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Mind, Body, and Sex in Cyberspace

  • University of Perugia. Italy
73Why We Should Be Talking about Psychotechnologies for Socialization
In the following focus section, we report the interview of an Italian homosex-
ual man, Armando, aged 35, with motor disabilities, who uses an Internet chat
client to overcome the emotional distress of his condition of physical disability
when meeting new people. For Armando, the chat room begins a cyberspace
where the body image of the person is relativized, leaving the body in the
background, and favoring that the soul rises up without the evident physical
impairment preventing a human relationship.
The unexpected testimony of Armando is surprising in the way in which
it brings into question the dominant vision of male homosexuality linked to
the fetishized worship of the sculptural shape of an Apollonian body or, to
an increasing minority, related to the maniacal deformity of a depraved per-
son. The intelligent use of cyberspace, the healthy recognition of the per-
sonal qualities that outweigh the physical decits, makes of the testimony
of Armando a good vademecum for those who take refuge in the diversity
of their own or others’ sexuality as behind a screen of disrespect and lack of
As a music critic and musicologist, Armando collaborates with several
Italian newspapers and magazines for which he writes specialized and divulg-
ing articles about music. He is also a consultant for some record companies
and some TV networks.
Armando gives us a serene testimony of his sexual life as a gay person,
and he strongly believes in the advantages of this condition. Furthermore, his
passion for telematics introduces us to that way of sexual approaching, com-
munication of personality, and sexual interest that allow him to overcome geo-
graphical distances and communicate beyond the physical appearance, with
the unique power and depth of the written language.
[Interviewer, (I)]: How did you live your sexual identity and drives? What kind
of difculties did you nd? Do you think that the condition of dis-
ability has increased your difculties?
[Armando, (A)]: Certainly, there were some difculties related to my illness;
it would be foolish to deny it! Despite this, I think, I was pretty
lucky because I had already had my rst sexual intercourse at
16, even though I was disabled then, although less severely than
*This box was drawn from the book by Stefano Federici (2002) Sessualità alterabili. Indagine
sulle inuenze socioambientali nello sviluppo della sessualità di persone con disabilità in
Italia Alter-able sexuality: Survey of socio-environmental inuences in the development of the
sexuality of people with disabilities in Italy] pp. 237–248.
74 Computer Systems Experiences of Users with and without Disabilities
[I]: What kind of sexual intercourse did you have?
[A]: Homosexual relationships with my peers. Roughly, between 16 and 23
years old, I had sex with three or four guys, with one of which I also
had a long-lasting relationship.
[I]: Were all of them able-bodied guys?
[A]: Yes, they were all able-bodied!
[I]: Have you ever had sexual experiences with other people with disabilities?
[A]: No, I haven’t and didn’t look for them.
[I]: Neither you weren’t sought for, were you?
[A]: No, I wasn’t. However, there wasn’t the opportunity as I didn’t attend
many social or care associations for disabled people.
However, I had a relationship with a person who had experienced a
serious illness and this suffering certainly brought us closer. He was
a person who had suffered a serious form of cancer. At 20 years old,
he had been given 3 months to live. Then, after a treatment abroad,
he had a relapse and then was miraculously healed—I do not believe
in miracles, but in this casetheadverb may be used—miraculously
healed after a prophylaxis of chemotherapy. We were connected by a
strong sense of life, sharing the same way of knowing what is impor-
tant in life (if there is something important in addition to life!?). And,
probably more than me, he looked death in the face. Nevertheless, he
was a person living in a positive way, with the ability, that sometimes
is also acknowledged to me, to target the point and not be distracted
by side things compared to what is the pleasure of living.
[I]: Would you mind telling me which are the core values that you shared?
What did you use to talk about?
[A]: Well… If I think about the reason that led our relationship to a premature
end—actually not so premature, since it lasted 6 months—the rea-
son was that we didn’t really share many common interests more
than the existential one, namely, the adherence to that kind of life.
But sharing the same values wasn’t enough to keep up a relation-
ship between two people who didn’t attend the same places for
many reasons, who didn’t have the same interests and who then had
some difculties in living two different parallel lives. The values
we shared were values—actually I don’t know if they were really
values—that we showed each other with gestures of love and ten-
derness. More than anything, a certain emotional depth tied us. I’m
realizing that it is not easy at all to rationalize it, because I don’t
think that there was anything in particular, anything so dened,
even in the eld of disease. There was a common sense that certain
values, such as certain appearances which are important to other
people, were not so important to us.
75Why We Should Be Talking about Psychotechnologies for Socialization
[I]: For insta nce?
[A]: The cutest thing that someone told me in my life was that he didn’t care at
all that I was in a wheelchair. That was denitely a very rewarding
thing: he didn’t consider it a relevant variable to stay with me or not.
