Having sex using your phone, computer, or other technology with someone you may or may not know is a lot less taboo than it used to be. From sending a nude Snapchat photo to having phone sex to masturbating with your partner on video chat, here's a crash course on what virtual sex is and how to have it safely.
What is virtual sex?
Virtual sex is anything sexual in nature happening in a digital space, according to psychotherapist Ashley D. Sweet, M.A., LPC, LMHC. It includes any type of sexual activity on or with the internet. Video chat, phone sex, sexting, long-distance sexual play enabled by toys and sextech, and even some forms of interactive pornography all fall under the umbrella of virtual sex.
"Most people have engaged in some sort of virtual sex without realizing it," board-certified sexologist Jessica Cline, MSW, LCSW, tells mbg. Some people assume virtual sex only refers to having sex on Zoom or interacting with cam girls, she notes, but "the first paid phone sex line was established about 40 years ago. I think it's helpful to put that into context as a way to normalize fostering sexual connection and pleasure when in-person [sex] isn't available."
Because you and your partner(s) don't actually make physical contact during virtual sex, some might not consider it "real" sex, but it is. Sweet emphasizes that sex is much broader than the typical view of penis-in-vagina penetration. "If it gets you off," she says, "put it in the bucket of sex." Cline also points out that "studies by the Kinsey Institute have shown that virtual sex creates emotional connections and sexual gratification in some of the same ways as in-person physical sexual acts/touch."
While many people might favor the sensory component of physical touch during sex, there are benefits of virtual sex. Besides eliminating the risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, virtual sex is convenient, accessible for people of all abilities, and a great option to explore new sexual acts you may not feel comfortable doing in person. It also allows long-distance couples to create and maintain their intimacy from anywhere in the world. Likewise, depending on how you do it, virtual sex can allow you to connect with people outside of your daily life and routine.
Forms of virtual sex.
- Sexting: A combination of "sex" and "text," sexting involves sending or receiving sexual messages, images, or videos through text, social media DMs, or email. (Here's our full guide to sexting.)
- Phone sex: When two or more people have a sexually explicit phone conversation for sexual gratification. (Here's our full guide to phone sex.)
- Cybersex: Cybersex is when two or more people engage in a sexual experience remotely by describing their actions to each other in writing via sexually explicit messages, essentially weaving steamy stories together via private chat or forums.
- Watch porn together: Watching porn with a partner, particularly when doing so remotely in conjunction with a phone call, video cam, or another form of real-time communication, can be considered a form of virtual sex.
- Camming: Camming refers to using a webcam or camera to film yourself live or create a pre-recorded video of yourself doing anything sexual, such as stripping or masturbating, for other people to watch.
- Long-distance sex toys: Partners can use remote-controlled vibrators with apps that allow one person to control the toy as it's being used or worn by the other person.
- Virtual reality (VR) sex: You might be more familiar with VR when it comes to video games, but you can also use a VR headset to feel tangible sexual sensations with either remote or fictional partners.
- Online role-playing: Role-playing is an activity where people act out roles or play as fictional characters to explore a fictional scenario. When used on online platforms, role-playing can be a way to take on alternate identities and engage in cybersex. People can role-play as other genders or sexual orientations, role-play fantasy scenarios, or try something new before doing it in real life.
- Chat roulette: Chat roulette services are often used as a way to have virtual sex with strangers. They connect you with people anywhere in the world via video chat or a chat room, allowing you to engage with others while concealing your identity.
Risks of having virtual sex:
There's no guarantee of privacy.
To engage in virtual sex, it's important you know you're risking your privacy. Technology's advancements make it easy for others to save your sensitive content without you knowing, says Sweet. People can save your nude photos, screenshot or record you during video sex, or save messages from chat threads. Once in someone else's hands, you have little to no control of where your private content ends up.
Your partner can even violate your trust by secretly sharing the virtual sex session with another person in the room without your consent, says AASECT-certified sex therapist Courtney Geter, LMFT, CST. It's not sexy to think about, but "What you do in the digital space can be frozen in time forever," warns Sweet.
It's important to use a secure means of connection, "ideally something encrypted," advises Cline. It's also important to communicate with your partners and set firm boundaries with everyone you engage with, even if it's a little awkward. That said, just because someone promises to keep your content safe doesn't mean they will. "Privacy is an illusion on the internet," Sweet says—even when you're having virtual sex with people you know and trust.
There's almost no way to guarantee your privacy during virtual sex. If we've learned anything from leaked celebrity sex tapes and the rise of nonconsensual pornography and revenge porn, it's that internet privacy doesn't exist. Just because you want to have virtual sex doesn't mean you deserve to have your privacy infringed upon, but that's the unfortunate reality of what's at stake.
There may be legal issues around some forms of virtual sex.
Most forms of virtual sex are totally legal, but some acts can violate laws around sex work, child pornography, age of consent, and other "cybersex crimes" in your state.
If virtual sex turns into the buying or selling of sexual services that take place in person, it may violate laws against sex work that exist in many states. Cline adds that some sex workers promote their services on social media, forums, and other online platforms, which might conflict with that site's terms of service and get you banned.
Additionally, in most states, any interaction with someone under the age of 17 that involves any kind of sexual relations can constitute a cybersex crime. Even searching for child pornography is considered illegal. Taking, sending, or receiving sexual photos of anyone underage is considered child pornography creation and distribution, meaning that teens who send nude photos of themselves can potentially get themselves—and their recipients—in trouble with the law.
