Category Archives: Relationship

OVERCOME INSECURITY

PsychAlive

ANXIETY, CRITICAL INNER VOICE, ISOLATION AND LONELINESS, SELF DEVELOPMENT, SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR, SELF-ESTEEM

By PsychAlive

Edited By Alex Santiago

We are called a narcissistic generation. We are told that technology and social media are giving us an inflated sense of self. But most of us don’t walk around feeling like we are all that great. In fact, there is one underlying emotion that overwhelmingly shapes our self-image and influences our behavior, and that is insecurity. If you could enter the minds of people around you, even the narcissistic ones, you’re likely to encounter ceaseless waves of insecurity. A recent survey found that 60 percent of women experience hurtful, self-critical thoughts on a weekly basis.

In their research, father-and-daughter psychologists Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone used an assessment tool known as the Firestone Assessment for Self-Destructive Thoughts (FAST) to evaluate people’s self-attacks (or “critical inner voices”) along a continuum. What they found is that the most common self-critical thought people have toward themselves is that they are different – not in a positive sense, but in some negative, alienating way. Whether our self-esteem is high or low, one thing is clear; we are a generation that compares, evaluates and judges ourselves with great scrutiny. By understanding where this insecurity comes from, why we are driven to put ourselves down and how this viewpoint affects us, we can start to challenge and overcome the destructive inner critic that limits our lives.

Why am I so insecure? What causes insecurity?

There is an internal dialogue that accompanies our feelings of insecurity. This is called the “critical inner voice.” Dr. Lisa Firestone, who co-authored the book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice wrote, “The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others.”

So, what events or attitudes shape this inner critic? The experiences we have with our influential early caretakers can be at the root of our insecurity as adults. Imagine a child being yelled at by a parent. “You’re so spaced out! Can’t you figure anything out on your own?” Then, imagine the negative comments and attitudes parents express toward themselves. “I look terrible in this. I’m so fat.” These attitudes don’t even have to be verbalized to influence the child. A parent’s absence can leave children feeling insecure and believing there is something fundamentally wrong with them. An intrusive parent can cause children to become introverted or self-reliant in ways that make them feel insecure or untrusting of others. Studies have even shown that exaggerated praise can be damaging to a child’s self-esteem.

The reason for this is that children must feel seen for who they are in order to feel secure. A lot of our issues with insecurity can come from our early attachment style. Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of Parenting from the Inside Out, says the key to healthy attachment is in the four S’s, feeling safe, seen, soothed and secure. Whether children are being shamed or praised, they are, most likely, not feeling seen by the parent for who they really are. They may start to feel insecurity and lose a sense of their actual abilities.

A healthy attitude for parents to maintain is to see themselves and their children realistically and to treat them with acceptance and compassion. The best way a parent can support their children is to allow them to find something that is unique to them – something that lights them up and that they will work to achieve. This activity must appeal to the child’s interest, not just the parents. As author and civil rights leader Howard Thurman famously said, ““Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

As the child pursues whatever interest makes them “come alive,” the parent should offer support and acknowledgment for the effort involved as opposed to focusing too much on the result. It’s the difference between saying “What a stunning picture. You are the best artist I’ve seen” and saying, “I love the way you used so many colors. It’s awesome that you worked so hard on this. What gave you that idea?” This practice helps a child establish a sense of self-worth.

The Effect of Insecurity

It’s clear that there are many things that shape our critical inner voice, from negative attitudes directed toward us to attitudes our parents had toward themselves. As we get older, we internalize these points of view as our own. We keep these attitudes alive by believing in our insecurities as we go along in life. The most common critical inner voices Dr.’s Robert and Lisa Firestone found people to experience throughout their day include:

  • You’re stupid.
  • You’re unattractive.
  • You never get anything right.
  • You’re not like other people.
  • You’re a failure.
  • You’re fat.
  • You’re such a loser.
  • You’ll never make friends.
  • No one will ever love you.
  • You’ll never be able to quit drinking (smoking etc).
  • You’ll never accomplish anything.
  • What’s the point in even trying?

Like a mean coach, this voice tends to get louder as we get closer to our goals. “You’re gonna screw up any minute. Everyone will realize what a failure you are. Just quit before it’s too late.” Oftentimes, we react to these thoughts before we even realize we are having them. We may grow shy at a party, pull back from a relationship, project these attacks onto the people around us or act out toward a friend, partner or our children. Just imagine what life would be like if you didn’t hear any of these mean thoughts echo in your head. Imagine what reality might actually look like if you could live free of this prescribed insecurity.

