by Sam Dawson
At the most recent meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (see https://sstarnet.org) Dr. Markie Twist gave a fascinating plenary on digisexuality, based on a recent article entitled: The rise of digisexuality: Therapeutic challenges and possibilities (McArthur & Twist, 2017).
So, what is digisexuality and could this apply to you? McArthur and Twist (2017) describe digisexuality as a two-wave phenomenon. First-wave digisexuals include people who use technology as part of their sexual and romantic relationships. This could include watching porn online, using common dating or hookup apps, and sexting—thus, many of us could be described as first-wave digisexuals! For first-wave digisexuals the technology is used as a way to gain sexual fulfillment, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the only way or the most preferred way to becoming sexually fulfilled. Second-wave digisexuality involves a deeper connection to or a more immersive experience with technology. This could include using virtual reality and sex robots (sexbots) as a means of satisfying their sexual needs. For some second-wave digisexuals, the use of technology may replace the need for a human partner altogether. Twist discussed how some of the clients she has worked with have developed intense emotional connections with their technology, and this has become their preferred sexual outlet, and some choose to identify as “digisexual” similar to other sexual identity labels.
Evidence of the rise of second-wave digisexuality can be seen in recent media coverage, including stories about individuals who marry their technology (e.g., holograms, robots), as well as popular movies (Her; Lars and the Real Girl). Given that most people fit under first-wave digisexuality and second-wave digisexuality is quickly emerging alongside advances in technology, what challenges and opportunities will this afford for the public, researchers, and clinicians?
First, Twist cautioned against stigmatizing second-wave digisexuality, recommending that we (public, researchers, and clinicians) consider how the use of technology and this sexual identity may be normal, healthy, and even therapeutic. Second, Twist recommends research to explore and understand the use of technology in sexual and romantic relationships, as well as digisexuality as a sexual identity. And third, Twist suggests that clinicians need to be prepared to work with individuals who may be using first- and second-wave digisexualities. In their paper, McArthur and Twist (2017) discuss the Couple and Family Technology framework (Hertlein, 2012; Hertlein & Blumer, 2013)—which can be helpful for clinicians when working with their clients, but also individuals who are exploring their digisexuality. The framework provides a structure that can be used to examine the effects of technology on different types of relationships (e.g., individuals, couples, families). It highlights how clinicians and individuals can assess how technology and digisexuality impacts the structure (roles, rules, and boundaries) and processes (e.g., intimacy) of relationships, including how technology and digisexualities may be helping or hindering relationships.
If you’re interested in reading more about digisexuality see these other articles:
Hertlein, K. M. (2012). Digital dwelling: Technology in couple and family relationships. Family Relations, 61, 374–377.
Hertlein, K. M., & Blumer, M. L. C. (2013). The couple and family technology framework: Intimate relationships in a digital age. New York, NY: Routledge.
McArthur, N., & Twist, M. L. (2017). The rise of digisexuality: Therapeutic challenges and possibilities. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 32, 334-344.