How the internet is killing real relationships


CBC News Viewpoint | November 3, 2003 | More from Georgie Binks

Georgie Binks Since the beginning of time, men have been wandering around trying to figure out women, and women men. Self-help books, speed dating, internet dating, sex seminars all seem to be the methods these days. But it appears lately that some men's efforts to get nearer to females may actually be taking them in the other direction. I'm talking about two things: internet porn and internet dating.

In the past, teenaged boys were initiated into the mysterious world of women via Dad's Playboy. These days a simple click of the computer mouse can take any 14-year-old to a world full of porn. Initially, it seems harmless, no worse than looking at a girlie mag, right? But if you've ever simply typed in the word "sex" on Google and seen what's available, you know how big the difference is. Banner ads are often small clips of couples actually having sex.

For years, porn opponents feared men's exposure to it would lead to rape and other sexual violence, which didn't happen. What seems to have happened instead is that we're seeing a generation of men weaned on porn and internet dating who are having a difficult time connecting in the real world.

Ottawa sex therapist Sue McGarvie warns, "Explicit material for males between 10 and 17 is bad. If you have early exposure, it skews your view of real sex in a negative way. You have difficulties with intimacy. The problem with young men and I have treated a bunch of these guys who looked at porn, is that if your only images of women are of perfect women and women in adult movies then you have an unrealistic expectation of what real sex is like. You end up with rapid tolerance of what's new, different, unique."

Several articles in the latest New York magazine echo what McGarvie is saying. For one piece, writer David Amsden interviewed a number of younger men and one of them, 26, confided his friends were so obsessed with internet porn they couldn't sleep with their girlfriends unless they acted like porn stars.

In the same issue, Naomi Wolfe muses that all women had to do in the 70s was show up for a date. These days not only do they have to look like porn stars, complete with the cosmetic surgery and Brazilian bikini waxing, but they're expected to have the same repertoire.

Laura Berman, a sex therapist and the director of the Berman Center in Chicago, appeared on ABC recently saying that men who grow up watching these images and seeing them as real are disappointed by real women and real experiences.

Vancouver lawyer John Ince, author of The Politics of Lust thinks the answer is not keeping men away from porn, but rather showing them good porn, which he feels can expand their sex lives. In a typically Canadian analogy, he says, "instead of watching the lousy hockey players, watch the good ones."

The other factor that seems to be inhibiting desire among some men to establish healthy relationships is online dating. Previously a great place for people who found themselves isolated for a host of different reasons, it now is the catalogue shopping of dating.

Bradley Moseley-Williams, former director of PR at the Canadian-based Webpersonals (now says "my experience is that men on the site are usually looking for a relationship, but are happy to have lots of sex in the meantime. On the other hand, women promise sex to get close to a guy, in the hopes that it will turn into a relationship."

But what happens is that women looking for relationships end up being in-the-meantime sex for the guy. And as the technology improves, more and more web cams are being snapped up giving people an even better way to have sex with no intimacy.

McGarvie agrees that a lot of people are having virtual sex. "It's a sterile relationship and if you don't get what you want, you can with the click of a button. You start to expect that the woman needs to be perfect, the sex needs to be perfect and if I am chatting with this woman and she doesn't do it for me, click, she's gone, I've got to find another woman."

Ince agrees. He says, "If we work with the theory that a lot of men are interested in the sexual aspect of a relationship instead of intimacy and this is what I hear a lot of and if it becomes really easy to have casual sex, then will men go deeper? Before now, to get sex, they had to indulge in more emotionally integrated relationships, now they can stay superficial. There is a certain class of men who are going to find this a way of keeping relationships superficial yet getting lots of sex."

The big problem is that men are hardwired for newness in sex, says McGarvie, so, "What I suggest to women is when the wigs go on sale after Halloween, go buy yourself some. What men are incredibly aroused by is having sex with a new person. If you can play that new person, it is as powerful as having that new person or having an affair."