Insecurity at Work

Insecurity can affect us in countless areas of our lives. Every person will notice their inner critic being more vocal in one area or another. For example, you may feel pretty confident at work but completely lost in your love life or vice versa. You may even notice that when one area improves, the other deteriorates. Most of us can relate, at one time or another, to having self-sabotaging thoughts toward ourselves about our career. Old feelings that we are incompetent or that we will never be acknowledged or appreciated can send our insecurities through the roof. Some common critical inner voices about one’s career include:

  • You don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Why do they expect you to do everything yourself?
  • Who do you think you are? You’ll never be successful.
  • You’re under too much pressure. You can’t take it.
  • You’ll never get everything done. You’re so lazy.
  • You should just put this off until tomorrow.
  • No one appreciates you.
  • You’d better be perfect, or you’ll get fired.
  • Nobody likes you here.
  • Put your career first. Don’t take time for yourself.
  • When are you ever going to get a real job?
  • No one would hire you.

Insecurity in Relationships

Whether we are single, dating or in a serious, long-term relationship, there are many ways our critical inner voice can creep in to our romantic lives. Relationships, in particular, can stir up past hurts and experiences. They can awaken insecurities we’ve long buried and bring up emotions we don’t expect. Moreover, many of us harbor unconscious fears of intimacy. Being close to someone else can shake us up and bring these emotions and critical inner voices even closer to the surface. Listening to this inner critic can do serious damage to our interpersonal relationships. It can cause us to feel desperate toward our partner or pull back when things start to get serious. It can exaggerate feelings of jealousy or possessiveness or leave us feeling rejected and unworthy. Common critical inner voices we have toward ourselves about relationships include:

  • You’re never going to find another person who understands you.
  • Don’t get too hooked on her.
  • He doesn’t really care about you.
  • She is too good for you.
  • You’ve got to keep him interested.
  • You’re better off on your own.
  • As soon as she gets to know you, she will reject you.
  • You’ve got to be in control.
  • It’s your fault if he gets upset.
  • Don’t be too vulnerable or you’ll just wind up getting hurt.

How Can I Overcome Insecurity?

Once we have a better sense of where our insecurity comes from and the profound influence it is having on our lives, we can begin to challenge it. We can start by interrupting the critical inner voice process. Voice Therapy is a cognitive/affective/behavioral approach developed by Dr. Robert Firestone to help people overcome their critical inner voice. There are five important steps to this process, which I will briefly outline.

Step I

The first step of Voice Therapy involves vocalizing your self-critical thoughts in the second person. You can also write down these thoughts. Instead of writing “I am so stupid. What is the matter with me? I’ll never be successful,” you would write, “You are so stupid. You will never be successful.” This process helps you to separate from these vicious attacks by seeing them as an external enemy instead of your real point of view. This process can also be an emotional one, as saying these statements can bring up underlying feelings from the past.

Step II

In the second step, you can start to think and talk about the insights and reactions you have to exposing these mean thoughts. Do they remind you of anyone or anything from your past? It can be helpful to uncover the relationship between these voice attacks and the early life experiences that helped shape them. This too will allow you to feel some self-compassion and reject these attitudes as accurate reflections of who you are.

Step III

People often struggle with the third step of this process, because it involves standing up to long-held beliefs and insecurities about oneself. You will answer back to your voice attacks, expressing your real point of view. You can write down rational and realistic statements about how you really are. Respond to your attacks the way you would to a friend who was saying these things about him or herself, with compassion and kindness.

Step IV

In step five of Voice Therapy, you start to make a connection between how the voice attacks are influencing your present-day behaviors. How do they affect you at work? With your partner? As a parent? In your personal ambitions? Do they undermine you? What events trigger the insecurity? In what areas is this insecurity most influential?

Step V

The final step involves making a plan to change these behaviors. If insecurity is keeping you from asking someone on a date or going after a promotion, it’s time to do the actions anyway. If you’re indulging in self-hating thoughts that encourage you to engage in self-destructive behaviors, it’s time to interrupt these behaviors and unleash the real you.

This process will not be easy. With change always comes anxiety. These defenses and critical inner voices have been with you your whole life, and they can feel uncomfortable to challenge. When you do change, expect the voices to get louder. Your insecurities aren’t likely to vanish overnight, but slowly, through perseverance, they will start to weaken. Whenever you notice an attack come up, stand up to it and don’t indulge in its directives. If you want to be healthy, don’t let it lure you to avoid exercise. If you want to get closer to your partner, don’t listen when it tells you to hold back your affections.

