The Great Online Meatmarket


America Online likes to bill itself as family-safe, with its parental filters protecting kids from the wild, oversexed Internet. But if it weren’t for cybersex, we wonder if AOL would have grown big enough to swallow Time Warner.

AOL’s chat rooms are one of its most popular features, as well as one of the Internet’s premier spots for picking up a cyberdate for some casual sex online. And you don’t have to be an AOL member — you can access its romance channels through its Web site.

But why would you want to? I put that question to a friend of mine, happily married for more than a decade, who’s never even kissed anyone other than his wife. But he has had mad passionate cybersex with women he never met.

“It’s kind of like a mutual fantasy,” said KingBee, his screen name. “It just feels sobaad. But at the same time, there’s no actual contact.”

And that’s the point. Cybersex isn’t a good substitute for the real thing. It’s a lot more work for less payoff.

But it can be an exciting yet safe way for people in committed relationships to enjoy the natural human urge to fool around without risking the emotional and physical upheaval of having an affair in meatspace (the real world).

And yes, copulating with someone other than your spouse is a natural urge, according to evolutionary psychologist Dr. Helen Fisher. The theory that men are attracted to other women in order to transmit their genes as often as possible (like coral spawning into the open sea) has already been widely reported.

What Dr. Fisher points out in her booksAnatomy of Love and The Sex Contract is that women are also motivated to fool around for evolutionary reasons: to attract additional resources and protection for their children, and because having different fathers for her children, and thus different genetic backgrounds, increases the chances of one or more surviving.

So if we accept that to cheat is a natural urge, and cybersex is a reasonable way to indulge it without getting divorced, the trick is to find a compatible partner. To do that, you’ve got to troll the 21st century equivalent of spring break frat-boy bars: chat rooms.

Which brings us back to AOL, or to Yahoo, KingBee’s preferred venue. Before you can start chatting, you’re prompted to create a profile of yourself, a step many people skip. Don’t.

“The profile is very important,” KingBee said. “I think people look at profiles to decide who they want to talk to. Don’t be afraid to list some accomplishments. If you’ve won any Congressional Medals of Honor, let them know.”

Just as in most singles bars, women are in the minority and thus in demand. Of course, since you can create any identity you want in cyberspace, men sometimes pretend to be women. In which case you can discover just why it is that some women think men are pigs.

“A lot of men are really too forward,” KingBee said. “Too blatant and graphic. Start with some double entendres and see if the person on the receiving end picks up on them.”

But be prepared to really work at it. I spent many hours attempting to engage in cybersex for “journalistic purposes,” but wasn’t able to get it going. I found myself striking up conversations with women, discovering they were 17-year-old single moms (or at least posing as such), and ended up spending our chat encouraging them to stay in school. This actually happened three times in one night.

“You really have to sift through a lot of B.S.,” KingBee said. “I do political and social chat on Yahoo. Every once in a while you’ll get into an actual conversation, and sometimes that leads somewhere. But a lot of people in chat rooms just don’t have anything to say.”

If you do make a connection, take my advice and keep your relationship purely online. Unlike the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” cybersex is all fantasy, and translates poorly into the real world.

If you don’t believe me, check out a book by my friend, online advice columnist Spike Gillespie. In All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy, she details a marriage with a man she met online.

As a member of the digital vanguard, she was sure she didn’t need the trappings of traditional courtship. She thought their lengthy conversations ensured that she knew him better than most men she’d actually slept with.

Soon after her wedding, she had an angry divorce and an ineffective restraining order. But at least she got a book out of it.

So pursue your online fantasies with the “Olympic skating hopefuls” and “aspiring actresses” and “professional models” you’ll meet in the chat rooms. It’s a healthy outlet for an extremely disruptive urge. But don’t give out your phone number or address. With cybersex, you’re looking for variety, not reality.

 

 

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