Perceived Consequences of Casual Online Sexual Activities on Heterosexual Relationships: A U.S. Online Survey
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Some researchers have illustrated how the Internet can provide users with an ideal atmosphere to explore sexuality; however, most have stressed the Internet’s negative impact on intimate relationships. Notably, much of this research has focused on the small minority of men who compulsively engage in online sexual activities (OSA), overlooking the majority of men and women who use OSA recreationally (either individually or with a partner). Addressing these limitations, data on heterosexual adults in committed relationships were taken from the 2004 “ELLE/msnbc.com Cyber-sex and Romance Survey” (n = 8,376). In quantitative analyses, men were less likely than women to express concerns and more likely to hold favorable attitudes about their partner’s OSA. With regard to the impact of OSA on intimate relationships, men and women did not differ in becoming “more open to new things,” and finding it easier “to talk about what [they] want sexually.” Negative impacts were also identified, with women more likely to indicate they had less sex as a result of a partner’s OSA, and men more likely to indicate they were less aroused by real sex as a result of their own OSA. Generally, qualitative results mirrored quantitative ones. Additionally, qualitative data suggested that moderate or light amounts of OSA yield relationship benefits for both female and male users, including increases in the quality and frequency of sex, and increased intimacy with real partners. In addition, men who used the Internet moderately, and men and women who reported being light users, stated that engaging in tandem OSA fostered better sexual communication with partners. Findings underscore the need to explore further the impact that online sexual activities can have on real-life committed relationships.
KeywordsInternet Sexuality Cybersex Pornography Heterosexuals Relationships
We thank ELLE magazine for access to the data from the ELLE/msnbc.com Cyber-Sex and Romance Survey. Christian Grov acknowledges the research team at the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training (CHEST) for their intellectual contributions on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Janet Lever, the senior research consultant to ELLE on this project, acknowledges Cynthia Cobaugh and Alex Postman for their assistance in survey construction, and also thanks Carol Edwards, who helped create the database. Brian Gillespie and Tracy Royce are grateful for support from the Departments of Sociology at UCI and UCSB, respectively. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2009 Eastern and Midcontinent Regional Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.
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