Join Dr. Lisa Firestone for a Webinar on Overcoming Insecurity

As you sweat through this tough but very worthy transition, it is important to practice self-compassion. Research by Dr. Kristin Neff found self-compassion to be far more psychologically beneficial than self-esteem. Self-esteem still focuses on evaluation and performance, where self-compassion encourages an attitude of kindness and patience. Self-esteem can increase our levels of insecurity, where self-compassion asks us to slow down and assign ourselves value simply for being human. Once we realize our own strength and importance, once we see the ways we’ve been hurt and can feel for ourselves on a deep level, we can actually start to break free of the chains that hold us back. We can shed the insecurities of our past and become the people we want to be.Share the knowledge!

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About The Autor

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SEX FREAKS BY NATURE

Susi Ferrarello Ph.D.

Lying on the Philosopher’s Couch

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ferrarello.jpg

The lion raised as a pet in the house.

Edited By Alex Santiago

Source: Alessandro Stefoni, used with permssion

“Sex” — this word is everywhere and can mean anything.

A few days ago, I was in a cafe and I heard a guy saying to his friend: “Hmmm… your coffee looks sexy.”

A coffee, seriously?

As an Italian, I’m always impressed by such expansive use of this word. I still remember the sense of panic I felt when a colleague of mine used this word during a lecture I gave at a conference. He described my paper as “sexy.” What? I blushed and smiled nervously.

Now I know. This word is nearly synonymous today with all that is spicy, juicy, vital, dynamic.

The etymology

Yet if we look at its origin, this very “sexy” word was born in a dusty bureaucratic office.

“Sex”, sexusin Latin, comes in fact from the verb secare, “to divide or cut,” and is related to “section,” or that which is divided. Latin used this word to point to the quality of being male or female in order to group the population and make the census.

Thus, the contemporary use of this word is relatively recent. D.H. Lawrence seemed to be the first to use this new sense of the word, in 1929.

1000 ways to say “I want you!”

So then what are the words that the Greeks and Romans used to indicate sexual love?

For sure, Greeks, more than Romans, were not at a loss for words when it came to saying, “I love you,” or in this case “I want you.”

They used the verb agape to indicate a spiritual, unconditional love; stergo to mean affection; phileo to indicate a kind of a mental love relating to friendship; or finally, erao for intimate love—yes, that kind of love accompanied by passionate desire and longing.

It is so fascinating! In the Greek world, Eros stands for nature. Eros is that natural power that impinges on human existence and calls us to what our natural body needs in order to be in harmony with nature, or better, to be one with Nature.

A case in point is the satyr.

The satyr, half man and half animal—as Aristophanes described him—was gifted with boundless sexual energy that he tried to satisfy in any possible way, with animate and inanimate erotic (so to speak) “partners.” If you happen to wander into a museum somewhat yawning and bothered by your back that keeps on aching, pay closer attention to their pictures. They are a cold shower.

Those vases were the adult magazines of antiquity. Greeks liked them so much that on one of these vases, kept in Palermo (V, 651) you can see a group of satyrs mating with amphoras and pots themselves. Lissarague, a philologist, explains this somewhat questionable choice, saying that the wine amphora was the necessary accessory of the kōmos (a ritualistic drunken procession) and the symposium. Wine and sex are what make a satyr happy! Thus the famous saying “Afrodite kai Dionysos met’allelon eisi,” “Aphrodite and Dionysus are with each other.”

Certainly, satyrs loved women as well. Women, though, did not return the affection. (This explains the amphoras.) As MacNally wrote, the relationship between satyrs and maenads (the followers of Dyonisos, who were, by definition, a little bit wacky) started out friendly between 550 and 500 BC, and then, like many friendly relationships, “changed” between 500 and 470, becoming clearly hostile after 470. Maenads, according to Plutarch (Virtuous Women 12.249 e-f), were inviolable—I guess, especially if it was a bunch of half-goats coming on to them.

Well, satyrs did not get discouraged: They loved men too, of course. And in this case, they were more successful. Unlike the rest of Greek society, they were not worried about the difference in age. It did not matter if the guy, the beloved one, was younger (in fact, as a rule, they preferred this way) than they (the lovers). There is a cup in Berlin (1964.4)—another “adult magazine,” that shows a group of five satyrs in a full erotic frenzy.

To their defense, satyrs were not alone in this consuming desire. There were human beings that shared that devouring hunger. The most well-known were philosophers and poets.

They both despised Eros but found it irresistible. In his Erotic Essay Pausania named these refined class of gentlemen “monsters of appetite.”

