A reader writes:
Yes, one remains disease-free as a sexual avatar in the virtual world, and even though one is “not, in this interaction, a real or rounded person,” the avatar is still driven by a real and rounded person. The recipient of the photos of pecs or legs – or faces! – does not get a full view of the person who sent them, but the sender is still irrevocably human.
Time spent in the virtual world is time spent. Attention given in the virtual world is attention given. That time and attention are splintered into digital pieces rather than given in a manner in which they may be received fully and appreciated appropriately. What is invested virtually cannot simultaneously be invested elsewhere, so for me (and many other wives, girlfriends, or significant others) the argument of the virtual/real distinction does not hold water. It is less about physical contact than what else is shared: time, attention, energy, flirtation, and the like that precedes and accompanies the love.
“This is not real life,” you say. Yes, I agree. But it is real in its consequences.
"For gay men, it's win-win – a harmless online playground where you flirt the hours away and never really get your feelings hurt and remain, as they say in the brutal jungle of online sex, "disease-free". For straight men, it's tougher to find willing partners who don't think you're creepy (most men and women are just wired differently in sexual matters), but still win-win until wives or girlfriends find out, and they do not see the virtual/real distinction."
I take issue with that last little bit. My fiance and I met in a trashy Yahoo! chatroom flirting the hours away, not getting our feelings hurt. We moved from the chat room to private messaging and he became my best friend. And then we started talking on the phone and two and a half years after the first chat room encounter he flew from Portland to Alabama to meet me, and we started dating immediately. Three years since then we're engaged and will be married after I'm ordained priest (next May or December).
During the time between our meeting in the Yahoo! chatroom and meeting in person, we took different paths:
I moved from Yahoo! to Manhunt and slept around, telling my (deeply repressed self) that it didn't count because I was saving myself for a girl. He was waiting for the person with whom he planned to spend the rest of his life, regardless of their sex. Part that means that there is nothing resembling an open relationship for him.
And that's something we've had to negotiate over the three years we've been together. It's been very clear from the beginning that my hooking up with someone has been out of the question, but we struggled for two to define what was and was not appropriate online behavior and what "committed" means in that realm. And it took crossing lines to figure out where they were…and finding the line often meant that I got caught doing something that made him uncomfortable.
He doesn't see the real/virtual distinction. And I mostly agree with him (no matter how annoying it might be given that he lives a thousand miles away doing his residency).