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The popularization of the Internet has evoked the concerns of many psychologists. Researchers have examined, for instance, the degree to which the new media is addictive (Young, 1998) or promotes personal isolation (Kraut et al., 1998). One of the more consistent concerns is the presence of pornography and erotica and the expression of sexuality on the Internet. An on-line survey of Internet users (Cooper, Scherer, Boies, & Gordon, 1999) suggests that sexual pursuits, ranging from visiting web sites with sexual themes to intense on-line sexual interactions, may be the most common use of the Internet. The government and the media have also become alarmed. A recent article in Newsweek (Norland & Bartholet, 2001) has declared that the Internet is directly responsible for an increase in child pornography and other forms of child sexual abuse.

Are such concerns new, or are they part of a recurring pattern in which people worry about the use of a new technology for sexual purposes? Perhaps researchers can better understand contemporary concerns regarding sexuality on the Internet if they understand past concerns that have surfaced regarding other mass media. We (Stern, 1999) have suggested earlier that problems associated with the Internet, such as Internet addiction, can be better understood in the context of the evolution of technology in general than by specifically singling out the Internet as a dangerous agent. The present paper focuses on how sexuality on the Internet is part of a larger historical picture regarding the evolution of technology, particularly media technology, during the last century. (1)

More specifically, we will first provide some details regarding the scientific community's responses to sexuality in media during the last century. Next, we examine some overarching theoretical perspectives that help us understand the relationship between the expression of sexuality and new technology. Finally, we discuss how the Internet differs from previous technologies and discuss whether the Internet is fundamentally different from other technologies when it comes to the expression of sexuality.


Inasmuch as mass media has had sexual content, educated and well-intended people have tried to study the effects of the newest innovations on the expression of sexuality. The theoretical literature on effects of technology has often focused on general issues, such as alienation and social isolation (both discussed in the second section of this paper). On the other hand, research that examines the effects of sex in specific media has generally focused on immediately discernable connections between a new technology and changes in sexual behavior or attitudes. Some researchers (e.g., McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Wartella, 1988) suggest that these reactions frequently take on an alarmist tone and rarely examine the issue in a larger scope.

In this section of the paper, we discuss several forms of media and communication in terms of how their sexual use has raised concern in the scientific community. Since we focused mainly



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