Socrates and sex

In particular, the clique of Socrates and his followers had a lot to say on the topic.

Xenophon, the second most famous disciple of Socrates, relates a conversation the philosopher had with him about a super sexy young boy. Socrates was irritated with him because he was using his beauty to exploit people, in particular Socrates’ favorite disciple, the young Critobolus. The boy stole a kiss from Critobolus, and after that Socrates was so “philosophically” furious that he warmly invited the boy to leave the city for one year. His kiss, mumbled Socrates, was as poisonous as the bite of a spider and he commanded Xenophon to avoid him at any cost.

Socrates, agreeing with Plato and Aristotle, considered erotic pleasure fun and necessary, but it was to be handled carefully. Pure sex is meant for the beasts, or half-beats—the satyrs again. Satyrs were invented to make people see how clumsy a man was who had been completely converted to nature. The bestial passion—as Aristotle, the super-balanced thinker who fell desperately in love with the virile king, Alexander the Great (Plutarch, The Parallel Lives) said—is “slavish and brutish.

Sex, a creeping thing

Sappho (a wonderful female poet) called eros a “creeping thing.” She knew very well what erotic love was. There is one lyric of hers, “Glittering-Minded deathless Aphrodite,” in which she wrote:

“If she runs now she’ll follow later,

If she refuses gifts she’ll give them.

If she loves not, now, she’ll soon

Love against her will.”

“Love against her will.” Pretty clear: Do you love someone? Just wait. None can withstand the passion of being loved. Love is stronger than anything. Some centuries later in Inferno, V, 103 Dante will write “Amor ch’ha nullo amato, amar perdona;” adding three lines after “Amor condusse noi ad una morte certa” v. 106. “Love is Nature and Nature is Death. This is the equation. You cannot resist your nature, but somehow you have to find a way to do it.”

In the Phaedro Plato’s metaphor of the two horses is a sort of manual to learn how to succeed in this attempt. For Plato, our life is always driven by two horses, the black and white, our passion and our reason. We cannot drive just one of the two horses, or our trajectory would be crippled. Our task is to determine the right balance, or as Aristotle put it, ‘the golden mean.

“Desire doubled is love; love doubled is madness”

As Prodicus (a sophist of the Vth century) said: “Desire doubled is love; love doubled is madness.”

Love between animals was still considered cool, and the love with vases was still fine, but when it comes to women, be careful! Women’s love was considered insane, destructive, dangerous. “The memorable disaster,” Hesiod writes.

Do you know what the gods’ punishment was for men after Prometheus gave them the gift of fire, which was stolen from the immortals? It was the gods’ creation of woman and her desires! I am still laughing. I think this can give us an idea of how much the Greeks were frightened by women!

According to Hesiod, after Prometheus stole fire from the gods, Zeus set about his terrible revenge, the creation of the woman in the “likeness of a bashful maiden.” Three other gods schemed in this plot. Athena taught her the housework art of needlework and weaving (boring). Aphrodite gave her Persuasion and the power to arouse “cruel longing and limb-devouring cares.” (Now it begins to get interesting!) Finally, Hermes, the god of thievery and deceit, gave her a “bitch’s mind and deceptive character…lies and wily words.”

Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission

Source: Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission

The nightmare was ready. This beautiful scary creature, this “sheer trap,” Pandora, was created as the ancestress of the “race of women,” the “plague to men who eat bread” (Hesiod, Op. 105-120). Pandora, the prototype of women, is the pure Nature, untamable and attractive. Hesiod writes that her sexual beauty (reminiscent of the lost paradise) returns each spring and her passions (destructive like nature’s inhuman forces) necessitates the “technology” (yes, this is the word he uses!) of marriage in order to control her.

Along with Pandora, there was Helene. She is the symbol of the essential ambiguity of woman and sexual beauty divinely embodied in her patroness Aphrodite, and equally as destructive as hers. Byron calls her “the Greek Eve,” the cause of masculine Greece’s “fall.” Homer even calls herself twice “bitch-faced,” adding once the honorable adjective “evil-plotting.” Why? Her sexual appetite could not be easily satisfied and controlled by men. It happens….

Her half-sister, Klytaimestra, was another interesting character. She embodied — as Aeschylus (Oresteia) says — “the relentless havoc of unleashed female passion that attacks from within the orders of household and state.” She was “the lion raised as a pet in the house…child-loving, and a joy to the old” while young, but ultimately defiling the house with blood, a “priest of destruction” when its savage nature surfaces.

