The Digital World of Sex & Relationships

Written by Dianna Palimere, PhD, LCSW . Posted in Advice.

 The Digital World of Sex & Relationships
The technological advancements that have been produced over the past two decades have led to a fundamental shift in our interpersonal communications with one another at work, in our social lives, and in our homes.

Face-to-face communication has widely been replaced with what is now called Computer-mediated communication (CMC). In its most basic definition, this is “any human communication that occurs through the use of two or more electronic devices” (McQuail, 2005). With so many electronic devices now at our fingertips, the ways we interact with each other, and the ways we now form relationships are vastly different than even just a few years ago; and it continues to grow and change at a fairly rapid pace. It’s clear to see just how much our interpersonal communication has changed, if we compare the electronic devices we use today, to what we had available to use in the mid-1990’s. The most obvious shift was when millions of Americans first began to purchase discs to use AOL’s dial-up subscriptions for email and a prepaid amount of “hours of internet use.” For the millennial generation, this is ancient history; which they may or may not have read about in a chapter of a book, in their middle school computer science class. That is, if they’re still using books…

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is no longer limited to using email and accessing the internet. It’s become so pervasive, that it now dominates the way we communicate and interact with others in multiple forms and different devices, personally and professionally, throughout the day, every day. The speed at which Tech companies are inventing and distributing new devices with new forms of CMC has become so swift, that it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with them. Face-to-face interactions have been replaced with: email, chatrooms, dating websites, webcams, Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) transmissions (e.g., Skype, which is used to make video/audio calls using webcams), smartphones, text messages, multiple forms of social media, and phone applications for just about anything and everything one can think of!

In just one decade, between 2004 and 2014, new and different forms of social media began to saturate our everyday lives, many of which eventually became household names. These include: Livejournal, Wikipedia, MySpace, flickr, YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Tinder, Vine, and Pheed. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the list just mentioned is incomplete and/or outdated by the time this article leaves my hands and goes to print—and these are just the forms of “social” media communications; although several of them do crossover into dating and relationships.

The list of options for online dating/escort services, dating/relationship websites, and Apps for sex, dating and/or relationships is enumerable and consistently expanding. In addition, they have become more and more specialized to cater to the wants and needs of specific populations. It’s fairly safe to say that anyone who might be new or returning to the “dating scene” is likely going to need some help as they begin to navigate the brave new world of sex and relationships in the digital world.

Where to start?

The first question you need to ask yourself is, “What type of relationship or interaction am I looking for?” This can be essentially broken down to several options. “Not Sure” “The Perfect Match” “Sex” or a “New Friend” This is a bit oversimplified, as there are so many additional options now; nevertheless it’s a great place to start.
It’s of note that most online dating websites now have accompanying phone Apps to use. Wikipedia has a webpage called “Comparison of Online Dating Websites”, as it also includes some of the most widely used Apps as well. Disclaimer: Despite its name, the website “Adult Friend Finder” is NOT a place for adults just looking to make new friends (Wikipedia doesn’t give the best description of that one on their comparison chart…). It falls squarely in the category of “Just looking for sex” and it caters to both singles and swingers. (“No judgements here”) Due to the nature of the profile pictures some its members choose to use, it is also not safe to view while at work or around anyone under the age of 18.

Before You Create a Profile…

Once you’ve decided which website(s) you think best match your needs, you’ll need to do a few things in preparation, before signing up and creating your actual profile.
Create an email address that is only going to be used for your online dating and make sure that it doesn’t contain any identifiable information (like your legal name). The majority of the people you meet will likely be harmless, but there are definitely a few out there that you would not want to have your personal information, and you’ll only figure that out after you’ve spent some time talking with them online. For the same reason, you will also need to create an Instant Messenger account (Kik, Hangouts, etc.) and a VoIP account (Skype, Tox, Slack, Viber, etc.).

