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*** In 1990, only 200,000 households in the United States had Internet connections. (The upward climb has continued to 43 million in 2000 and 85 million in 2013.) When the price of personal computers dropped dramatically in the mid-1990s, many families acquired more computers and moved them out of their living rooms into bedrooms and private places. In many ways, the liaisons between early online boyfriends or girlfriends followed the pattern set by earlier generations of daters. After crossing paths in a chat room, if you hit it off, you could start making appointments to come online at the same time and talk together. In some chat rooms, disabled singles who found it physically challenging to go out or hook up in real life, connected and fell in love.In others, gay teens who felt isolated in the homes they were growing up in could do the same. By the time he graduated, one in six gay kids who went to high school in the late 1990s would get beaten up so badly he needed medical attention at least once.But the ambiguous setting of these cyberdates made many people nervous.At the turn of the twentieth century, “tough girls,” “charity cunts,” and other early daters upset their parents and the police by taking a process that had always been conducted in private to the streets.
The psychiatrist Esther Gwinnell decided to write a book about “computer love” after a string of patients came to her office reporting that they or their partners had fallen for a stranger online.
It contained an article about a woman whose prolific activity in “hot chats” transformed her from a “paragon of shy and retiring womanhood” into a bona fide “man-eater.” The author describes a female friend who spent hours a day in the 1980s on a service called the Source.
He calls her by her handle: “This Is a Naked Lady.” “The Naked Lady egged on her digital admirers with leading questions larded with copious amounts of double entendre,” the piece began.
In Online Seductions, she coined a phrase for the kinds of relationships that her patients struck up.
They were “uniquely intimate” because they “grew from the inside out.” Gwinnell’s patients said some version of the same thing again and again.
The author of The Joy of Cybersex, Deborah Levine, had spent several years counseling college undergraduates at the Columbia University Health Education program. Like earlier safe-sex activists, Levine used bullet-point lists to introduce the sites her readers should know and to teach them the language that they would need to thrive on them.