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Cyber-Sex

A Review and Implications of the Situation

Kenneth Allen
Notre Dame Seminary

EXHORTATION "CHURCH IN OCEANIA" PUBLISHED ON INTERNET
Includes Conclusions of 1998 Synod
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 22, 2001

John Paul II made cyberhistory today when he published an official document on Internet, speeding it along to the communities it was addressed to -- on the other side of the world.

The document, the apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in Oceana":"The Church in Oceania", includes the conclusions of that continent's Synod of Bishops, held in 1998.

After signing the document, the Holy Father, with obvious satisfaction, went to a computer containing the e-mail addresses of the dioceses of At the click of a button, the document was sent to its recipients.

The applause of several hundred cardinals, bishops, religious, priests and faithful of Oceania resounded in Clementine Hall. Roman Curia officials were also on hand.[1]

So reads a recent daily dispatch from the offices of Zenit, a news service devoted to the dissemination of Catholic news through the medium of e-mail. It is good that the Church avails itself of the Internet in today's world of rapid mass communication. Anyone with internet access might also visit the Vatican web site, and have a look at any number of Church documents, Sacred Scripture, Conciliar Documents, etc. There is, however, a very dark side to the internet, as other recent headlines from Zenit's e-mail based news service might easily attest.

LONDON, NOV. 28, 2001
(Zenit.org).- More than 130 people were detained today as part of an international operation to halt child pornography and the abuse of minors, BBC reported.

In addition to Great Britain, the pedophile network extends to the United States, Spain, Israel, Belgium, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Taiwan, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Holland, New Zealand, and Turkey. In an unprecedented operation, police in England and Scotland searched the homes of suspects and confiscated computer databases, BBC disclosed.

Through the National Crime Service, police in Britain followed Web page users specialized in supplying child pornography, BBC reported.

The operation was planned over the past 10 months. Agents succeeded in dismantling more than 30 Internet news groups specialized in supplying child pornography images. They had more than 60,000 such images, which could be downloaded from the Internet.[2]

The internet's dark side includes, evidently, public databases of up to 60,000 photographic images of child pornography, an alarming statistic. In a response to the growing awareness of an evident threat to underage children, the U.S. Supreme Court is again considering legislation which would offer some level of protection to children, after striking down the same legislation a mere three years ago. [3]

Were these very public considerations the extent of the growing problem taking shape in cyber space, many people might sleep a bit easier knowing that governments were working to shape up the world, and churches were working to add a sacred presence to the internet. However, the fact remains that cybersex is a phenomenon that is neither receding nor going away by any stretch of the imagination. Cybersex is a growing phenomenon, with an all too rich and vibrant future.

The Problem

What in the world, many ask, is Cyber-Sex?

Cyber sex , in it's shortest and most explicit definition is, a combination of communication and masturbation. It is a selfish gratification of one's sexual desires while sharing one's most intimate thoughts and fantasies with someone else. It is nearly identical to phone sex, the only difference being the method of communication. As computer networks become ever more sophisticated and voice chat more common, even this distinction fades. The newest problem comes in the form of video conferencing, which adds visual images making the activity even more addictive. [4]

The verb form of cyber sex, would be "to cyber."[5]

Cyber sexual activity takes many forms. One might download explicit pictures, or explicit stories. One might partake in the exchange of racy, sexually suggestive e-mails. One might view sexually arousing videos which open up and play on one's computer screen, which may be either pre-recorded or live. Webcams, cameras interfaced with a computer so that one might broadcasts live streaming images of oneself, are increasingly common in the use of cybersexual activity. Chat rooms, whether general or private, are as popular as ever and might often lead to masturbation, cybersex, phone sex, or actual meetings in the flesh.[6]

Good thing, one might say, that this problem is not affecting terribly many persons, nor is it a widespread and growing phenomenon. Phew! This would of course, be a terribly unwise presumption on anyone's part. Some studies estimate that 15% of the approximately 75 million internet users in the United States log onto sexually explicit sites. A recent study by the American Psychological Association demonstrates that those persons who do spend large amounts of time on the Net in sexual pursuits may be at risk for developing psychological difficulties, such as sexual compulsivity.[7] Other studies have shown that large numbers of Americans spend time on the Internet perusing for sexual pursuits of some sort or another. It has been demonstrated that the more time one spent online in pursuit of sexual experience, the more one was likely to have or to develop some sort of psychological disorder. [8]

