Israeli philosophy professor Aaron Ben-Ze'ev has written a book to be published this Valentine's Day called "Love Online: Emotions on the Internet."
"Emotions" -- ha! The best parts of his book detail the proliferation and complications of cybersex. We spoke to the professor by phone from Haifa. But before you begin reading, let's you and I have a little erotic experience. Slip off your pants or skirt. Go on, do it. If you're sitting in an office, do it subtly so no one sees. Now pull down your underwear, but don't take it off. No. Leave it stretched between your knees. Feel your bare ass on your seat. The byline on this article says David Bowman. Maybe that's my real name. Maybe it isn't. Maybe my name is Donna. If you are straight or gay, male or female, my name now fits into your cosmology. Before you begin reading, say one of these names out loud: "David Bowman." "Donna Bowman."
As you read my interview with your underwear stretched between your legs, this is what is going to happen. If you are a woman, straight or gay, your nipples are going to get hard. Real hard. Real big. Like the tops of salt shakers. They're going to poke through your blouse. Even if you are not sitting bare-assed on your seat, your nipples are visible to anyone who walks by your desk. Don't be embarrassed. They are your nipples and they are beautiful. And you fellas, don't think I've forgotten about you. Both David and Donna are thinking of lighthouses. Smokestacks. Licking their lips. Oh good Christ, ladies and gentlemen -- let's have cyber sex together!
Aaron Ben Ze'ev feels cyber sex and cyber love are almost more powerful that what he terms "off-line" relationships.
Say the term, "Off-line."
"Off-putting," isn't it?
When was the last time you had really, really good off-line sex? When was the last time you slapped the walls and screamed, "God oh God oh God!" Yeah, right. I thought so. I'm about to give you a fabulous experience. In Ben-Ze'ev's book, he lets slip that cybersex is so prolific that women now have to fake orgasms online. Well, baby, you ain't gonna fake nothing with me -- I'm your champ. And you, buddy! Saddle up the stallion because we're gonna herd cattle. Sex ain't about friction, soldier. Sex is about words. That's right. And Aaron Ben-Ze'ev and I have the language to make you cream your chair and yodel your lungs out. We're on an online roll now, baby doll. We're Circuit City. Can you stand it? How erect and besotted with blood are the appendages on your body? What will your teeth bite down on? No, no, no, not your keyboard! Sit still. Sit very still and just read this interview, and let your hands do what they were born to do.
Your book is dedicated to "Ruth"? Who is Ruth?
[Thick Israeli accent.] She's my wife.
Did you meet online?
No. We've been married for ... 18 years. Before the Internet. I've read the last interview you did with the woman who said that intelligent women are more successful in getting powerful men. I gave a lecture about emotional intelligence online -- what I argue is the combination between emotion and intelligence is much greater online than off-line because that relationship is based on conversation, which is an intellectual activity. Those who are more intelligent can seduce better. One woman told me that, off-line, stupid men can be sexy, but online stupidity cannot work. You have to have a certain amount of intelligence to excite a woman online.
Have you yourself had an online romance with a woman?
I don't have the time. I think it is a very nice way of creating a relationship. In off-line circumstances, we fall in love in light of external appearances, and then we get to know each other. In online relationships we first get to know each other. And only then fall in love. In this sense, we return to more conservative relationships. In the past, we first got to know each other and only then jumped into the bed.
Do you have any kids?
Two sons. One 13, one 17. They're all the time online.
Do they date online?
I don't know whether to call it a "date." They conduct conversations -- most of them are kids that they know. Israel is a small country and when you begin an online relationship you immediately want to meet. It is easy to meet because you don't live far away from each other.
Did you date your wife?
For how long?
Half a year.
Did you live in the same town?
She lived not far away from where I lived. Yes, we dated before the marriage, but it went quite quickly. We met on a blind date that a friend of ours thought we were intended for each other. We fell in love quite quickly.
So this is the antithesis of online love?
Yes, it is. Look, I don't say online love is the only solution for future romantic relationships. What I do say is that it is a very good means for falling in love and having intense love and wild sex. People say that they experience the most intense love of their life with online relationships. And they say that they experience the wildest sex through the Internet. You feel very safe. And if you are safe you can speak more about yourself. And build intimacy.