At some point, you may want to talk to them on the phone before meeting them in person. I highly suggest using the Google Voice Hangouts App, as it allows you to create a new, free phone number that will automatically forward the calls to your real cell phone number. Just like any other call, you can answer it, let it go to voicemail, or block the sender. In addition, you can also use the app to send/receive text messages.
While you want to be as honest as possible in representing your authentic self to people, you still need to be safe with the information you give them. A nickname is better than your full name (e.g., Bob, instead of Robert). It’s okay to give them your general educational background; I don’t recommend telling them exactly where you went to school or earned your degree. If you have a specialized degree, you may also want to reserve some of that kind of information until you feel you have met with the person enough that you feel it would be safe for them to know your personal information. There’s a wonderful article written by Laurie Davis, about “How to Protect Your Privacy When Dating Online.” In it she notes how easy it is to “find” someone’s personal information online, simply by doing a Google search with their first name, job description, and their alma mater.

Be Safe!
Creating a ProfileNow that we have all of the basic safety precautions taken care of, you’re ready to sit down a write a profile. Depending on what kind of relationship you’re looking for, you might put more or less about yourself, your interests, career goals, hobbies, etc. For sake of ease (and because every once in a blue moon my mother decides to read these articles) we’ll create a profile assuming you’re looking for a long-term relationship (LTR) and not a friend with benefits (FWB), or a casual sex partner, “sex buddy,” etc. (Again, no judgments here. I think she’s finally using “friends with benefits” in the correct context now and doesn’t need any confusion, lol).
Almost all online profiles require the basic demographic information. Naturally, you should be honest about your sex (Male, Female, Trans, Other); Sexual Orientation (L, G, B, T, Q); Age (give or take a year or two); and weight—although many people feel more comfortable sharing their body type, instead of weight in pounds (e.g., height-weight proportionate; curvy; fit; athletic; slim; etc.).

It’s important that you spend some time being thoughtful about what you value most in a partner. Write down all of the “ideal characteristics” you would love to have in a partner, and then prioritize them so that you can describe what matters “the most” to you in a partner. It’s equally as important for you to really know yourself and present yourself authentically. When I’m helping a client write their profile, I encourage them to think of one or two things they are really passionate about; and one or two life experiences that are unique, while still being a fair representation of who they are. For example, one of my clients had gone to a Wolf Preserve & Sanctuary, and went on a midnight tour where they were able to howl with the wolves! I absolutely loved hearing her tell me that story, and it was definitely representative of both her love of nature as well as her adventurous spirit. Moreover, it’s something that would make her profile stand out in the sea of all the others the person might have read that day.

Finally, be very clear about any “deal breakers” you might have. For example, “Non-smokers only,” or “Must be employed.” If you have deal breakers that involve appearance, I suggest avoiding expressing it in a negative manner, for example, “Don’t bother messaging me if you’re not employed, physically fit, and educated” Instead, try to include it in with the description of what you do want, and perhaps add a little detail if you don’t want to appear to be shallow. For example, “I’m a highly-educated, athletic, professional, and I’m looking for a woman who is also well-educated, athletic, and a professional. Ideally, I would love for us to be able to go for runs and hikes together.” As a general rule, I tell my clients, “If you wouldn’t walk up to a person in a bar and say it, don’t write it in your profile.”

A few other details… When including photos of yourself, choose ones in which you’re having fun and/or in which you’re looking particular confident. When contacting someone, always mention at least one or two specific details from their profile that you found to be unique/attractive/interesting, etc. And be sure to ask one or two questions about them in your message. This lets them know that you’re thoughtful and genuinely interested in getting to know them.
Best of luck to all of you in your search—don’t forget to have FUN!

Additional Resources:
Love at First Click: The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating, by Laurie Davis
Not Here for Hookups! A Guide to Finding Quality Men on Dating Apps Without Compromising You! by A. J. Nelson
A Great Online Dating Profile: 30 Tips to Get Noticed and Get More Responses, by Logan Lo
Left Swipes & Love: A Millennial’s Guide to Hookups, Dating, and Tinder, by Amanda Nachman

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