This study provides the first step in understanding the common use of the Internet and can help mental health professionals to develop guidelines to prevent, diagnose, intervene and treat sexual compulsivity and related disorders. In addition it may be useful in the identification of other issues which may be going on in user's lives, and from which they may wish to escape by turning to their keyboards. [9]

Another study gauges that "between 15% - 30% of the people who use the Internet daily visit sexually explicit sites or engage in cybersex chat."[10] By anyone's estimate, that is a lot of people. Cybersexual chat is a phenomenon of growing proportions, as is related through the online site, Cyber Chat Addicts Anonymous. "In the wee small hours of the morning, they do not sit alone in a bar weeping into their beers. Typing away on their computer keyboards, sending and receiving messages on their screens, they are in a place beyond meditation. Untethered from the usual social constraints, Internet chat-room devotees of all genders, ages, races and sexual proclivities or hang-ups give free reign to their disinhibited ids, getting in touch with the inner deviants." [11]

Those who engage in cybersexual chat type into their computers as they inhabit virtual chat rooms of the various Internet companies such as AOL (America Online,) or Compuserve among others. Another popular chat program used on the internet is Internet Relay Chat, "called IRC among netheads," [12] where " a maze of steamy places that don't exist makes up the warp and the woof of sex on the Net today." [13] A visit to the Cyber Chat Addicts Anonymous website reveals that all is not well amongst cyberchatters; cybersex is adultery, and it is harmful.

Clearly if a married person does this in secret, attempting to fulfill themselves while abandoning their spouse, they are clearly engaging in a most selfish form of cheating. Religiously speaking, placing anything in life before God is a form of worshipping idols. Placing anything other than God in front of your spouse is a form of adultery.

The harm comes not so much in form of what we have been doing, but rather in the form of what we have not been doing. As addicts we spend ever-greater amounts of time feeding our addiction, taking us away from our spouses, away from our families. As we turn to this fantasy world to make our intimate connections, we lose the ability to connect intimately with our spouses. ... We become so addicted we neglect the things in life that were once the most important of all." [14]

Cybersex is also ultimately harmful in the single state as well. In general, it is derogatory to the dignity of persons, and leaves lack of fulfillment, and many questions. Viewing the message board at the website is quite revealing. Here, visitors may anonymously post their concerns and obtain anonymous feedback from helpful persons who may or may not be sharing the same struggles. As an interesting example, take for instance, the following dialogue:

Posted by dan on November 23, 2001 at 05:56:38 :

 

I have been in the chat rooms and was having cyber sex with others. Then i relealized that i was having it with minors. I stopped, but the other day i did it with it with a 15 yr old, i didnt know it untell we were done. It sickened me, and i am so afraid that i have broken the law. God i didnt think i was that bad, but now i am afraid that the law is going to come and arrest me. I have stopped, no more for me, but i hurt, i feel the law is going to come and get me, and my life will be ruined, its driving me nuts. Any help would be appreciated. I am taking steps to prevent me from doing it anymore, but i am so afraid that i have done something terribel and am going to go to jail. Please someone tell me what laws i have broken, and whats going to happen to me. I will never ever cyber agin, but am i going to jail? What can i do, besides stopping Thank you [15]

 

Posted by Tammy on November 23, 2001 at 12:00:08 :

Dear Dan,

I hear the fear in your words and truthfully i dont feel like your in any danger of jail as i know of but i do think you are definately as for all of us in here, been in a prison of addiction of cybering . I am so glad you came here, if you read the many post in here, we all share a common bond with each other, addiction, but if you will listen carefully, you will also find hope in the words of lots of people in here too! You have taken the first step to freedom Dan, you said ,"no more cybering",! For me , God works in so many strange and wonderful ways of bringing me to look to him. I dont know where you stand as far as God goes, but i believe through what has happened to you that maybe he is giving you your wake up call, a chance to begin to change and live a life of freedom , and a chance to live your life differently and more fullfilled before you do really end up in danger. I think your consience is really working on you too, truthfully i think that in the cyber world , none of us can be for sure who we have been with or are with, its a world of fantasy, a world of deceit, and a world of danger. We can be and say and do whatever we want, and everything we say and do affects the lives of each person we meet, so i think that now that i am sitting writing this, it has come to my mind that maybe you can really be thankful for what has just happened to you Dan. You are seeing what this addiction can and will lead to. Thank you for sharing with us and for coming here, it helps us too! You are in my prayers and i pray that you stay true to your words of never cybering again. You may have moments of weakness, we all have, you may fail again, but remember there is always a new day and a new chance, and this place is here for you to come and get support. Take care, Tammy [16]