I don't say that this is the only way of falling in love. I don't say that online love will completely replace off-line relationships. Even successful online relationships want to transform to off-line. They think, "If it was good so far, the physical aspect will increase our love." In many cases, it does not. On the contrary, it ruins it. This emphasizes a common human failing. We are not satisfied with being happy. We always want to be happier, but this search for being happier may ruin our happiness.
Well, love has always been a head trip, but cyber love seems like taking things too far ...
You are right, it is a head trip. It is a brain-to-brain relationship, but what I am saying is that people are not satisfied with mere head trips. They want something more. I'll give you another example, let's speak about the sexual aspect of online relationships. A husband says to his wife, "I don't care if you have an online affair as long as it is kept in computer boundaries. If you get your sexual arousal on the computer, as long as you do the sex at home, I don't care if you're aroused outside the home." The problem is that once you have this online cybersex, then you become attached to the other person. And when you become attached, you may want to meet the other person. Again, it is very hard for us to set the boundaries and then keep to the boundaries because it is so exciting.
A statistic: I bet beautiful women do not have cyber lovers.
If you want statistics -- first, couples who met online and then survived the first face-to-face meeting, two years later over 70 percent are still in love and together. There are very good-looking women and men who have online affairs in order that people will fall in love with them in light of their personality and not their external appearance. Sometimes attractive women want to know that men fall in love with them not because of their beauty, but because of their personality. By the way, a colleague of mine told me his wife, his ex-wife I mean, went to the Internet to find a partner. Why on the Internet? Because she is rich and doesn't want people to fall in love with her because of her money. He told me after their divorce she won $40 million in the lottery.
I said, "Do you not regret the divorce?"
He said, "No, no. It was the right thing to do."
I said, "Maybe it was the right thing to do, but maybe it was a bit too premature."
Romantic love is only a couple of centuries old, isn't it?
This is a disputable issue. Look, I think basic romantic love has existed all the time. We read Shakespeare. We read the ancient Greeks.
What's the difference between old-fashioned love letters in the mail and online love?
Letters take time. They cannot express the immediacy of emotions where you want a response now. You want to actually speak with the other person. Also in an online relationship you have an anonymity that you don't have with letters.
You use "love online" and "love off-line" as if the two terms were somehow equal.
Some people told me my use of the term "off-line" love has a negative aspect. But I use it in a neutral sense. Some people write "actual relationship" as opposed to "online" relationships, but many online relationship are "actual" ones. In online relationships the language is not passive like in literature. It is active. It is interactive imagination because the other person is an actual person. [Pause.] One married woman said that she found herself faking cyber orgasms. The whole relationship is imaginary, but she must fake something in order that the relationship will be experienced as the real one.
Some of your fellow teachers are women, aren't they?
And some of them are beautiful?
I've worked with women online and on the phone for several years, and then I finally met them in the flesh. And they were beautiful. I found myself stunned. I almost wanted to shout: "Your breasts! Your hips! How great!" I realized when you work in an office, you size up women all the time but do it subtly. You're cool. When that human quality is gone, then it's shocking to suddenly be face-to-face.
You've already developed a relationship. You already have a positive attitude of that personality. Someone wrote online, "I never saw your face, but I cannot imagine someone with such a beautiful soul as you have not to be beautiful." Handsome people get all the advantages in off-line life. Online it is the other way around. People with a sense of humor get this advantage and then their physical appearance is seen in better terms.
In your book, you mention a woman who falls in love with someone online, but when he walks off the airplane it looks like he's never taken a bath in his life.
In love there is an element of attraction. We don't always know how this attraction comes about. For example, a certain type of accent may attract, of clothes, of uniform, of hair, of glasses may generate attraction.
How old are you?
Are you losing your hair?
Not yet. You can see my picture on my home page.
Are you handsome?
My wife thinks so.
Do other woman respond to you?
Yes. With all modesty.
Before you met your wife, was it easy to meet women because you are handsome?
I wouldn't say I'm like Tom Cruise. My wife admired Tom Cruise. But she didn't fall in love with me because I look like Tom Cruise.
We have an advantage, being men. Beautiful women can dig us even if we have a mug. Humphrey Bogart had a mug. I have a mug. Once women get over our mugs, then they see how charming and intelligent we are.
Are you handsome?
No. I just told you. I have a mug.
Mug? What is mug?