To avoid any mishaps during virtual sex that can lead to legal ramifications, stay up-to-date with relevant laws around sexuality in your state, and only engage with people you're certain are 18 or older.
Navigating consent can be more difficult.
Like with any other form of sex, virtual sex requires consent from all involved parties. You must get enthusiastic consent from your partners for all parts of the sexual experience, including what sexual acts you'll engage in, who is allowed to view or participate in the experience, and whether it's OK to save content for later viewing.
"For something to be sex, it needs to be consensual; otherwise, it's abuse," Sweets says. "And that's a really important distinction."
Geter suggests having open conversations with your partner(s) around expectations, "including what you'd both like to get out of the time together, any boundaries—i.e., no one else in the room, no recording, not saying certain words or phrases—and creating safety words or phrases in case the session is unexpectedly interrupted."
Remember: If it's not a full yes, it's a no. And if there's something you don't want to do, "You have the power to say no and end a session if your boundaries are not being respected," reminds Cline.
Tips for how to have safe, hot virtual sex.
Virtual sex doesn't have to be any less exciting and pleasing as your lover touching your body in real life. At your next session, spice things up with one (or more!) of these tips:
Invite your partner into the experience, being transparent about what you're expecting to happen. This is a great way to get consent, and it can also be sexy if you bring in some dirty talk. (Here's our full guide on how to talk dirty.)
You'll also want to ensure the platform you use is as private and secure as possible before diving in.
Go at the pace of the slowest person.
Sweet mentions how easy it is to feel coerced into an experience when someone is encouraging you to do more than you're comfortable with—that's why it's important to lead with the pace of the most anxious participant.
During virtual sex, it's everyone's responsibility to foster a safe environment. "If we go at the pace of the slowest party, then we're really respecting and embodying consent," says Sweet.
Do only the things that you actually want to do.
Just because virtual sex is digital, the rules don't change: You never have to do anything you don't want to. "If we want to have really good virtual sex, we shouldn't be performing based on the expectations of what we think the other person wants," says Sweet. "We should be doing what turns us on and gets us off."
If anyone is pressuring you to do something you've clearly said you don't want to do (for example, sending photos or turning your video on), they may not be a trustworthy partner. Feel free to end the session immediately.
Use a different phone number.
If you share a phone plan with loved ones—or if your loved ones are just plain nosy—instead of sexting, use a Google phone number or a text messaging app like Voxer or WhatsApp to have more control over who can see your private and steamy conversations.
Get creative with lighting.
If you'll be on camera, use lighting to your advantage to set the mood and conceal your identity if you need to. Sweet recommends trying out LED light strips that are accompanied by remote controls so you can set them to pulse, go brighter, or even change colors.
Not only does a change of lighting enhance the virtual sex experience, but changing your light bulb to a popular color like red, for instance, gives you the upper advantage if you want to send nude photos and videos without your face and other identifying features being too visible. Plus, you'll feel really sexy.
Engage your senses.
Even though you're not together physically, your physical senses can still be part of the virtual sex experience. Sensory experiences are an important part of sex, so find ways to replicate in your own environment what turns you on the most in person.
Some ways to do that:
- Light candles in your environment to activate your senses.
- If you're a big fan of oral, Sweet says to suck on a lollipop or something similar to get your blood flowing.
- "If you really enjoy nipple play and your partner wants to be a part of the experience, get some nipple stimulators," offers Cline.
- Want to build up to an event? Cline's recommendation: Have your partner pick out something sexy they'd like to see you in and go buy it. Then, send a picture of yourself in the outfit before you have virtual sex to build the anticipation.
During video or phone sex, consider putting on some sexy tunes in the background. Not only will this help set the mood, Cline notes that it'll "help eliminate the pressure to over-verbalize or moan and talk dirty the entire time due to the silence."
Try the green, yellow, red game.
When trying something new, ongoing consent is important to maintain everyone's satisfaction and comfort. To continually check in on consent during virtual sex in a way that still feels playful and fun, Sweet recommends the green, yellow, red, game.
Green means go, yellow is caution, and red means stop. With this method, Sweet says we can "communicate with our partners and negotiate consent using words that aren't triggering in the way 'ouch,' or 'no,' might be" due to their correlation to shame.
Wear a mask.
Whether for role-playing or to hide your identity, at your next virtual sex session involving video, try wearing a mask to shed your inhibitions, spice up the scene, or explore new fantasy role-play without worrying about how you look.
Bring in sex toys.
Sex toys are just as fun to use during virtual sex as they are in person, so don't hesitate to include them in your session, especially if your partner enjoys watching you masturbate. Plus, that means you and your partner masturbate together, says Geter.
"Unless you're an octopus, having your device hands-free is recommended to allow for more comfort, no dropping phones or having to put the phone down, and allowing you to have both of your hands to use in play."
Make it a party.
Why limit the fun to one person? If you're ready to expand your sexual exploration, Geter says one option is to have "more than one person join on either side and share the role of cameraperson [as they] engage in play." This could be highly pleasurable for those in open or polyamorous relationships, or anyone interested in group sex.
Virtual can sex can be anything you want it to be! As long as you and your partner communicate and express enthusiastic consent, don't hesitate to explore anything that makes you and your body feel good.
Farrah Daniel is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a bachelor's degree in Digital Media Studies from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Her work has been published at The Penny Hoarder, The Write Life, and elsewhere. Daniel manages and creates content for small businesses, nonprofits, and lifestyle publications. With five years of professional writing under her belt, her diverse portfolio includes topics such as wellness, personal finance, sales and marketing, shared micromobility and equity, and more.