There are so many ways to connect sexually. Whether it's cyber sex, phone sex, sexting, or the recent trend of long-distance controllable toys, things can get pretty steamy without ever touching your partner. This leads to the inevitable question: does it count?

Is virtual sex REAL sex?

First Things First: What Is Virtual Sex?

Virtual sex is sexual activity where the participants exchange sexually explicit messages, pictures or other communication over a network. It can happen in several forms. It may involve a phone or a computer. Phone sex, sexting, cyber sex, and using a Web cam are all forms of virtual sex. Recent advances in teledildonics (sex toys controlled via computer) have added a new level of interactivity to virtual sex.

Virtual sex allows participants to engage sexually with partners who are physically apart. It provides a safe sex option for people who want sexual release but are concerned about the health risks associated with multiple partners.

So, It Isn't Real Sex?

Well, not so fast. After all, what is "real sex?" All too often, the idea of "real sex" comes back to the notion that penis in vagina intercourse is the only legitimate sexual expression; that this is the only way to "go all the way." This definition of sex is incredibly limiting. First, it tells us that only heterosexual couples get to engage in sex with each another. Second, it limits sex to being about body parts. It indicates that if the "correct" body parts are not present, an encounter doesn’t count. This invalidates the experiences of every human that is doing anything other than engaging in heteronormative penis in vagina intercourse. Gay couples, by this definition, never have "real sex." By extension, couples who love each other but opt to not engage in intercourse, don’t have a "real" connection either, according to this construct.

This notion is absurd.

So, It Is Real Sex?

When you look at all complexities involved, how can we determine what counts as "real sex?" What marks a relationship as intimate and sexual? Get ready, folks. This is going to rock your world:

"Real sex" is whatever feels real for you.

That’s right. There is no cut-and-dried definition of "real sex." One person’s incredibly intimate and connected experience is another person’s breezy one-night stand. By this logic, a couple can use virtual sex to maintain a long-distance relationship that is just as super-hot and intensely intimate as if they were sleeping in each other’s arms each night. Likewise, another couple may use virtual sex with a stranger to pass a couple quiet hours before they go to bed. The intimacy of the experience is dependent on the intention of the participants. All sexual experiences are valid.

Wait, what?! So, how do we know what the rules are?! How do we know what "counts" as cheating?!

Get Real About Sex (Even the Virtual Kind)

You have to define the rules and what counts as cheating for yourself and discuss it with your partners. When we let go of arbitrary definitions, we are left to do some of the defining for ourselves. That means you need to figure out what feels "real" (and right) for you, what you can engage in and still feel casual, and what you and your partner feel constitutes "cheating" in your relationship.

So, if you feel like you could cam with someone and not have it mean anything, but your partner feels like that is a violation of your relationship, you guys need to discuss that. Maybe virtual sex is OK. Maybe sexting is OK, but nothing else. Maybe no outside sexual activity at all is what is OK for your relationship. You have a ton of options and ways to work it out and you get to figure it out together.

This is radically different than how most of us were taught to operate. Most of us were taught that there is a clearly defined "right" and "wrong," and that those things are the same for everyone. This is extremely limiting when it comes to sex and relationships. For a lot of people, this leaves them following rules that don’t match up with how they feel.

When you're clear on what your own boundaries are and communicate them clearly with partners, all of this confusion and concern about what is "real" or not goes away. Then, you can focus on enjoying the sexual experience at hand.

And isn’t that the point?