Posted by Phoenix on November 23, 2001 at 11:23:19 :

 

In Reply to:what are the laws for having cyber sex with a minor/ posted by dan on November 23, 2001 at 05:56:38 :

 

You might be guilty of "contributing to the delinquency of a minor..." or something of that nature. Of course it would be a very difficult case for the police to make. However, even if you got out of it in court, the entire world would know about it. It would be in the papers, etc. Your family, friends, associates, all would know everything.

Your choice to stop cold and never cyber again is probably best. Most likely the police would watch you, perhaps put your Internet Service account under surveilance hoping to catch you trying to entice a minor into have sex for real. They could put you in jail for a long time over that one. If they never catch you at it again, they probably would drop it. [17]

Posted by Connie on November 23, 2001 at 11:52:31 :

 

In Reply to: Re: what are the laws for having cyber sex with a minor/ posted by Phoenix on November 23, 2001 at 11:23:19 :

 

Another thing to consider is the fact that she may not have been a "she" at all, let alone a 15 yr old girl. So many man describe themselves as "girls" because of the excitment of lust. I agree with Phoenix ...get rid of everything you have. Start fresh!!!! Pray for help. God Bless Connie [18]

The unfortunate Dan is paying for his actions in remorse, guilt and confusion. Has he engaged in "sex" with a minor? Has he engaged in "sex" with a homosexual or bisexual male thinking it was a woman? (Has he even "had sex"?) He will more than likely never know. Will he ever be arrested? That is another story entirely.

A recent case in New York City brought to life the bizarre underbelly of internet sexuality when a "Columbia University doctoral candidate was sentenced to 15 years to life for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman he had met and corresponded with on the internet." The e-mail messages along with the instant chat messages which the two had exchanged were studied scrupulously by the DA and the local press, and are now published as historic fact on the Internet.[19] As Ullman puts it succinctly in her article, "The Internet definitely has its charms. But unless there is a better understanding of how it is changing the dynamics of social life, there may well be a lot more court in modern courtship." [20]

Clearly, then, there is a growing area of concern in regard to the issue of cybersex. As the Internet has been fueled by cheaper computers, less expensive phone and internet connections, the Internet has slowly been evolving into a much more complex system than that of which many might be aware. A growing area of concern aside from cyber chat addiction, is the more generalized notion of cybersex addiction. Studies into cybersex addiction offer extremely enlightening insights into the nature of the addiction,   seen as a sub-type of Internet addiction. Far from being an activity of the sexually deviant, cybersex addiction has been witnessed as being a growing phenomenon amongst those with no prior criminal or psychiatric history, mainly due to its anonymity, its convenience, and the escape that it provides.

Due to its nature as being various persons sitting behind their computers, there is an inherent anonymity which:

...provides the user with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone and nature of the online sexual experience. Unlike real life sexual experiences, a woman can quickly change partners if her cyber-lover isn't very good or a man can log off after his orgasm without any long good-byes. What if a man wanted to privately wondered what it would be like to have sex with another man? What if a woman always wanted to try bondage?

Within the anonymous context of cyberspace, conventional messages about sex are eliminated allowing users to play out hidden or repressed sexual fantasies ... without the far of being caught. For anyone who has ever been curious about bondage, group sex, urination, homosexuality, or cross-dressing, cybersex offers a private, safe, and anonymous way to explore those fantasies. Therefore, individuals are more likely to sexually experiment as online users feel encouraged to engage in their adult fantasies and validated by the acceptance of the cyberspace culture." [21]

As far as convenience goes, estimates done by the cybersex industry show that the top ten sex sites in April 1998 received 9.6 million viewers, and a 1998 study demonstrated that there were at the time 70,000 sex-related websites extant, with another 200 being added per day. "The ease of availability serves to promote sexual experimentation among those who normally would not engage in such behavior." [22]

