Measuring and contextualizing heterosexual men's and women's cybersex experiences in three types of relationships
University of New Brunswick
Cybersex is a subgroup of partnered online sexual activities that involve synchronous interactions focused on sexual relations. The goals of this dissertation were to enhance our understanding of cybersex by: (1) developing empirically-supported conceptual and operational definitions of cybersex; (2) examining the relationship context of cybersex; and, (3) examining gender differences in desired and actual cybersex experience using sexual script theory as a framework. Three manuscripts were produced. In Manuscript 1, heterosexual students (N = 292) provided written definitions of cybersex. Qualitative analysis of these definitions showed that cybersex is a range of online sexual activities (e.g., describing sexual fantasies to another person, watching someone behave sexually). These results were used to create conceptual and operational definitions of cybersex, and to develop a single-item and a multi-item measure of cybersex experience. These measures were used in Manuscripts 2 and 3. The goal of Manuscript 2 was to compare the two measures of cybersex experience. The findings, based on 376 heterosexual participants, suggest that the single-item measure was limited in its accuracy and, thus, supported the use of the multi-item measure for future research. Of the people who reported cybersex experience on the multi-item but not the single-item measure, a significantly greater proportion had engaged in cybersex only with a primary partner compared to with non-partners. The goal of Manuscript 3 was to compare heterosexual men's (n = 105) and women's (n = 264) actual and desired cybersex experience with three types of partners: primary partner, someone known who is not a partner (known non-partner), and stranger. The men and women were more likely to report cybersex with a primary partner, doing so more frequently, and desiring to do so more frequently than with a known non-partner or a stranger. Compared to the women, the men reported desiring more frequent cybersex, and engaging in more frequent cybersex with a stranger. Overall, the results revealed that: (1) cybersex is a behavioural domain; (2) the relationship context of cybersex is important for measurement, experience, and desire; and (3) offline sexual scripts appear to guide people's desired and actual cybersex experience.