A New Brunswick researcher is delving into the world of cybersex in a study that is drawing international interest.

Krystelle Shaughnessy, a graduate psychology student at the University of New Brunswick, said the topic came to her while she was in a long-distance relationship.

'A key piece in the research I'm conducting right now is, who do you have cybersex with?' —Krystelle Shaughnessy

She said where her grandmother would have put pen to paper to maintain such an affair, and her mother would have picked up the phone, her natural medium was online.

Shaughnessy wondered how many other people were doing the same. She said while there is plenty of research into sex addiction, deviant behaviour and child pornography, there was little on "normal" online sexual activity.

"I think my key thing going into this was to try to normalize a behaviour I think is fairly normal," she said.

The Fredericton woman's curiosity led her to examine the online sexual behaviour of young adults.

Her first paper asked university students to define cybersex.

"Most people are saying cybersex is something that is interactive, involves at least two people and it has to happen in real time," she said.

Her second study looked at gender similarities and differences. Her results showed most people engaged in some form of cybersex, ranging from viewing erotic material to maintaining sexual relationships.

She said she was surprised that in the relatively anonymous world of the world wide web, men and women behaved as they often do offline:

  • 83 per cent of men viewed sexually explicit videos or photographs online
  • 31 per cent of women viewed sexually explicit videos or photographs online
  • On average, men and women engaged in cybersex two to three times a month

Shaughnessy won the 2010 International Academy of Sex Research's best student manuscript for her research.

She sampled 217 students in the 2005 work and is now expanding her work.   

"A key piece in the research that I'm conducting right now is, who do you have cybersex with? One thing that is across the board — whether I'm talking to researchers, students, anybody — is this notion that cybersex is two strangers hiding from their offline partners engaging in sex online, and I don't think that's reality," she said.