In an article by the American Medical Association, Dr. Al Cooper discusses the growing concern caused by cybersexual addiction. He found three basic types of users: recreational users, persons previously known to be sexual compulsives, and persons for whom sexual compulsion would not be an issue were it no for the internet and it's " powerful draw."[23]

Cooper goes on to estimate that a good 20% of the estimated (1997) 60 million users are regularly visiting pornographic sites, or engaging in cybersex: "Using our very conservative definition of a cybersex compulsive, that means at least 120,000 people are suffering from this condition. If the rate of any other disease had gone from virtually zero to 120,000 in five years, it would be declared an epidemic and the full resources of the health system would be brought to bear on it." The severity of the problem certainly emerges more starkly when addressed in such a manner. Dr. Jennifer Schneider, an internist and addiction medicine specialist refers to the computer as "an extremely intense delivery device," noting that "the computer changed the landscape for sexual compulsives in much the same manner that crack changed the landscape for cocaine addicts when it was introduced years ago. " [24]

However, the computer is also the medium of healing for many of those suffering from online addictions, a notion which runs counter to many beliefs about recovery. "Many addicts become so isolated that they have no other way of relating," offers therapist Dr. Kimberly Young. And as for being healed through the very medium through which they suffer, the opinion is varied. Some argue that as with eating disorders, when one must learn to co-exist with food, so must the internet addict learn to co-exist with his or her computer, given the general nature of computer use in today ' s society. [25]

A Christian Response - Moving Towards Morals

Dr. Mark Laaser, head of the Christian Alliance for Sexual Recovery, talks about some of the areas of concern which might be helpful in dealing with engagement in, or addiction to cybersex. "The number one mistake Christians make is that they think they have to deal with this alone--that if they're getting tempted this way, they can battle it on their own. We need to have an accountability group: healthy relationships with other Christians where we can honestly talk about what we're dealing with." [26]As a matter for self reflection he offers that we must look at our churches and ask: "Is our church the kind of place where we feel safe to talk about our mistakes and still receive grace? Or are we going to church trying to convince ourselves and others that we are something that we ' re really not?" [27]

René Molenkamp and Luisa Saffiotti offer a wonderful overview of the problem of cybersex within the milieu of the Catholic Church, specifically amongst religious and clergy. They discuss it's private, fantastical nature, and add that it is often "surrounded by secrets: most people who engage in it do not talk about it with friends, family, community members, spiritual directors, or superiors." [28]Spending "hours in front of the computer screen," the behavior can eventually interfere with " work, community life, social life, and takes a toll on the relationship with self and with God."[29]

Over the past several years, as with society at large, cybersexual activity has been on the rise amongst clergy and religious, much to the concern of superiors, formators and spiritual directors, who are more often than not clueless as to it ' s presence, or in responding to those who express needs and concerns in regards thereof. The authors have noted several areas of concern which might be kept in mind by religious.

Firstly, cybersex promotes a voyeuristic attitude towards persons and sexuality in general. Rather than a holistic, integrated expression of sexuality, persons engaging in cybersexual activity perceive others in a fragmented way, focusing on body parts or some other [extremely] incomplete aspect of a whole and healthy relationship with another person. Continuing to focus in such a way can be detrimental to a person's integrated sexuality and require "intensive therapeutic work." [30]

Given that all growth in the context of a healthy personhood, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, must be done in the context of community, and in relationship with others, cybersex promotes the continued isolation of a person. There is "no direct exchange, no feedback, or opportunity for processing responses, reactions, and feelings as they arise." [31] Being isolated in front of a computer screen with one's thoughts and fantasies is hardly conducive to growing in either spiritual or pastoral venues.

