Jane Wakefield: Let's talk about sex

Hello boys. I am blonde, beautiful, with an IQ of 150 and I would like to have fun with you

OK, so my IQ is 149, but in the wonderful world of cybersex it doesn't really matter which bits are made up. I can be whatever you want me to be -- men can have the cyberbabe of their dreams and women can have their cyberhunk, all with the click of a mouse.

What a long way we have come from the days of poor quality Seventies porn videos where moustachioed men with German accents used a plot as thin as a Rizla paper in order to get a series of collagen-enhanced pouting blondes to have sex. And just when the action really started to get going and the voice-over sex noises reached a crescendo the video went fuzzy and transformed itself into The Towering Inferno.

Not that the Internet has improved the quality of porn. There is still plenty of dodgy pictures and video clips out there for the seventies porn connoisseur as sex on the Web proves to be big, big business. As broadband finds its way into people's homes, the Internet sex industry is set to enter a new era. Video streaming has the pornographers rushing from bedrooms in Enfield to West end studios in pursuit of perfect porn videos.

But what is really getting everyone hot under the collar is not so much sexual images on the Net, as virtual sex. Chatrooms are buzzing with the sound of sexual innuendo and dripping with the sweat of a million palms on keyboards. Everyone is doing it and it would seem the Internet has finally achieved what a decade of bra-burning never could -- equality for women. What laddettes did for pub culture, so the Internet is doing for sex -- with more and more women dabbling in porn and sex chat.

At a conference on sexual addiction -- (the mind boggles at what the hotel arrangements were) -- in Calfornia last week, a series of "experts" said they were concerned that the level of addiction to Net sex was a danger to public health. Cybersex, they said, is a medical condition and should be taken as seriously as drink or drug abuse. Call me a cynic but I am convinced that the new cybersex phenomenon has more to do with funding the glut of "sex clinics" which are sprouting up on the West Coast than about any real medical condition.

San Francisco university is even offering courses on cyber sex, which come complete with an interactive CD-ROM called Virtual Valerie. (Valerie seems to me to be a curiously unsexy name). There is a bandwagon in town and these guys are surely not going to miss it.

Internet sex addiction makes good headlines but there is little substance behind the hype. But a survey conducted by the US Cyberangels -- self-appointed Net porn busters -- which claims that 60 percent of teenage girls indulge in online sex talk, seems to me far more worrying. Chatrooms are notorious haunts of paedophiles and it is not hard to imagine how easily a pervert can persuade a young girl to meet him, especially if he can lie about how old he is and what he looks like.

At a conference in the UK last week about the safety of children on the Net, the Cyberangels wheeled out a thirteen year old girl from the UK -- a victim of online chat. Georgie thought she was off to meet an 18 year old she had struck up an online friendship with but when he turned up in Milton Keynes to meet her, he was actually 47. Luckily Georgie's mum was on hand to intervene and the man was herded away by the police.

On the Net, nothing is at it seems and the 25 year old with a six pack to die for may just as easily turn out to be a balding 40 year old with a six pack of Tenants Extra. Writing is not the same as talking and extending the online experience to the real world is bound to end in disappointment, as a lot of people who attempt to do so are finding out.

Marriages resulting from a meeting on the Internet are far more likely to end in divorce than conventional courtships -- e-marriages typically last for just a few weeks or months. There is of course a great temptation to sneer at the whole concept of online relationships -- like computer dating, it is seen as the preserve of a small minority of anorak-wearing no-hopers.

And the stereotype of the nerdy male surfer is fast losing ground. A report from Pew Internet and the American Life Project finds that it is women who are leading the latest phase of Internet growth. It has to be said that their methodology smacks somewhat of desperation -- apparantly surfers are not nerds because 74 percent of them had visited a friend or member of their family during the previous 24 hours. Oh well, that proves that then.

Whether or not surfing for sex is sad or not, there is no question that it needs to be done with caution. Indulge by all means -- but don't blur the edges between reality and fantasy. To find a real partner you are just going to have to get out there and do some real work.

What do you think about cybersex? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

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