I will spare you the number of times Homer calls her “bitch-faced.” This woman, driven by the female’s most potent force, a sexual energy magnified by a sense of injustice and dishonor, killed her rival Kassandra and her spouse Agamenon with a “man-minded heart,” Aeschilus says. She is even more dreadful than other women because she is a male woman! She appears to be the combination of “man’s will-driven mind” and “woman’s sexual passion” colluding to bring destruction and death.

Maybe “the technique of marriage” did not work so well in her case.

However, the list of merciless examples of female erotic power is long. I will stop here in order to discourage further misogynist feelings.

The word “sex” has traveled a long way, from the dusty office of sleepy bureaucrats all the way to the blood that flows in our human veins.

References

Books on the topic:

B. S. Thorton, Eros. The Myth of Ancient Greek Sensuality, Oxford: Harper Collins Publisher, 1997.

D. Halperin, J. J. Winkler, F. I. Zeitlin, Before Sexuality, Princeton University Press, 1990.

About the Author

Susi Ferrarello, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the University of California

BEST UNDERWATER HOTELS IN THE WORLD

9 Best Underwater Hotels in the World

BY MADISON DRAGNA 53.6K+

Edited By Alex Santiago

Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Experience the beauty of the world that lies below the water’s surface when you stay at one of these awesome underwater hotels. These unique hotels offer a unique look into marine life, offering anything from underwater rooms, clubs and spas to one-of-a-kind restaurants. See what lies below the water at these top underwater hotels in the world.

The Manta Resort
The Manta Resort

The Manta Resort

PRICES & PHOTOS 

This romantic resort in Zanzibar has a number of luxury accommodations to offer travelers a retreat while exploring this picturesque island oasis. However, The Manta Resort is best known for its three-level underwater room that lies 13 feet below the surface. Only accessible by boat, this private accommodation has a top deck perfect for sunbathing, while the bottom floor is completely submerged underwater. This underwater hotel room offers 360 degrees of underwater views, so you can truly get a sense of underwater life.

Atlantis The Palm Hotel, waterpark, Dubai
Atlantis The Palm Hotel, waterpark, Dubai

Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

PRICES & PHOTOS 

Atlantis The Palm in Dubai is found on the iconic palm-shaped island, an artificial, man-made island structure. No room in this luxury hotel will disappoint, however, the two underwater suites here are truly remarkable. With floor to ceiling windows, these underwater rooms boast views of the 65,000 underwater creatures that live among the ruins of the “lost city of Atlantis.” If the views don’t impress, the service will, as suites also come with a personal butler.$20 for your 1st month of phone service.Ad by Visible See More

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Conrad Rangali Island

PRICES & PHOTOS 

Found in the bucket list-worthy Maldives, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is home to villas, suites and a three-bedroom villa that features an underwater bedroom. However, the bedroom in the Muraka house isn’t the only place to experience the wonder of the sea here. Ithaa, an underwater restaurant on the island, is situated 16 feet below the water’s surface. This upscale establishment offers an intimate experience as there are only 12 seats available. Expect a menu full of delectable and locally-sourced seafood options. Known as the first “all glass undersea restaurant,” dining here will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Resorts World Sentosa
Resorts World Sentosa

Resorts World Sentosa

PRICES & PHOTOS 

Resorts World Sentosa is found on Singapore’s island of Sentosa and is home to one of the world’s largest aquariums. Guests here can book a two-story townhouse along the aquarium for an underwater experience. These suites offer upstairs access that leads to a patio above the surface, while the lower level features underwater views.

InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland
InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland

InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland

PRICES & PHOTOS 

Built inside an abandoned quarry, this luxury resort found 30 miles from Shanghai, China is a unique accommodation that has two underwater floors. Opened in 2018, Shimao Wonderland Intercontinental boasts incredible views of the surrounding natural scenery. If you can’t book one of the underwater suites, there is a restaurant here, Mr. Fisher, that is found one level below the water’s surface, so you can still enjoy an underwater experience without booking a lower level room here.

Huvafen Fushi Maldives
Huvafen Fushi Maldives

Huvafen Fushi Maldives

PRICES & PHOTOS 

Another underwater Maldives hotel to consider for your next vacation here is Huvafen Fushi Maldives. This boutique hotel doesn’t have underwater rooms but underwater treatment rooms for its onsite spa, Huvafen Spa & PEARL. There is nothing more relaxing than receiving a massage while surrounded by the soothing colors and sounds of the ocean. Guests here not only enjoy the underwater spa but also a private white sand beach, infinity pool, and premier snorkeling spots here.