Third, cybersex requires no effort in genuine relating, and isolates persons from their peers. In the context of community living this is particularly hazardous as community building skills are damaged and lessened through secrecy, lack of intimacy, lack of social skills, etc. There is also the very great risk of 'gradually numbing' an individuals sensitivity "to what is sexually appropriate or problematic and dulling their conscience and consciousness around issues of sexuality and relationality. This then leaves them less able to respond appropriately to their own and other's sexual and relation situations, including those occurring in pastoral circumstances." [32]

Dr. Laaser offers an interesting view of this concept in speaking about the growing number of female cybersexual participants, offering that women are becoming more visually oriented, more aggressive, and more prone to acting out sexually, due to internet use. "Culture is rewiring the female brain. ... Your brain does not create new cells, but it does have the ability to create new connections. So neurochemically, you literally can rewire the connections in your brain. ... You can rewire your brain toward sin... Your brain after awhile will adjust to that, and it will want more of that ... ." [33]

Another area of concern would be the obvious impact of cybersex upon the community at large. Pornography is rampant on the internet. Engaging in cybersex contributes to the spread and endorsement of pornography, in all its many forms. This can be extremely embarrassing to houses of formation, religious orders and clerical houses and convents, since most of these websites may be traced back to the user. If there is illegal pornography involved, as with minors or any number of banned sexual pursuits, there could be considerable embarrassment to the religious community. In the case that such pornography were not specifically illegal, undue embarrassment and scandal could still result. Finally, the authors point to the effects of rampant computer use in general: lack of exercise, nutrition and sleep, general neglect of self-care, poor community participation, prayer, spiritual life and growth, lessened relationships, etc.

Offering several personality types which may be prone to cybersexual involvement, the authors close with very insightful guidelines to those who might need to address cybersexual involvement "in the context of priesthood and religious life, particularly in formation settings:

 

Cybersex of the Future - The Cyborg Theory

Thank goodness, one might exult, that the problem of cybersex is being recognized and addressed. Surely this will result in a more balanced situation which will not cause any unpleasant implications in the future. Not so, as you might have guessed by now. What does the future hold in the realm of cybersex? Many things which might give professors of moral theology a huge headache would be a likely, and very true, response.

In discussing the nature of cybersex and marital infidelity, Marlene Maheu offers some interesting insight into the future of cybersex, offering that ultimately body suits are being touted in many circles as the next major venue for participants in cyber sex. Such body suits may help with persons experiencing sexual dysfunction, by interacting with the nervous system to provide stimulation which might otherwise be lacking due to trauma, physical deformity, etc. They may also be capable impregnation, given a virtual lover's semen being inserted into the appropriate appendage of a female body suit. Virtual relationships are bound to take on a whole new meaning in the light of such technological "advancements" . [35]

Another interesting notion is that of prostitution. Models viewed through live web cams are already proliferating on the Internet. Will this be termed prostitution one day? As Mahue puts it: "While legal limits have not yet been set on such activities, someone walking into their den is likely to have a number of responses to seeing their partner sitting at a keyboard, typing erotic requests with one hand, masturbating with the other, and watching a videoconferenced male or female model performing erotic acts upon command." [36]

Most disturbing and compelling is that theory which seeks to understand the growing complexity of human/machine interaction. Cyborg theory seeks to examine this perspective from a sociological view, and is helpful in considering future relationships and sexuality.

Cyborgs are combinations of people and animals or machines. Donna Haraway's influential work, A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Social Feminism in the 1980's [37] defined cyborgs as "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. People are cyborgs when pieces of them are undeniably tied to the computer as an extension of themselves. We see a meshing of technology and man in healthcare when humans and technology function as one, such as with man surviving with a pacemaker, or a woman surviving with a respirator." [38]

She then discusses a most interesting scenario.

"Robin Hamman has discussed problematic interactions between humans and computers in Cyborgasms: Cyber-sex Amongst Multiple-Selves and Cyborgs in the Narrow-Bandwidth Space of America Online Chat Rooms. He details the experience of a young woman named rebecca, who he believes, 'may be becoming a cyborg because her sex life is undeniably tied to and dependent upon AOL chat rooms. All her sexual activities involving sexual partners are online.'

"Rebecca is not sexually active other than with men she meets online. Although she has had cyber-sex and telephone sex with many men through AOL, Rebecca has not physically had sex with a partner since she began using the service. Rebecca does not practice casual sex in the real world because she does not believe it to be moral or safe. "Rebecca's sex life is undeniably tied to her computer and the telecommunications system it is connected to." He concludes, "The boundary between the human and the machine has blurred. Rebecca has become a cyborg." [39]

Technology will continue to advance, no doubt resulting in newer and more bizarre ways in which people might be able to withdraw unto themselves and experience the fantasy of sexual experience. Perhaps "sex-bots" will become the fashion one day. Already software companies are developing new ways for people to experience interactive dialogue with machines,   and perhaps one day, machine generated emotions. [40]

