The dissertation, which shows that the Internet revolution is changing sexuality, consists of a theoretical part, a frame, and six articles based on empirical studies carried out in the US and Sweden.
“The findings show that we reach people via the Internet that we would never, or only with difficulty, have reached in traditional ways,” says Michael W. Ross. “This makes Internet interventions an important tool in health education. We can also characterize what people use the Internet for sexual purposes”
For example, it turns out that among men who have sex with other men, those reached via Internet questionnaires, compared with contacts made by more traditional ways, were younger, less well-educated, more often residents of smaller towns and rural areas, and more bisexually oriented.
In the theoretical section, Michael W. Ross examines social scientific theories and sexuality in relation to the Internet, including the possibility of going half way between fantasy and action, the Internet as a market place and arena for sexual experiences and sexual experimentation, and the impact of the Internet regarding the creation of sexual cultures and sexuality.
“The idea was that my dissertation was to deal with sexuality,” says Michael W. Ross. “When I examined the data regarding the Internet and sexuality in Sweden, I understood that it was in fact a new space for sexual interaction, an ‘erotic oasis,’ that does not resemble other spaces for sexual encounters. I was fascinated by what was going on via the Internet and turned the focus of the thesis to this phenomenon.”
In the empirical part of the dissertation, comparisons are made between Internet studies and conventional examinations of men who have sex with other men, between an Internet study on sexuality and a national study of the sexual health of Sweden from 1996, and between those who complete and those who did not complete their responses to queries in an Internet examination about sexuality.
“The Swedish study shows that men interrupt their answering of questions earlier than women do and that sexual orientation and the speed of the Internet connection also play a role,” says Michael W. Ross.
The thesis also takes up the phenomenon of “misrepresentation,” providing a different image of yourself on the Internet than the real you. It is possible to identify people who do things sexual on the Internet that they would not do in real life.
“Data from the Swedish study show that 10% of those interviewed were heterosexual men who had had cyber sex with another man,” says Michael W. Ross. This is something new. Previously these fantasies only played out in the mind of the individual, but now she or he can practice them interactively via the Internet with the protection of anonymity. The borders between the concepts of “who you are,” “true,” and “false” can shift.
Work with the dissertation has been performed in close conjunction with the Net Sex Project, which is directed by Sven-Axel Månsson, professor of social work at Health and Society, Malmö University College, who is also the thesis director for Michael W. Ross. The Net Sex Project is part of a research program titled Sex, Sexuality, and Social Work.
The public defense will take place on Friday, March 10, at 10:15 a.m. in the auditorium at Health and Society, Entrance 49, University Hospital MAS, Malmö.