Niyama Maldives
Niyama Maldives

Niyama Maldives

PRICES & PHOTOS 

Visit the world’s first underwater club at Niyama Maldives. This Maldives resort is home to Subsix, which is found 20 feet below the surface of the water. You don’t have to be a night owl to enjoy this subsurface club. You can reserve the club for your wedding or private party. However, Subsix is also open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner too. For many, dancing under the sea is a great way to end the night in this beautiful spot in the Indian Ocean.

Utter Inn, Sweden
Utter Inn, Sweden

Utter Inn

PRICES & PHOTOS 

This modest underwater hotel is found in Sweden. The Utter Inn isn’t necessarily a luxury accommodation like others found on this list, however, this underwater lake hotel offers a unique experience for those visiting Sweden. Accessible only by boat, guests enjoy sunbathing on the wooden deck above the surface, while embracing undersea views down below in the rooms. This underwater hotel is one of the most affordable aquatic lodging options on this list.

Jules’ Undersea Lodge
Jules’ Undersea Lodge

Jules Undersea Lodge

PRICES & PHOTOS 

This Key Largo underwater hotel has a unique stipulation to stay here – you must scuba dive down 21 feet to reach this underwater abode. If you’re not a certified diver, expect to spend a couple of hours in a diving course before you can head below to your night’s destination. Jules Undersea Lodge is the only hotel on this list that is completely underwater. The lodge has all the comforts of home though, such as a full kitchen, hot showers, and entertainment options like music, movies and books. And of course, there are outstanding views of the ocean and marine life too.

SEX ON THE INTERNET

Edited By Alex Santiago

People browsing for sexual content, like those searching for illicit love, guarded their anonymity and frequented hard-to-find addresses, often at night. Like those caught up in affairs, they could become obsessive, protective of their time in the zone. Like those donning drag, they assumed new names and created parallel identities. The tech writer (and self-described nethead) J. C. Herz would make the point in her 1995 book Surfing on the Internet that the wired universe offered “gender options that don’t physically exist. For instance, the LambdaMOO virtual world gives users a choice of male, female, neutral, neither, royal (the royal ‘we’), and the natty, insouciant ‘splat’ (*) option.” Women and men would assume cross identities: a member of one sex, disguised as another, would engage in cybersex with Net partners of either gender, or both, depending on the mood and circumstance. This elasticity unleashed a new freedom to experiment, fantasize, and role-play.

As the digital age bloomed, sexual variety reigned. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, cybersex had a limited connotation: virtual-reality kink. VR sex, theoretically, involved people in proximity or in distant locations donning special suits and/or cybergloves and/or headgear, festooned with wires, and then remotely diddling their partners and sharing a simulated sexual experience, sometimes accompanied by SFX audiovisuals. (CGI—computer-generated imagery—was a huge gaming and cinematic breakthrough in the 1990s.) Cybersex was sim stim. For a time it went by the cringe-worthy name “teledildonics.” And at the time, it was pure hokum. (In 1997, Mike Myers, with a debt to Wilhelm Reich—and to films such as BarbarellaPutney SwopeSleeper, and Liquid Sky—introduced “fembots” to explore the concept of robo-shagging in his Swinging Sixties spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. But for a species that now got its babies from test tubes, why shouldn’t a geek try to get his ya-yas out by way of Alpha Centauri?)

Back then, it was called cybersex. Or virtual sex. Or netsex. And much of it was emerging from Usenet and newsgroups. In the fantasy forums called MUDs, it was sometimes called TinySex, as Sherry Turkle would note in her 1995 book Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, discussing early “computer-mediated screen communications for sexual encounters. An Internet list of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ describes the latter activity . . . as people typing messages with erotic content to each other, ‘sometimes with one hand on the keyset, sometimes with two.’ ”

Along came CD-ROMs and DVDs—interactive discs that could be slipped into a disk drive or game console—which allowed users to issue simple commands and choose various options or outcomes in their sexual entertainment. There were Internet forums where people could post erotic stories (or add to others’ stories)—many of which would evolve into multipart series—that would attract tremendous followings. There were hatchling websites that stole printed porn pictures and posted them as their own; sites that featured virtual strip blackjack; sites where online models popped up in tiny matchbook-size peep-holes, responding to keyboard commands (“How about removing those fish-nets?”). The Internet began to micropander to every type of sexual connoisseur.about the author

David Friend is a Vanity Fair editor, journalist, and Emmy-winning documentary producer.

According to Forbes, by the end of the ’90s there were half a million sex sites, with one hundred fresh ones popping up each week, many of them very profitable very quickly due to the sales of ads, products, and links to spicier paywall-protected areas. Come 2000, the porn industry’s total yearly take was some $2 billion in Web business alone.