Some Moral Reflections Upon Cyber-Sex

While hardly exhaustive, the above information is a sampling of the growing body of study dealing with the phenomenon of cybersex. Even the spelling of the term varies from place to place, it's such a new topic. It is especially interesting to note that much of the material which is available, is only available online at this writing. It is difficult to find books in libraries or bookstores that deal with the subject. It is more or less only available at this juncture through the Internet. The same might be said of resources for those dealing with cybersexual activities or Internet addictions; most of the help is available online, and the vast majority of persons are not aware that there is a growing problem.

The moral implications involved in cybersex are incredibly numerous. Just about any of the discussions involving sins against chastity would of course come into play; masturbation, premarital sex, extramarital sex, voyeurism, exhibitionism, sexual fantasy and sexual role playing, fetishes, pornography, etc. Also coming into play would be issues of living an integrated life in integrity of relationship to others, in the community at large.

So perhaps one might distance oneself a bit and focus on the larger issues, without creating an even more exhaustive treatise on every aspect of sexuality, relationship, awareness, community building, etc., as just about every aspect of existence is touched in some way by cyber activity. There is certainly an aspect as well of social sin, in that persons are condoning cybersexual activity more and more by their covert participation therein. Society is fomenting this activity which promotes secretiveness, and disassociation.

An important and major element of cybersexual activity is masturbation. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, "by masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure."[41] Masturbation is seen as intrinsically disordered to the human state, and we should form ourselves away from the practice of masturbation as entertainment. Cybersex on the other hand, promotes the rampant abuse of oneself in the form of masturbation, also involving another in the situation, which might be viewed as leading another into sin.

An earlier writing on masturbation had this to say: "Psychological imbalance or habit can influence behavior, diminishing the deliberate character of the act and bringing about a situation whereby subjectively there may not always be serious fault. But in general, the absence of serious responsibility must not be presumed; this would be to misunderstand people's moral capacity." [42]

So while we might seek to understand a person's involvement in masturbatory behavior in regard to cybersexual activity, we must ultimately take into account two things. First, as the allure of cybersex is so new, and so misunderstood, a person may not have a clear recognition immediately of what is going on. However, a person does have a moral responsibility to inform themselves in regard to any particular situation which might cause one to wonder in regard to the morality therein. So, as with other areas of sin, cybersex might be viewed in terms of the informed conscience. One must inform oneself in order to make better judgments.

Most applicable in the case of cybersex would be the following, from the same document: "In reality, it is precisely the fundamental option which in the last resort defines a person's moral disposition. But it can be completely changed by particular acts, especially when, as often happens, these have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts. Whatever the case, it is wrong to say that particular acts are not enough to constitute mortal sin." [43]

Pre-eminent Catholic theologian Karl Rahner writes (not surprisingly,) upon the subject of fundamental option, which he moves to through various treatises upon love. In Faith, Hope and Charity we read:

"The love of God unreflectedly but really and always intends God in supernatural transcendentality in the love of neighbour as such, and even the explicit love of God is still borne by that opening in trusting love to the whole of reality which takes place in the love of neighbour. It is radically true, ... that whoever does not love the brother whom he 'sees', also cannot love God whom he does not see, and that one can love God whom one does not see only by loving one's visible brother lovingly." [44]

In moving into the ultimate choices in ones life, we move necessarily through love of neighbor. If we cannot love our neighbor how can we love God? This is evident throughout the interactions of cybersex.   What is one' s involvement with the other person(s) involved? Is one reacting in the wholeness of human relationship? Undoubtedly not. Persons are objectified and experienced in a very narrow bandwidth of experience which includes no type of real and human interaction. There is no hint of the truth of love.

In the usual theory of sin we treat sin too exclusively as the mere offence against a universal divine norm. Could not an existential-ethics help us to see more clearly that sin, over and above its property of being an offence against the law of God, is also and just as much an offence against an utterly individual imperative of the individual will of God, which is the basis of uniqueness? Would we not perceive sin more clearly in this way as the failure of the personal-individual love of God? [45]

Here Rahner moves away from the notion of the Decalogue as the imperial norm of an act centered morality. It is love of God which propels us onward to live in the light of God' s call for us. Love, again, is the key; love of excellence, love of God.

