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Is Virtual Sex a Blessing or a Curse?

In a just a few short decades, sexting, Internet porn, adultery websites and smartphone apps have changed the standards for dating, courtship and even our definitions of relationship fidelity. As popular as these developments are, sex-tech is going to a whole new level.

According to Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, internationally known author, educator, sex addiction specialist and founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, “evolving sexnologies are about to make sexting nude pictures to strangers as old-school as passing around last month’s Playboy.”

The Virtual Sex Revolution Begins

Virtual sex is no longer considered some far-fetched technology of the future. Although still young in its evolution, virtual sex is here – and it’s being mass-produced and marketed to average middle-class Americans.

No longer relegated to porn conventions or science labs, Internet-enabled sex toys have also made their way into popular media. The tech nerds on the hit TV show “Big Bang Theory” have already explored the use of video chat and virtual sex using a device that simulates kissing to keep alive a long-distance relationship.

Though shocking and uproariously funny, the show isn’t that far off reality. Designer Fabian Hemmert of the Berlin University of the Arts has crafted three prototypes for phones that breathe life into the idea of “making out” at a distance. One device straps on and tightens like a hand squeeze on command, while another mimics breathing when the person on the other end exhales into their phone.

There’s also a phone that can simulate kissing using a “wet sponge pushing against a membrane.” Reports indicate that the phone can even differentiate between a quick smooch and a deep, passionate kiss.

Taking virtual sex to the next level, there are also devices designed to “go all the way.” The RealTouch, which was developed by a former NASA engineer, promises realistic, hands-free sexual experiences for men with a “line-up of willing partners, who are always ready when you are,” according to the website.

After inserting the penis into a snug-fitting circular device, users watch an X-rated video which is synchronized in real time with the RealTouch’s movements, heating elements and lubrication mechanism. Everything about the device, including its faux-flesh material, is designed with men’s sexual pleasure in mind.

RealTouch also offers real-life experiences through live chat online. With a computer and camera, users connect with people all over the world for virtual sexscapades. At a price of $150 (and movies that cost $1 per minute), the device is being widely marketed to men of all ages, backgrounds and income levels.

Even the Nintendo Wii, maker of popular interactive video games, has gotten in on the adult sex toy business. Available for his and her pleasure are two rods, one resembling a women’s vibrator and another with a ring designed to fit over the penis. Connecting these “Wii-motes” to specific hardware, motions detected on one Wii-mote are transmitted via Bluetooth to a nearby computer, sent over the Internet and reproduced by the other Wii-mote. In this way, one user “feels” the physical stimulation provided by the other in real time. These devices are available online for about $300.

Fast-Forward to Virtual Sex of the Future

Given the high demand – and lucrative profits – for virtual sex technologies, we can expect more sophisticated devices to hit the market in the next decade.

“Using a bit of imagination by picturing the near full or partial body suits yet to come, individually sized and shaped to fit both in and outside our genitalia, you’ll get the idea of what virtual sex is about to offer,” says Weiss.

Hotels are cashing in on the business of virtual sex as well. So long pay-per-view, budget hotel chain Travelodge has announced that its hotels of the future will offer digital sex. The hotel chain commissioned engineer and futurologist Ian Pearson to evaluate how services of the future may differ from those available now.

According to Pearson, by 2030, people will be able to wear lenses to change the how their partner looks while making love – even without their knowledge. Clients will be able to beam their partner into bed and make love to them remotely. Hotel sheets and sleepwear will have special fibers that produce sensory responses, allowing clients to “feel” the sensations of sex.

The Downside of Virtual Sexuality

On the plus side, some of these technologies have the potential to spice up blah marriages, strengthen the intimacy of long-distance relationships, and extend the opportunity for sexual stimulation to busy single moms and dads, widows, people with certain physical handicaps and perhaps those men and women in uniform who spend long periods of time far away from those they love. Virtual sex toys also allow people to explore their sexuality with multiple partners without the risk of contracting an STD or the complication of an unwanted relationship or pregnancy. There are also likely to be useful applications for these devices in sex education and couples therapy.

For all of the potential benefits, there are also some serious concerns. The easy accessibility and novelty of having virtual sex with an unlimited number of prospective partners, along with an explosion of online porn, virtual chats and smartphone sex apps, has compromised some people’s ability to forge genuine connections with others. Virtual sex also presents unique challenges to those in committed relationships.

Like pornography, sexting and smartphone apps, virtual sex is not inherently “bad.” The problems show up when those with impulsive, compulsive and addictive sexual disorders get hold of these novel sexual experiences.

“Neither infidelity nor sexual addiction is new,” explains Weiss. “What has changed is that access to sexual content and sexual experiences has become immediate, anonymous and – once online – free, so problems tend to show up more readily. If everyone had cocaine in their medicine cabinets, we’d see more problems with cocaine. Likewise, being able to access and participate in sexual experiences online, with just a few clicks of the mouse, makes it easier to act on impulses and lose control.”

We can only hope that virtual sex ends up being a fun, entertaining and empowering alternative to traditional in-person sex, potentially leading to greater openness and satisfaction in the bedroom, especially for long-distance couples. But for some, these technologies can become an obstacle to intimacy in real-life relationships. Addictive abuse of porn and sexual hook-ups are also a sign of underlying emotional health concerns.

“Virtual sex becomes a problem if it interferes with an individual’s goals and/or belief systems,” says Weiss. “If the user loses control over their impulses or continues to use virtual sex technologies despite them causing negative life consequences, they may be struggling with love, relationship or sex addiction.”

New virtual sex devices are constantly hitting the market, each one promising a more realistic erotic experience than the last. Could virtual sex someday replace the real deal? Will chat roulette replace dating, or monogamy become an old-fashioned and out-dated ideal? No one can say for sure, but we can hold out hope that whatever “advancements” are made will enrich our lives rather than taking us down a dark and lonely – albeit stimulating – path.

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