San Francisco - Cyber-sex, war, and erection-inducing drugs are a recipe for a more socially inept, violent culture, according to a panel of top United States sex experts.
The concern was raised as researchers discussed The Future of Sex at an unprecedented summit near Santa Fe, New Mexico, late last week.
"The de-interaction of sex is something I worry about," said Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. "If we go too much in the direction of virtual sex, what's left out? How you get along in a personal sphere is getting short shrift," Heiman said in a conference call with reporters.
While cyber-sex fuelled by drugs such as Viagra might be tempting, it is "built for disappointment "because real life can seldom compete with fantasies, panelists said. "The breakneck speed of technology development allows one to create one's own erotic ideal and a multi-sensory experience of virtual sex," said Heiman. "If young people are learning in this fashion, what about the very personal aspect of sex in which you have to interact with the other person?"
A compounding factor will likely be pharmaceutical companies eagerly expanding the array of drugs that enhance sexual activity, Heiman said. Erection-stimulating drugs such as Viagra could exacerbate the "individualisation" of sex, said professor John Gagnon of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "The other part of the couple may not be consenting to the erection," Gagnon said. "The assumption is the woman will be happy if the fellow arrives with one."
Technology and Viagra-type medicine combine to push people out of social relationships and reduce their capacity to relate to each other, according to Gagnon. "Like one simulates a bombing run," Gagnon said. "It distances you from the person being hit by the bomb."
Another potentially disturbing ingredient in the mix is that the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and ensuing "war on terror" are inuring society to violence, Heiman said.
"The tolerance of violence may be making a comeback," Heiman said. "And when that happens, sexual violence will be tolerated."
Technology is pushing people apart just as online dating services bring others together, according to panelists.
The Internet is increasingly a place for people with shared interests to form online communities and for people to seek dates or mates, said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington.
"Every country, no matter how undeveloped, has dating sites," Schwartz said. "My experience is people want to get offline as quick as possible. People are looking for partners, looking for love."
The Internet could also serve as a trove of information dispelling misconceptions about sexual lifestyles, health and trends, according to panelists.
The researchers, who joined about 100 peers for the three-day conference, hoped the coming decade would see more research into the roles of race, medicine, age, technology and political conservatism on sexuality.
"When one gets into the predicting the future business," Gagnon said jokingly, "one gets into a situation where you are mostly wrong."