I'm not homely, but I'm ... really, really far from Tom Cruise. And worse, I'm losing my hair.
Men give more weight to physical appearance than women do. But not-so handsome men or not-so handsome women have great success online, because they are intelligent and witty, and they don't make spelling mistakes. One woman wrote that she cannot stand spelling mistakes. If a man writes to her with spelling and grammar mistakes she cannot have cyber sex with him.
[Laughs] I am a terrible speller, but I have always taken comfort in the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald was one too.
Look, if you have some disadvantages at the beginning of your online affair because of your spelling mistakes, but then if she continues to write you and sees that you are witty and smart, she may not be bothered by spelling mistakes. But you see, writing skills are very important. One stereotype of off-line relationships may be, what do you call it, your "mug"? And a stereotype of online relationships is spelling mistakes. In the good old days, the perfect partner was a blond, blue-eyed person. Nowadays, a perfect online relationship is someone who can type fast with one hand.
So let's talk about adultery.
Your wife wouldn't stand for you having an online relationship with some woman, would she?
No way. She is, I believe, a jealous type.
What about marriages when it's OK to have affairs as long as you never meet in the flesh?
Look, a certain percent of people who have such affairs do not think it is cheating. But 80 percent of their off-line partners think it is cheating. It pertains to their perspective. You don't meet face-to-face. There is no penetration. There is no risk of pregnancy or AIDS and so forth. Some people who may compromise in their sexual exclusivity may say, "OK. Online affairs are a good solution." They set boundaries. One husband says, "OK. You can have cybersex with somebody, but not more than twice with the same person." In order not to get emotional attachment. This is a real problem. We cannot stick to our own boundaries. Because after and before cybersex people usually talk. It's not like off-line sex, you do bam bam and then fall asleep. In cybersex, you talk. And then you may develop emotional bonds. And then the relationship becomes quite close and generates primary jealousy from an off-line partner.
Just to comment on "bam bam then you fall asleep." What if while you are having sex with your wife Ruth, she pretends that you are Harrison Ford? You wouldn't want to know this, right?
I wouldn't want to know it because it would be insulting. [Pause.] Jimmy Carter spoke about having adultery in his heart.
What if you have a cyber relationship with a woman who is actually a man?
If it is kept in the border of cyberspace it may not make such a big difference. I mention in the book about two people who correspond with each other, and then after 10 days one of them says, "I have something to tell you. I am not a man. I am a woman." The other woman was quite upset, "How can you deceive me in this manner?" Then a few days later, she wrote, "I have something to confess. I am not a woman. I am a man." Well, they were upset with each other, but after two weeks they begin to correspond and promise to never lie again. And finally they got married. [Pause.] Incidentally, in an online survey on personal profiles, most women write that their bra size is D plus. This is the type of lie and deception that people always write down. But the more profound traits they cannot hide because those traits are revealed through conversation.
The last topic I want to talk about is masturbation. During the Clinton scandal -- phone sex. Now cybersex. They're both masturbation. Britney Spears even has a new song about "hand love." (A hand-maiden!) Is masturbation some social rebellion against the tyranny of Alex Comfort's "Joy of Sex"?
Look, of course cybersex is mainly a form of masturbation. What is interesting, it is mind-to-mind communication. It is the intellectual aspect which we spoke of before. People who are smarter, wittier, have a better sense of humor, are more successful online.
I have a friend who used to convince girls to masturbate in front of him. When you are having cybersex, are you imagining that your partner is making love with you? Or masturbating -- and this is what is arousing?
Don't ask me. I have never had cybersex. Yes, there is an account that I have read that there is both types of images -- imagining them masturbating, and imagining them flesh and blood with you. I cite in the book a woman who said her husband likes to see her masturbating with someone online. He likes to watch or do to her what the other person writes that he is doing to her. She said that her husband and herself are getting quite excited by this cybersex.
No one thought this through in the 1990s. Imagine Monica Lewinsky knowing that the president of the United States was jerking off to her instructions. There is degradation in that, but also power. Imagine that you're influencing the most powerful man in the world to diddle himself.
Yes. Words are quite seductive. We are intelligent creatures and words can seduce us. Words are quite powerful to us. This is the power of online relationships. I believe these people who say online they have experienced the most intense relationships of their life. The most intense sex. I believe them because it is generated by words, and words and the imagination have no limit.