I think it’s safe to say that we are a compulsive society and all of us are obsessed with something. In Boulder, our obsessions tend to be mountain biking the Marshall Mesa Trail or training for the Bolder Boulder. For me, I’m addicted to those free samples at Whole Foods. As long as your obsession doesn’t take over your life, then you’re in “good shape,” right?
But many of us feel handcuffed to our obsessions, especially the electronic ones. How many times a day do you e-mail? How many times an hour do you text? Our society operates electronically, but there comes a point when we have to ask ourselves if we are more intimate with our gadgets than we are with our loved ones. That might mean divorcing your Blackberry so it doesn’t chaperone you and your honey to the dinner table or to the bedroom.
Or it might mean divorcing Facebook.
There is a magnetism to Facebook that seems to exacerbate our inherent need to exhibit ourselves. I’m guilty as charged. I have a personal Facebook page and a fan page for my business, and I have no shame about either.
A survey by Oxygen Media posted astounding statistics about women’s use of Facebook (www.geekosystem.com/facebook-addiction-women-oxygen-mediastudy). Of 1,605 women surveyed, 34 percent reported checking Facebook in the morning before even brushing their teeth, and nearly 50 percent felt comfortable posting personal information, including inebriated shots of self and friends. What is it about our human condition that needs to always post what we are thinking, eating or wearing? Why do we need to show the public our plethora of photos documenting our life experiences?
On the flipside, many of us compulsively check Facebook to peer into the lives of others. Similar to exhibitionism, social conditioning has groomed us to be voyeurs both in and out of the bedroom. Facebook voyeurism satiates our morbid curiosity to see when people are giving past partners too much attention, or to see if old high school friends are getting wrinkles at the same rate we do. Mostly, it alleviates boredom. This is why we’re drawn to the Internet in the first place. The Triple A Engine theory states that the allure of the Internet is due to access (it’s there all the time and never says no), anonymity (the screen masks our identity) and affordability (it’s free).
Like lurking through old flames on Facebook, we can prowl porn sites with the same level of access, anonymity and affordability — and some let us be exhibitionists at the same time!
ChatRoulette.com, for example, is a website that pairs random strangers for webcam-based conversations. The site offers further insight, and evidence, into electronic exhibitionism and voyeurism.
One anonymous ChatRoulette user, who we’ll call ACRU, is a single, heterosexual male from Boulder. ACRU claims he was initially drawn to the site for its entertainment value.
“You get to be totally anonymous as you randomly connect to people all over the world,” he says.
ACRU occasionally uses the site when he masturbates.
“The majority of users are dudes sitting around, and of those, a good percentage are masturbating. It gets a little frustrating for me because I have to wade through a lot of guys before I come across a girl; but I like the excitement of exhibitionism and to see what types of people will stop and watch me masturbate.”
It would seem like exhibitionism is the norm on sites like ChatRoulette, but voyeurism is particularly more prevalent. ChatRoulette gets criticized for the large numbers of men who seem to employ the site as a place to parade around their aroused genitals as if they are novice porn stars. However, they do so as they simultaneously stare at others on the screen.
ACRU believes that the sexual draw of Internet voyeurism is that the experience is in real-time, “like porn with real people.”
Whether you are seeking Internet sex or Internet friendship, as long as your proclivity for prowling or electronic exhibitionism stays firmly in the fantasy of your electronic medium, chances are you’ll be safe (at least from a legal perspective). But remember, life is about finding the right balance. If your minutes spent online outweigh time spent face-toface or outside under summer skies, then you may want to reassess your use of electronic technology. Just a thought.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org