In “health” class, the point of our endless discussions was to scare us off of sex for at least a few years.But the safer substitutes for sex to be found online offered whole new kinds of titillation.Spaces like bars and boardwalks shared many features in common with chat rooms. Sure, people worried about other people misrepresenting themselves.Both were enticing despite being slightly dangerous. A cyberlover might say he was tall and strong when in fact he was short and skinny, or thin when she was fat. Back in the day, in your parents’ parlor, or at a church- or synagogue-sponsored dance, any other young person you met would have been screened in advance. The man who held your hand as you shuddered through the dark of the Tunnel of Love might be anyone.Like The Joy of Cybersex, the first issue of Wired magazine came out in 1993.It contained an article about a woman whose prolific activity in “hot chats” transformed her from a “paragon of shy and retiring womanhood” into a bona fide “man-eater.” The author describes a female friend who spent hours a day in the 1980s on a service called the Source.At the turn of the twentieth century, “tough girls,” “charity cunts,” and other early daters upset their parents and the police by taking a process that had always been conducted in private to the streets.
“She began regaling me with descriptions of her expanding lingerie collection. In short, she was becoming her online personality.” Surfing was the new cruising, and it could change lives.They were “uniquely intimate” because they “grew from the inside out.” Gwinnell’s patients said some version of the same thing again and again.“The relationship is all about what is happening inside of the soul and the mind, and the body doesn’t get in the way.” “We met our souls first.” This was the benefit of cyberdating, especially for singles who felt insecure in the flesh.The psychiatrist Esther Gwinnell decided to write a book about “computer love” after a string of patients came to her office reporting that they or their partners had fallen for a stranger online.In Online Seductions, she coined a phrase for the kinds of relationships that her patients struck up.But daters soon discovered that the anonymity of being out in public offered its own kind of intimacy. You never had to see a girl you had picked up at the dance hall again.Without family and friends hovering over you, you could be yourself and frankly express your feelings. Early on, mental health professionals started observing that meeting strangers online often had a similar effect.He calls her by her handle: “This Is a Naked Lady.” “The Naked Lady egged on her digital admirers with leading questions larded with copious amounts of double entendre,” the piece began.“When I first asked her about this, she initially put it down to ‘just fooling around on the wires.’” “It’s just a hobby,” she said.Months later, the New York Times reiterated the point.“Computer erotica appears to provide many people with a ‘safe’ alternative to real, personal relationships in a world where HIV is deadlier than computer viruses.” This was in a book review. If a partner asked you (while undressed in the bedroom) to pretend to be something you’re not, say a cashier at a grocery store or a famous astronaut, you would:a. Think he or she had totally lost his or her mind, and suggest a visit to the therapist.d.