Sex, technology and relationships

An increasing number of thirtysomething women think technology is integral to their relationships, be it through online dating, internet porn or, yes, naughty texts. We asked sexuality educator Debby Herbenick of Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for her best advice on navigating this brave new world of sex and technology


First things first: What precautions should women take when meeting someone off the internet?
Don’t give out your home address, don’t give out your phone number, meet somewhere public where you can get help if you need to and tell a friend what you’re doing. And certainly don’t leave anywhere with a stranger until you’ve gotten to know them on several occasions.

On the flip side, is there any danger in having a prolonged email relationship with someone you’ve never met?
I do think it’s best to meet within the first month of corresponding. I’ve talked to people who spent a year or two in an online relationship with someone they had never met and they had all their hopes pinned on that person, so much so that they stopped dating anyone else in real life. And when they finally did meet, it didn’t go well.

Is it possible to fall in love over email?
Absolutely. Many people in online relationships describe feelings similar to those of embarking on new in-person relationships: thinking about the other person all the time and fantasizing about the future.

Has internet dating made us more picky?
Definitely, because we can compare things like height and income without ever meeting.

For those of us in relationships, technology allows us to keep in better touch than ever with our partners. But is this a good thing?
There are pros and cons to it. People who feel confident about their partners are not going to check up on them constantly, but those who are prone to insecurity might. As well, the ability to text and call anywhere, at any time, has raised expectations: We expect our partners to keep in constant touch, whereas 20 years ago we just wanted to see them at the end of the day.

Should we ever keep tabs on our partner’s Facebook profile?
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Visiting your husband’s Facebook profile from time to time shows that you’re interested in him. And if you notice some woman posting on his wall quite frequently, you should be curious. Research shows that mild to moderate jealousy is a good thing: It’s proof that you love your partner and want to keep him or her for yourself.

Countless teenage girls are sexting, but what about grown women?
Adult women are definitely sexting. It’s just another form of sexual expression, but it leaves a permanent record. So unless you’re willing to have your naked photos or racy texts out in the world, be discreet.

Are women watching pornography online?
The numbers are increasing, but they are still nowhere near the numbers of men who use it.

Why is that?
One hypothesis is that men are more visual than women, but that hasn’t been confirmed in research. Others think it might be the fact that most porn is made by men, for men. There have been more women-oriented offerings in the last decade, but we’re still just not as interested.

Should we be concerned if our partners occasionally watch porn?
Many of us were raised to see pornography as perverted, which makes it hard to make sense of as adults. But a man who watches porn every once in a while is in an entirely different situation than someone who is watching it all the time or someone who is watching illegal forms of it.

So occasional porn usage shouldn’t be a deal breaker?
That’s right. But you need to negotiate what’s okay and what’s not.