Don’t know if you’re Arthur or Martha? Fancy a sex change without the surgery? And be able to switch back at the click of a mouse? Then an Internet chat room could be the place for you.
New Zealander Lynne Roberts of Curtin University, Western Australia, has found two-fifths of people using online chat environments bend their gender.
Roberts and the Seattle-based University of Washington surveyed more than 400 users of an online chat environment known as MOOS (a type of Multi-user Dimension) where people send email messages to each other.
The online environment, she says, gives few clues of user’s status and social position and allows them to change their identities where they cannot be cross-checked.
“All of these factors combine to make MOOS a place where people are free to explore new aspects of self, including the freedom to explore with gender,” says Roberts.
The study found 60% have never changed sex online, mostly believing it is dishonest. Of those who did, most only did it for 10% of their time online.
It also concludes online gender-bending may be more benign than previously thought.
“[It] might be best understood as an experimental behaviour rather than as an enduring expression of sexuality, personality or gender politics.
“[Gender-switchers] frequently mentioned fun and curiosity as reasons for gender-switching. And the most common reason people stopped gender-switching was that their curiosity had been satisfied,” Roberts says.