The problem is when new ideas come from images that are unrealistic or unpalatable to women.

The emerging rift is what seems to be the most frightening aspect. Sue McGarvie says, "As a therapist, the men I see who are sex addicts all use the internet. Instead of having relationships they are having a lot of images."

Perhaps the problem is really that the internet is simply the remote control gone awry. In the same way that people joke that men don't want to know what's on TV what they really want is to know what else is on TV maybe it's the same thing for the internet: it makes men who are using it out of sexual curiosity want to know what else is out there, and it stops them from looking realistically at what is right in front of them.


Thanks for Georgie Binks' article on "How the Internet is Killing Real Relationships". I don't agree with some of the opinions, but it is good to see some of the real results of internet porn exposed.


Allan Dowdeswell
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


Your article, "How the Internet is Killing Real Relationships" is based on an old stereotype that men just want sex, women just want intimacy, and those things must be bartered.


I can see why women who believe this would feel threatened by the competition of cheap, easy access to sex through the internet, but those fears are misplaced.


The internet is promoting sexual openness, mostly among men, and this has the potential to educate and liberate many people. It is changing the way that people have sex - but does this make the new sex less "real?"


Do you really think that men are all going to become cold-blooded sex junkies once they go online and discover what's possible? Internet images can't compete with flesh-and-blood women any more than romance novels can compete with real men.


My experience has been that men hide their enjoyment of intimacy for fear of being labelled wusses, and women hide their enjoyment of sex for fear of being labelled sluts. But both genders want to meet many potential partners, explore what's available sexually and emotionally, answer the call of hormones, and then settle down with someone they can trust and feel compatible with. For most men, pornography will never be anything more than a diversion.


I tend to see internet sex addicts as just another version of the homebound couch potatoe. They stay home because venturing into the world and meeting people is difficult and scary, not because the internet is better. Certainly, every advance in home entertainment is making the world less social, but there's no reason to single out porn as a primary cause.


Maybe women feel left behind and intimidated by men who are becoming sexually shameless, and that's a problem. But the best solution would be to finish off the bad girl stereotype, and invite women to take sex more casually, dare to experiment, and request favours from their men.


It's also worth asking if women might have their own unrealistic expectations about men, fuelled by television and film. Many women are more interested in the financial aspect of a relationship instead of the intimacy.


Appearing "cheap" on a date is the surest way to lose a woman's interest. I've met women who automatically reject any man who wants to go dutch or take public transit. Doesn't that come in part from corporate-sponsored shows that depict Mr. Right as rich and free spending?


Yannick Trottier
Toronto, Ontario


For years, porn opponents feared men's exposure to it would lead to rape and other sexual violence, which didn't happen.


As with any social problem, the effects of porn do not increase anti-social behaviour for a large majority people. It's the small minority that makes the headlines, fills the prisons and ruins lives.


Governments make decisions, including ones regarding education of preschoolers and elementary aged children, based on the majority of good kids, not on the small minority that slips through the cracks.


We deny that the cracks in our social structure exist because we know that they don't exist in our own families. So we don't address them, the real causes of social problems.


Instead we apply bandaids, buy more police, build more prisons and courts and pass more laws. We try to fix what is broken instead of preventing the problems from happening in the first place.


Bill Allin


She says "For years,porn opponents feared men's exposure to it would lead to rape and other sexual violence,which didn't happen."


How can she say it didn't happen.You can't pick up a newspaper or listen to a newscast today without hearing about some poor women or little girl being dragged off somewhere against their will and brutally raped and murdered.


Thirty or forty years ago when our nation had some morals and values,and the people determined the morals and values of this nation through parliament(as opposed to unelected judges now)we wouldn't allow the proliferation of pornography.Because of this,it was a rare event to hear of a rape victim.


So if Georgie thinks porn doesn't play a big part in the increase of sexual violence, how does she explain it?


George Jones