The Web, by definition, offered virtual sex. Much of it was literally autoerotic. The solitary online sexual encounter, for many men and women, came to be regarded as noncommittal, less emotionally taxing, and less trouble. Why deal with the challenges or rewards of another’s needs, when one could satisfy one’s own—and so efficiently? For many online users, the synthetic actually replaced the actual: online sex became not an expression of mutual connection but of selfish release. But this was only half the picture.

For millions of others, the earliest forms of cybersex brought the promise of genuine engagement, not alienation. Strangers typing words to one another—digitally stimulating a partner by writing on a keyboard—could experience real-time interaction on an entirely new plane. Online sex brought InstaGrat. It boosted the ego. It offered a number and variety of potential partners that were theoretically limitless. It allowed for a semisanctioned embrace of new taboos, which was arousing in and of itself. Its virtual nature made “online cheating” arguably more acceptable to one’s real-life partner or one’s conscience. Its attendant anonymity could be exhilarating and often emancipating. Its seamless utility (from the comfort of one’s home) was liberating. Its relative safety, to many users, beat its real-world equivalent hands down, because electronic transmission came with zero risk of STDs.Enter the Con Man

One of the earliest Net-sex horror stories involved an online skeeve who turned out to be a con artist. Susie Bright remembers it vividly. One of the West Coast leaders of sex-positive feminism, Bright in the early 1990s had left her job editing On Our Backs. Bright recalls that she had first gone online because she’d heard that on a computer bulletin board called The WELL a community of people was engaged in a discussion thread labeled “Why I Love Susie Bright.”

Bright now says, in a series of interviews and emails, “The WELL was like the shiny new toy that everyone in the media was fascinated with. Soon, of course, came the con man. The first time there was a sex hoax on the Internet—at least that I am aware of—it happened at The WELL. There was a private women’s conference that only [female] members could be part of. There were quite a lot of women on The WELL—for an Internet group, it was a shocking number. That was part of what made The WELL so cool. It didn’t even occur to me that computers were supposed to be a guy-only space. [As part of ] this private women’s conference—it was more gossipy and talking about our private lives and things you didn’t necessarily want everyone else to see in public—someone started a topic called ‘That Son-of-a-Bitch.’ ” She laughs. “Sounds promising, right?

“This woman told a story about how she’d met this wonderful man on The WELL and it just all seemed so incredibly touching and poignant and like a match made in heaven. It’s hard to capture how innocent we all were. So we were ‘listening’ to her describe how sexy it was. By the end of the story, as you can imagine, he turned out to be a con artist. He [had seemed] really, sincerely interested in her—‘We’re going to have dates and so on’—and then he had these emergencies where she had to send him money. That was when the worm turned. But by then she was so in love with him, so infatuated with their virtual affair: they’d had phone sex; they’d done so much [online]. So when he started extorting money from her, she didn’t even see it [coming].”

“Along comes the Web, and I dropped into this world in which I believed my body would be accepted.”

Bright remembers that one of the other WELL participants chimed in. “The woman stopped her and said, ‘This same thing is happening to me and I haven’t told anyone because I’m so embarrassed and ashamed and I’m starting to feel like a chump. And here we are, we’re both these ultra-smarty-pants, computer-genius women—how can this be happening to us?’ They compared notes—and it was the same man.” When they floated his name to the wider community of The WELL, Bright recalls, “there was complete pandemonium. They outed him. And he had been doing this with so many other chicks, it was just [crazy].”Most Popular

Bright recalls her reaction: “I’m sitting there at my keyboard and I just dropped my cup of coffee, because I had just fucked this guy in New York City a couple of weeks earlier. In real life. And I felt really embarrassed because, unlike the others, I had not given him money. I had merely had sex with him. I wasn’t that attracted to him. I was on a book tour. It was proximity. Yes, he had been a big fanboy and told me how much he just loved-loved-loved the idea of seeing me and he would do anything for me when I came to New York. Then I said, ‘Well, we can meet.’ He was based in New Jersey. This guy has all these super-brainy women dangling on a string. [He] was, as far as I knew, the first Internet cad.”More Freedom

There were downsides, there were upsides. My friend Stephen Mayes, a respected photo editor and champion of photojournalists, insists that the Web had a largely salutary effect on the sex lives and love lives of many gay men. “I had had an incredible disability in the gay world of never having picked up a man in a bar,” Mayes confides over drinks at a speakeasy in Manhattan’s East Village. “What the Internet did was give me a new awareness of myself. Previously, the gay bar scene revolved around a body fascism: a prescriptive sense of muscles, tight abs, shoulders that you had to have. And I am less of a physical specimen in that way. So in a bar, my eyes had always been filled with fear—the fear of rejection. Along comes the Web, and I dropped into this world in which I believed my body would be accepted. The Internet released me from all that fear. It suddenly gave me a freedom to meet with men in a way that I’d never experienced before.”

