Cybersex, internet sex, online sex, phone sex, sex chat rooms, and many other variations of terms and names exist, but they are all talking about pretty much the same thing. And that is little different than the older ‘technology’ of peep shows, "men's" magazines, and the like. All of them are variations on a theme, and the Jewish answers are closely related to those concerning porn films and live sex shows.
[On the Jewish Values Online website, search for ‘internet sex’ or ‘cheating’, or look in the category ‘Sexuality’ and sub-category ‘Adultery’ for various questions and answers that have been submitted and answered concerning this topic.]
Essentially, there are several parameters that need to be examined to respond to this question.
Is there only one person involved, or are there two (or more)?
A. If the person is a single adult not in any sort of relationship, and is reading materials or viewing content of a sexual nature that is arousing to them, there is no direct exchange or sexual interaction. This might be considered as being similar to fantasizing, which is permissible.
B. However, even in this situation, with materials there is the added concern that there is some form of interaction with others, in that someone wrote those materials, and more so, in images, someone posed for and/or took the photographs or video; there is no direct interaction, but this can still be seen as exploitative, and use of these items may be without real consent on the part of the depicted individual(s) [the leaked sex tapes of celebrities, as an example]. Consequently, this is a gray area; it is not clear that this can ever really be said to be fully permissible, because it is impossible to gain real consent.
Are the parties to this interchange in a position to be involved in this way?
A. If the persons are both unmarried adults who consent, it is one thing.
B. However, if one or both of the parties is married (to someone other than the other party to this exchange), then this behavior is wrong.
Are the parties able to meaningfully consent to such an exchange?
A. Any such exchanges involving children or minors are utterly wrong (as well as illegal).
B. Similarly, this is wrong for any relationship where there is coercion or force (an employer-employee or supervisor-worker situation, for example), or if the exchange is unwanted on the part of either party.
Is this exchange between parties that are in or could develop a meaningful legitimate sexual relationship?
A. If the two persons are not eligible to each other (blood relatives, for example), then this exchange is wrong.
B. If these are complete strangers engaging in this exchange, people
who have never met and have no intention or likelihood of any further interactions, this is not a meaningful legitimate relationship, and is wrong because it is simply using another as an object to satisfy oneself.
C. On the other hand, if a committed couple or a married couple
choose to engage in such exchanges with each other, it would seem to be permissible, if both participate willingly, under the concept that this may enhance their communication, and increase their sexual satisfaction with each other.
The conclusion would seem to be that according to Jewish thought and Halachah (law) such behaviors are wrong in most instances, and only allowed and appropriate within the context of a meaningful legitimate committed relationship, and only with real consent and agreement of the parties involved.
Frankly, I do not understand the question. Assume that the sexual messages being exchanged are not over the internet, but more directly. You would say - that is horrible. So by what dynamics does the fact that it is on the internet make it kosher? The internet is not a cleansing agent.
As to pornography, the only thing good about it is that it makes good material for fires. Pornography is, before anything, a mind polluter, and therefore out of bounds. It is also demeaning to both men and women, who rather than being sanctified, are instead objectified. That is unacceptable.
We are not squeamish when it comes to sex. We consider sex to be the most sacred of human expressions. We utterly reject porn and frivolous sexual chatter because they de-sanctify sex and rob sex of its spirituality. Sex in the right place, at the right time, in the right circumstance, is transcending. But reduced to a mere animalistic expression, it is ugly, precisely because of its potential to be so sacred.
The internet has had an incredible effect on nearly all segments of our society. We can communicate and share information in ways unimaginable just a generation ago. As soon as I post this answer, it will go up on Facebook, Twitter and the JVO website. While these advances are a cause for celebration, they also introduce complicated new questions of ethics that lead to queries like yours. I am increasingly concerned about the false feeling of interaction created online. Just like 3 hrs of playing basketball video games can’t compare with being outside on the court. Hours of online interaction with “friends” can’t compare with being in their presence. Add to that the sexual element of the internet and we get to cybersex. Your question is complicated in that different scenarios raise different issues. I would like to explore a few of them.
We need to ask is who is having the cybersex? If we are speaking of a single person, who is looking for sexual interactions there are a number of issues that come into play. The Jewish values that come most immediately to mind are Tsniut or modesty and then treating others in a way that reflects that they were created b’tzelem elohim or in God’s image. The explicit nature of sex with a stranger online suggests questionable modesty, in that we are revealing the private in a public forum. I say public because as we have seen again and again one cannot assume any privacy online. We cannot assume people are who they say they are, that they are alone, or that your interactions are not being recorded for future broadcast (this is scary even without the Jewish questions). As for treating others like they were made in God’s image, it would seem to me that using someone anonymous online for your own gratification is the diminishing of that image.
If we are speaking of a married person and the partner in cybersex is not their life partner, than we also enter into issues of infidelity. This is clearly prohibited in the Jewish tradition. In a similar question on this website, my good friend Rabbi David Schuck set up a good standard to measure by. Rabbi Schuck suggests you ask yourself “Would I tell my partner?” If the answer is no, you can be pretty sure you are on the wrong path.
If we are dealing with partners in a committed relationship who are engaging in cybersex consensually, I suppose it could be permissible. The one word of caution I would insert, is that while technology has the power to increase intimacy, such as in cases of extended separation as in military or business travel situations, it also has the power to diminish intimacy with those closest to us. How many of us have received e-mails from someone who could have easily walked across the hall to tell us the same thing? If you start to find that your online love life with your partner is more satisfying than your real one, there are likely serious issues to address.
Finally, when I was a Hillel rabbi, I always told students that even if they were to ignore every single Jewish teaching I shared with them about sex, there was one thing that is non-negotiable and that is safety. With that in mind, even though I would discourage cybersex for all of the reasons above, I feel compelled to say that if engaging in cybersex would keep you from far riskier or life threatening sexual behavior in the real world, then do what you need to do. Even though it is problematic from a religious perspective it is preferable to contracting a life threatening disease, or being the subject of violence. I pray though, that you will seek help and safer places to meet your needs.
As for pornography, it seems to be worthy of its own question. I would only say that it seems to me, in most if not all cases, to be exploitive and fails both the standards of Tsniut and Betzelm Elohim.
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