Ultimately, Rahner shows, that the human person's ultimate choice is not one of universal rights and wrongs. It is a choice of self. What kind of person does one want to be? What type of relationship does one want to have with God? If one does have the envisioned life in, and relationship with, God, then how might one' s actions conform with that vision, that desire for goodness and virtue? Certainly not through engaging in cybersexual activity.

Freedom, as we have said, cannot be viewed in a Christian sense as an in-itself neutral capacity to do this or that in an arbitrary order and in a temporal series which would be broken off from outside even though , from the point of view of freedom, it could go on ad infinitum ; freedom is rather the capacity to make oneself once and for all, the capacity which of its nature is directed towards the freely willed finality of the subject as such. ... The proper nature of freedom, however, appears precisely in so far as freedom is the basis of absolute salvation and damnation in Christian revelation, and this finally and before God. [46]

So humans are free before God, fundamentally free. And that fundamental choice is ultimately either for or against the love of God. So while persons engaged in cybersex may not be immediately culpable for their actions, they do gain culpability in pursuing them over time, especially the more they neglect self examination of conscience, and reflection upon one' s life. One might think that the person who eventually becomes the cyborg is lost; only if that is that persons ultimate realization of self, their fundamental option.

In engaging a pastoral approach to persons engaged in cybersex, or experiencing difficulty therein, it would be enormously helpful to work through a dialogue upon the notion of the fundamental option. One' s call to Christian life involves living with a clarity of intention, which necessitates a conscious state of existence in communion with others. The term Christian in its essence implies that one is a follower of Christ. Therefore, to live a Christian life, we must live consciously as followers of Christ, and our intentions should be reflected upon daily so that our actions form our fundamental option towards that person we are becoming, in light of God ' s will.

Conclusions

Cybersex then, can clearly be seen as a growing concern amongst the faithful, Church educators, leaders, clergy, religious, etc. In fact, all strata of society are at risk. Many are unaware that there is indeed a problem, though awareness is growing quickly. Spouses are coming home to find their beloved gone off to live with an Internet romance, of which they were previously clueless. Employees are finding themselves out of work as employers use surveillance technology to track down who is using company time to engage in cybersex on their work time. Religious and clergy are becoming involved, and threatening their continued spiritual formation.

Would one want to become one with a machine? Or would one want to live a life conformed in the love of God and neighbor, a life in spirit as we are born and called to live in freedom. It is ultimately a choice between love and fear; a choice of what type of person one is becoming. Pastors and those who care for souls must take means to enlighten the faithful who may be troubled by such affliction, and help them to live more fully in the way of Christ.

Cybersex is not going to go away anytime real soon. In fact, it is becoming more pervasive, and more harmful to the dignity of human persons. It is a matter which should be addressed more often, more clearly, and more explicitly.

Copyright Kenneth Allen ©2002

1." EXHORTATION 'CHURCH IN OCEANIA' PUBLISHED ON INTERNET: Includes Conclusions of 1998 Synod, in Zenit Online [journal online] (Internet.: Innovative Media, Inc., accessed 22 November 001), available from http://www.zenit.org/english/archives/ ZE01112220.html; Internet.

2. "Child-Pornography Investigation Nets 130 Suspects", in Zenit Online [journal online] (Internet.: Innovative Media, Inc., accessed 28 November 001), available from http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=13302 ; Internet.

3.Linda Greenhouse, "Justices Revisit the Issue of Child Protection in the Age of internet Pornography" The New York Times (NY.: The New York Times, Inc., accessed 29 November 2001 ), available from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/29/national/29PORN.html [article online]; Internet.

4."Definition of 'Cyber'," in Cyber Sex Chat Addicts Anonymous [website online] (accessed 27 November 2001 ); available from www.cyberaa.com/Definition/definition.html; Internet.

5.Ibid.

6.René J. Molencamp, Ph.D, and Luisa M. Saffiotti, Ph.D., "The Cybersexual Addiction," Human Development, Volume 22, Number 1, Spring 2001 ( Chicago : Jesuit Educational Center for Human Development, 2001) 5-6.

