you ever engaged in Online Sexual Activity (OSA)? You may not have a Brad Pitt
or Jennifer Aniston alter-ego maneuvering through the world of online dating services.
You may not have searched Google for sex positions, tips, or vocabulary explanations. And you may not have sat before
a computer screen, turned askew of your roommate’s sightlines at two in the morning, watching Jenna Jameson and Peter
North attack each other as if savage animals. Nevertheless, a recent 120 question
online survey of 760 university students (aged 19 and above) by Sylvain Boies published in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality found that 40-50% of respondents had engaged in OSA (2002). OSA is defined by Cooper and Griffen-Shelley (2001) in an article cited by Boies as “the use of the
internet for any activity that involves sexuality for the purposes of recreation, entertainment, exploration, support, education,
commerce, and/or seeking out sexual or romantic partners.” Furthermore, Goodson, McCormick, and Evans state that people
engaging in OSA are looking for one of three things: relationships, information, or entertainment/gratification (2000). Since there is such a strong connection between online activity and offline gratification,
it is critical that further analysis be conducted.
Gaining information is one of the most obvious
online sexual activities due to the surplus of diverse data available. Over 50%
of Boies’ respondents sought sexual information on a regular basis with regards to three major areas: learning new techniques,
fulfilling sexual fantasies, or directly experiencing sexual arousal. All three areas correlated to relationships between
online and offline sexual behavior in 54-65% of respondents (Boies, 2002). Offline
sexual behavior is defined as “consensual physical touch with the objective of achieving sexual arousal and/or orgasm,
excluding sexual experiences on the internet or the telephone.” The most important factor in this search for information
was that nearly all involved said that they benefited from it in their offline endeavors.
As described, these associations between investigation and benefit point to a need to further explore offline sexuality
and its relationship with online activity.
Although a slightly smaller fraction, at 41.8%,
responded that they were seeking a relationship, this area attests to the confidence that people have with the internet and
it’s ability to connect people. Only 8.1% responded that they had online
sex with a partner met exclusively online, yet 44% claimed these actions improved their sexual relationships outside of the
internet (Boies, 2002). In a related study by by Parks and Roberts (1998), it
was found that 90% of respondents in a chat room-type arena had formed personal relationships in their time online, albeit
not necessarily sexual. These relationships are certainly events that demand
more careful attention and study due to the growing impact and availability of the internet itself.
The last major category of OSA is the use of
online sources for sexual entertainment or gratification. This is defined as
“looking at pictures, participating in sexual chats, exchanging explicit images or emails, sharing fantasies, and other
such activities that may include masturbation while online either by oneself or with another or others” (Cooper and
Griffen-Shelley, 2001). In yet another study, researchers Greenfield and Egan
(1999) in reporting that between 15 and 31% of total web users visit sexually explicit sites.
In Boies’ specific survey, he found that 40.1% had viewed SEM (sexually explicit material); of these, most (82%)
found the information arousing, with 20.5% attesting that it satisfied their sexual needs.
This demonstrates the clear connection that people make with online material and the satisfaction that it gives them. And since in addition, 40% of these people masturbated while watching SEM online,
there is further corroboration to the fact that OSA has an offline transition from the material viewed online (Boies, 2002).
The observations between the entertainment and
gratification factors of online sexuality are arguably the greatest lead into the world of offline sexual behavior, secretive
as it may be. Although 40-50% of respondents seem to have participated in one
of the three categories of sexual activity in the 12 months prior to the survey, 70% of these individuals said that they kept
this time spent secret from anyone else. This demonstrates that although online
activity is present, the translation into offline activity between members is slightly less obvious. Nevertheless, the most important aspect of the internet may be its ability to provide information to the
general public. Since many participants felt that they had learned something,
and were extremely satisfied with their information, the possibility of greater popularity calls for study in these areas. Further examinations, conducted based on the methodology of Boies’ survey, are
the best way towards indicating the relative trends in internet use and its importance in relation to offline sexual behavior.
In this way, any stereotypes and preconceptions about internet use can be publicized and scrutinized based on data, and not
just public perception. Because regardless of whether you are participating,
many people are, and are applying them to real-life situations in which you might become involved.
Boies, Sylvain C. 2002. University students’ uses of and reactions to
online sexual information and entertainment: Links to online and offline sexual behaviour.
The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 11, Iss. 2, 77-90.
Cooper, A., Griffin-Shelley, E.,
Delmonico, D.L., & Madly, R. 2001.
Online sexual problems: Assessment and predictive variables. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention.
Vol. 7, 1-25.
Egan, T. 2000, October 3. Wall Street
Meets Pornography. The New York Times.
Goodson, P., McCormick, D., &
Evans, A. 2000. Sex and the Internet: A survey instrument to assess college students’
behavior and attitudes. CyberPsychology
& Behavior. Vol. 3, 129-149.
Greenfield, D.N. 1999. Virtual Addiction: Help for netheads, cyberfreaks, and those who
love them. Oakland, Ca: New Harbinger Publications.
Parks, M., & Roberts, L.
1998. “Making MOOsic.” The
development of personal relationships online and a comparison of their off-line counterparts.
Journal of Social Personal Relation.
Vol. 15, 521-537.