Duck Soup

Body Surfing on the Electronic Sea


Sloshing through the buzz about the burgeoning Internet, there's a constant undercurrent about sex online. Stories in papers and magazines describe the citizens of cyberspace as sex-crazed as a school of guppies. (If you don't know about sex and guppies, you're probably suffering aquarium denial.)

U.S. Congress is all hot and bothered too. It wants to find a way to censor interactions on the Net albeit with a ritualistic tip of the hat to privacy and First Amendment rights.

Not the sort to leave slippery slopes unslid, I took a spin on the Infobahn looking for a good time, strictly in the spirit of sociologic inquiry, of course. Based on my research, I can reassure you wor-riers out there: This too shall pass.

The first reason is that aspect of human nature more powerful as a modifier of behavior than sex: boredom. When simple novelty wears off, we need compelling reasons to maintain interest, whether it's school, work, faith or a partner. Casual sex on the Net is simply too one-dimensional to keep most people interested for long.

More people read novels, watch movies and plays, even listen to songs than write them. Why? Well, almost anyone can learn to type, but very few of us can write a compelling romantic scene. I know, because I've tried. In a novel I wrote 15 years ago I struggled with the love scenes. I tried racy, subtle, forceful, teasing, lustful and cool. I spent weeks reworking three scenes. The final result was wooden.

Whatever it takes to compose believable, stimulating, passionate menages, I don't have it, and I'm a working writer. Trust me, the interactions on the Net are not the result of weeks of rewrites; they are the average work of average writers, sometimes using dirty words and TYPING IN CAPITAL LETTERS WHEN THEY GET REALLY PASSIONATE.


It's something like the way politicians shout to make their statements seem more important. Hmm, maybe that's why Congress is railing about all this Netsex. Come to think of it, maybe the cybernauts typing upper case YES, YES, YESes are politicians. After all, the movers and shakers in Washington and around the country are in a tizzy trying to prove their electronic mettle.

Given the usual promiscuous propensities of politicos, who would be surprised? Think of it! Will full disclosure come to mean telling the public what's really on your Powerbook? Will a future Jimmy Carter instead of piously confessing to having lusted in his heart confess, "I lusted in my laptop"? Or will a cybersexy Gennifer Flowers publish a point-and-click kiss-and-tell about the virtual affair she theoretically had with a potential candidate?

Which brings us to the dismaying fact that it is im-possible to know the gender, age, race or sexual orientation of the virtual humans you bump into out there. Long-term fascination becomes nearly impossible. It's girl pretending to be boy meets boy pre-tending to be girl. Or they're both one, or the other well, you get the picture.

Danielle Steele has nothing to worry about. As Einstein could have told her, eventually everything boils down to time. Not that I've had time to read any of Steele's work, but to look at the covers they must be full of really steamy stuff.

Many more people will always find time to read about having affairs than manage to have them, because life is short. On-line time is expensive and illusory. So I predict that after an initial flurry of interest, computer sex will drift into the same murky backwaters of culture as pornography and prostitution.

Sure it'll be there, and as difficult to stop through legislation as those other awkward stepchildren of passion, but also equally irrelevant to most of us.

As a latter-day Andrew Marvell might tell his coy mistress, "If we'd but world enough and time, computer sex, it were no crime."

Among modern poets, perhaps Bonnie Rait said it best. Cybersex won't last because we're "scared, scared to run out of time."

C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina.

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© Copyright by POINT, 1995

Last modified 8/8/95