If cyberspace is ‘a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation,’ (Gibson, W. 1995) then cybersex is a collective, presumably consensual hallucination experienced by an indeterminate number of operators in every nation that has adequate internet infrastructure, dependent heavily on the minds of those involved.
The blurred line between real and virtual creates questions around how sex and actions in the online environment are perceived to affect ‘real’ or physical people and bodies. For example, in simulation games like Second Life or text-based virtual realms e.g. MOOS/MUDS fertile ground is laid for understanding how humans respond to virtual, technologically mediated sexual interactions. How do we define a body in an online context as the boundaries between mind and body are eroded (Gorry 2009)?
It seems as if, increasingly, these two separately identified entities are becoming one and the same. In the case of virtual character exu in Dibbell’s A Rape in Cyberspace (1995), while it is not the woman playing the character whose body was violated, it is the mind and thus the emotional self of the woman that is struck by the blow of exu’s violation. As Dibbell suggests, ‘…what happens inside a MUD-made world is neither exactly real nor exactly make-believe, but nonetheless profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally true.’ In the documentary Virtual Adultery And Cyberspace Love, a woman questions the true root of her sexual and emotional responses towards her ‘boyfriend’ in Second Life. ‘You start to question: is it the real person I’m attracted to, or is it the character? Or is it the combination of both?’
It seems as if understanding what determines ‘real’ sexual interaction in our lives now that we are experiencing so many aspects of sex and sexuality online e.g. via apps, virtual simulation etc, is all about emotional responses, and maybe it always was. As Dibbell suggests, the realness of a sexual experience is already heavily dependent on the minds of those involved, ‘…and that whether we present that body to another as a meat puppet or a word puppet is not nearly as significant a distinction as one might have thought.’
Gibson, W. 1995, Neuromancer (Sprawl #1), HarperCollins, London, p. 67
Image: ‘Second Life’ by Gran Karu. Some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)