7.Alvin Cooper, Ph.D., Coralia R. Schere, Ph.D., Sylvain C. Boies, Ph.D. and Barry L. Gordon, Ph.D, "Internet Sexuality: Pleasure or Pathology?" [article online] Self Help Magazine (published online, 1999: accessed 27 November 2001 ); available from http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/articles/sex/netsex.html; Internet.

8. Ibid.

9.Ibid.

10."Internet Peep Show" [article online] ( Network World, accessed 9 July 2001 ) available online from InfoTrac Web, [database online] Electronic Collection # A54299321; Internet.

11.Joan Ullman, "Cybersex: Trial Shows Post-Modern Courtship as Reflected in E-Mail Exchanges" [article online] (InfoTrac Web: Health Reference Center: Psychology Today Sept-Oct 1998, v31 n5 p28; accessed 9 July 2001) [online database], available online from InfoTrac Web, Magazine Collection #95E0573, Electronic Collection #A21050184; Internet.

12.Gerard Van der Luen, "Twilight Zone of the Id", [article online] (InfoTrac Web: Health Reference Center: Time , Spring 1995, v145, n12, p36; accessed 28 July 2001) [online database], available online from Info Trac Web, Electronic Collection #A16656225; Internet.

13.Ibid.

14.Cyber Sex Chat Addicts Anonymous [website online] (accessed 27 November 2001 ); available from www.cyberaa.com/Definition/definition.html; Internet.

15.Message from Dan [posting online] (Cyber Chat Addicts Anonymous: accessed 27 November 2001 ) available from http://www.cyberaa.com/wwwboard/messages/1009.html; Internet.

16.Message from Tammy [posting online] (Cyber Chat Addicts Anonymous: accessed 27 November 2001 ) available from http://www.cyberaa.com/wwwboard/messages/1017.html ; Internet.

17.Message from Pheonix [posting online] (Cyber Chat Addicts Anonymous: accessed 27 November 2001 ) available from http://www.cyberaa.com/wwwboard/messages/1013.html; Internet.

18.from Connie Message[posting online] (Cyber Chat Addicts Anonymous; accessed 27 November 2001 ) available from http://www.cyberaa.com/wwwboard/messages/1015.html ; Internet.

19.Ullman; Internet.

20.Ibid.

21."What is Cybersexual Addiction?" [article online] (Netaddiction.com: accessed 26 November 2001 ) available from http://www.netaddiction.com/cybersexual_addiction.htm; Internet.

22.Ibid.

23.Brian McCormick, "Hooked on the Net" [article online] (InfoTrac Web: Health Reference Center : American Medical News June 19, 2000 ;  accessed 9 July 2001 ) [online database], available online from InfoTrac Web, Electronic Collection #A63399334; Internet.

24.Ibid.

25.Ibid.

26.Jim Killam, "Cybersex Temptation" [article online] (MasterFILE Premier: Marriage Partnership Fall 2000; accessed 9 July 2001) [online database] available online from MasterFILE Premier, ISSN # 0897-5469, AN #3483398; Internet.

27.Ibid.

28.René J. Molenkamp, Ph. D, and Luisa M. Saffiotti, Ph.D., "The Cybersexual Addiction" Human Development Volume 22, Number 1, Spring 2001 (Denville, NJ.: Jesuit Educational Center for Human Devlopment; 2001) 6.

29.Ibid. 6.

30.Ibid., 7.

31.Ibid., 7.

32.Ibid., 7.

33.Killam, op cit.

34.Molenkamp., op cit.

35.Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D., "The Future of Cyber-sex and Relationship Fidelity" [booklet online] Self Help Magazine (published online, 1999: accessed 27 November 2001 ); available from fttp://www.shpm.com/booklet/relationships.html; Internet.

36.Ibid., http://www.shpm.com/booklet/sexuality.html:Internet.

37.Ms. Haraway's essay is available, widely disseminated and discussed at various sites online.

38.Maheu, op cit. , http://www.shpm.com/booklet/cyborg.html; Internet.

39.Ibid.

40.Ibid., http://www.shpm.com/booklet/safety.html; Internet.

41.Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, MO.: 1994) 546.

42.Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (Washington, D.C.: Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; 1976), 10.

43.Ibid., 11.

44.Gerald A. McCool, ed., A Rahner Reader (New York, NY.: The Seabury Press, 1975), 244.

45.Ibid., 253.

46.Ibid., 257.