Mayes believes that when it came to the stereotypical sexual aesthetic of the gay man, the digital realm had much to recommend it. “The gay world seems to lend itself to this idea of sharing stuff,” he insists. “It’s open-source, like the Web. It has that reputation: open relationships, sharing partners, etcetera. It has, historically, a sense of being furtive—pushed into the underground for centuries—but once outside social constraints, it was a lot freer within a private, underground context.” In many ways, these were also the hallmarks of the early digital space: a private, members-only society with its own language and codes and libertine ethos that existed under the radar.

At the same time, Mayes recalls, the digital photography revolution of the 1990s served to enhance the sex lives of those who were drawn to the visual, to exchanging private pictures, and to creating homespun erotica that might invite and satisfy the fellow male gaze. In previous decades, many gay men, he says, had relied on Polaroids (which required no processing) since they were concerned about bringing their undeveloped film to the corner drugstore or one-hour photo shop. “There was a social stigma,” says Mayes, “and, more importantly, legal issues in taking your film to the lab. Sodomy was illegal in places like Texas until the 2000s. So the digital camera freed up people.” And those intimate digital photos could be easily traded electronically. In the early days of the Web, Mayes notes, “the digital sexual image is very private—you take it, put it up on your computer, share it just with the people you want to see it. No lab technician! In the late ’90s this changed. If you wanted to, you could place an explicit photo online to attract partners, and you felt it was private. You had to register under a screen name. You were addressing members like yourself. But it was a misguided belief that you were addressing a private club. In fact, anyone could register and, more than that, you could download the image—and suddenly your own photo [would be] feral, animal, developing a life of its own. For all the benefits that these websites brought us—gay and straight and otherwise—little did we know the extent to which our personal images would become public commodities that had the potential to spin out of control.”Online Dating

The Internet, for many, was a virtual singles bar. On the largest dating sites, chemistry (both sexual and interpersonal) would be replaced by algebra. Algorithms that had been designed to sift through a voluminous database of attributes listed in members’ profiles would sort and rank potential partners’ likelihood of attraction and relationship longevity. Individual subscribers would then be presented with a slate of possible dates who, in time, might be possible mates.

Social media would not only help define one’s persona and sexual expressiveness, but would also have long-term effects on social interaction, free speech, and political change.

Matchmaking services, of course, had been around for decades. But the Web brought a new level of respectability to such artificially induced interaction. Little by little, the fix-up began to lose its total-loser stigma. In the digital age, the unattached, no matter what age, came to see e-dating as socially acceptable, safe, and efficient. In fact, the algorithms and the screening process conferred a certain authority. (At the time, columnist Michael Wolff would describe online dating as a new and rather vanilla way of mating: “a perfectly decent, unremarkable, squares ville thing to do.”) By comparison, the singles scene, the bar scene began to be regarded as crass.

Dating sites took off. And this ’90s phenomenon so revolutionized the way urbanites coupled up and settled down that today, according to the New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten, “fee-based dating Web sites” take in more than a billion dollars annually and have become “the third most common way for people to meet. (The most common are ‘through work/school’ and ‘through friends/family.’)” As the dating dot-coms grew, so did a new set of online meeting places that turned one’s wider net of contacts into their own raison d’être. These were the start-up social networks. And in terms of the wider culture they would become far more influential than the dating sites. Social media would not only help define one’s persona and sexual expressiveness (shaping one’s real-world reputation and online demeanor in the eyes of potential suitors, friends, strangers, and even potential employers), but would also have long-term effects on social interaction, free speech, and political change. Services like TheGlobe.com and SixDegrees.com (well before Friendster or LinkedIn, before MySpace or Facebook) were the online hubs where communities of users gathered to converse and exchange information about shared interests, pastimes, or backgrounds.

Sex, of course, was central to the origin story of social media. “We often forget that social networking, early on, was really all about sexual stereotyping,” says my friend Rachel Winter, the film producer. “Facebook was founded as a way of rating women’s looks. From that nucleus—devised by male students at Harvard—came everything that followed, including the trolling and shaming. At this stage I would say: let’s all take a breather and ban social media for five years. We’d all be better off.”