Can Online Sex Heal Emotional Trauma?

A new book on fantasies makes us reconsider our cybersex daydreams

In 1948, Alfred Kinsey shocked America by pulling back the covers on our country’s bedroom habits. Back in the days when women wore poodle skirts and talking about sex was still taboo, who could process his scandalous surveys, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which claimed 37% of men had homosexual experiences, 50% had extramarital affairs, and an equal 50% responded erotically to pain? Sixty years later, we find ourselves a lot less shocked by the sex lives of our fellow Americans. However, lest we feel too comfy between the sheets, a new study could scandalize us again with news of the sex we’ve been having in our heads.

Written by London psychologist Brett Kahr, Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head: the Secret World of Sexual Fantasies picks up where the Kinsey reports left off. While Kinsey focused his thousands of interviews on finding out what people do, Kahr has sat through a similarly impressive number of sessions (more than 23,000 with participants from America and the UK) to determine what people think about—that is, their fantasies. Strangely enough, according to Kahr, almost every man and woman he surveyed had a set scenario they envisioned each time they masturbated or had sex, sometimes keeping the same scenarios their entire lives.

For the psychological voyeur in us all, Kahr has packed his book with literally hundreds of examples fantasies, each filed under a different fake name. Some are predictable—men who lust after their secretaries, women who dream of movie stars—but a surprising majority defy what we’d call “normal.” There’s “Lee,” who wants to get rough with a transsexual porn star, and “Veronique,” a lesbian who fantasizes about a man and a woman have sex, as well as a perplexing number of people who dream of getting indecent in front of the queen of England.

Most importantly, Kahr has a downright fascinating theory for why we fantasize about the same things again and again: to mediate childhood trauma. Apparently, we want to turn something painful into something pleasurable. One particularly chilling example: A girl who lost her older brother in a car crash grows up to fantasize about a famous man who looks just like him. In her fantasy, he penetrates her while he drives at ridiculous speeds down the highway in a car identical to the one her brother used.

Of course, with all this talk about fantasies, we can’t help but think of cybersex. When people want to live out their sexual daydreams they go the internet, right? There, they can fantasize together—using text chat, voice chat, and web cams. So maybe Kahr observations will hold true for the internet. Maybe people act out the same cybersex scenarios again and again. Who knows, those scenarios even help mediate trauma. To find out, I embarked on my own survey, asking cybersex enthusiasts on my blog what gets them hot and bothered between the virtual sheets. Consider it an embryonic version of a cybersex Kinsey report. In true Kahr style, their names have been changed and turned amusingly generic:

AARON
“My stuff mostly includes fem-domming (which I’m not, and probably never will be into in the actual world) and mature women with young-ish guys… I guess the ideal cybersex for me includes wildly taboo fantasies where the act isn’t so much of a turn-on as it is the rule you’re breaking. Twin play, for example. The idea of it definitely doesn’t appeal in real life… but the “badness” of it really winds me up.”

BRITTANY: “My cybersex fantasies usually involve bondage or submission. I’m a sub in real life, so it’s not surprising that I like to role-play being forced into servicing people. Sometimes it’s two men, sometimes a man and a woman. I also like the idea of being taken advantage of and used roughly, told what to do, called names, etc.”

CRYSTAL: “A lot of times during cybersex, I do things I would like to try in real life, but haven’t had the opportunity yet--like sleeping with two men, or some of the more hardcore bondage and rape fantasies I have. I also apparently have a thing for placing myself in the role of a gay man. Something about that really turns me on.”

DERICK: “Mostly it’s fun meeting up with an open-minded woman and exploring role-playing. While I do like to incorporate my fetish of hosiery and lingerie, I enjoy exploring beyond my real life experiences, say sometimes some light bondage, and I just love to talk very nasty and dirty. My darkest cyber fantasies include voyeurism, bondage, stranger sex and sometimes age play, even playing younger guys to older women. Hell, if its creative and something different - I am all for it!

EDUARD: I have a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) that I log into to explore my online fantasies. Though I am male, all three of my characters are female and run the range of being a full on domme to a submissive. I indulged in soft romantic scenes, BDSM, and even now and again a ‘force’ scene. Characters can be girl-next-door, to one from a video game, or even a celebrity. Almost all fantasies are played out from scat, incest, bondage and a variety of others.

FRANK I have cybersex to explore weird, interesting things that would be taboo, icky, or unrealistic in the real world…. As far as specific fantasies, I like being on the dominant side of things… I also enjoy incest and ageplay fantasies, entirely because of the taboo that they carry outside of cybersex…. I like sex involving pregnant women, anal sex, orgies, wet and messy scenes... Again, lots of things that are hard, uncomfortable, or illegal in real life.

Though we’d obviously need more research to draw real conclusions, but perhaps Kahr’s ideas about fantasies don’t hold up for cybersex? For one, none of the respondents report returning obsessively to the same scenario. Instead, they favor exploration, imagination, and transgression. Still, Kahr gives us a new way to think about our online sex lives. He makes us more aware of what they might mean. I don’t know about you, but the next time I head into a chat room and role-play that scene about the two Swedish girls with creamy skin who get covered in hot fudge, I’ll wonder: was I traumatized by an ice cream Sunday? Previously in Click Me: Are Anonymous Mobs Reliable Sources for Sex Advice?

Click Me runs on villagevoice.com on Mondays. Got a question about cybersex? Write to your friendly cyberhood sexpert Bonnie Ruberg to ask advice or to share stories about sex and the internet: bonnie [at] heroine-sheik [dot] com.

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