no skills or no erotic talent generally do fairly poorly on-line."

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