Indeed, that wasn’t the reason why we broke up.
[I]: Being forced to move in a wheelchair, how and where do you have contacts
with the gay world? And where do your personal meetings occur?
[A]: As I already told you, I had my rst gay relationships when I was 16, when
I was not yet in a wheelchair. At that time, I had my rst encounters
in some concert halls. The music world is very popular with gay
people… Since I was a teenager, I have had the opportunity to enter
in homosexual circles. During these years, I met many homosexual
persons regularly, so I became convinced that the musical channel
was a good opportunity! Then came the telematic channel, which I
would not limit only to the Internet: I would say the telematic knowl-
edge in general. I think certainly that the electronic medium is for
reaching specic users interested in certain topics and, of course, in
this specic case also to sexuality, including homosexuality.
[I]: “ICT channels” such as Internet chat, for instance?
[A]: Internet chat rooms are spaces where people can talk, meet, or exchange
opinions about any kind of things, also aimed, if you wish, at sexual
encounter. Meetings via chat were for me a very interesting expe-
rience: Internet chat rooms are an extraordinary communication
medium! If well used, Internet chat offer the possibility to enter into
simultaneous contact with people geographically far away but who
have similar interests, as well as with very close people with whom
you didn’t realize you shared the same interests; it is an opportu-
nity that sounds amazing, especially if you think that I had already
started using it 7 years ago. From this point of view, telematics has
greatly enriched my life.
[I]: In what way?
[A]: Well, I met many people who became dear friends. After meeting by tele-
matic channel, we met each other; with some of them I had some
form of more or less close relationship, while with others I devel-
oped friendships that lasted several years and that, I think, I can
dene as deep. Due to my job, I have to travel to Italy quite often
and, every time I go, I meet people with whom the rst encounter
was telematic, and later I can verify for myself knowledge that at
rst was just via cable.
[I]: Do you think that the telematic medium gives people a false reality com-
promising their experience?
[A]: The telematic medium offers a really deep but sectorial view of other
people. Generally, you know something about the person that, at
76 Computer Systems Experiences of Users with and without Disabilities
rst glance, you wouldn’t tell face to face. But it lacks many other
details that are immediately veriable when you meet each other.
So, you cannot know if someone talks looking at the ground or in
the eyes, or the way he dresses, before meeting him. What is often
missing is the social connotation and, well, the character of the
person. We can overcome such limitations with experience: after
talking to dozens and dozens of people, you begin to guess at some
typical features.
[I]: When you say you “talked” in a telematic way, what does that mean?
[A]: Written: written communication answering to written communication
coming up live, in real time.
[I]: This limitation due to written communication does not allow immediate
or easy guessing of some of the individual’s main characteristics,
the way he dresses, his…
[A]: … it erases the differences!
[I]: It erases certain differences.
[A]: And therefore gives many other chances to a disabled person, because
it allows the physical appearance to be relativized and, then, you
can put into play a series of powers of the individual that would be
overshadowed by the rst physical impression. This happens also
when looking for a sexual relationship. If I want to pick someone
and go to a club, I would certainly have a much smaller chance
than doing the same thing in a telematic way, because via com-
puter I have the opportunity to highlight a number of my personal
[I]: …that at the disco would be immediately denied by your appearance?!
[A]: Exactly!
[I]: In that case, doesn’t the electronic way favor too much and in an insane
way a fantasmatic wait for the other, causing it to project expecta-
tions onto the other, expectations that cannot be met in reality? Isn’t
the physical encounter likely to be even more disappointing and
more frustrating than the initial difculty in appearing the way we
are, even with a disabled body?
[A]: Well, that can be true. Except that telematics also permit images to be
sent, so the impact of our physical appearance is never entirely
new. But I recognize that there are some differences between the
image that you make out of a person and the person himself once
encountered. But the point is that the image of the person itself is
to be relativized, that is—even if one doesn’t want to make distinc-
tions between soul and body—through telematics it is the soul that
passes and, thus, the body stays in the background at the meeting
time; however, there are a number of things that the person already
knows about you and that are now acquired. All of these can only
facilitate mutual understanding.
77Why We Should Be Talking about Psychotechnologies for Socialization
In literature, there are a growing number of studies examining both (1) the per-
sonality characteristics associated with social networking sites use and (2) their
impact on identity construction. Taken together, the studies, described in the
f ollowing, show how personality traits can be considered as being inuenced by
ICT and vice versa.
3.4.1 StudieS on PerSonality CharaCteriStiCS aSSoCiated
with SoCial networking SiteS
The study of the role of psychological factors in inuencing people’s use of technol-
ogy platforms is a recent topic. In order to predict attitudes and behaviors, many
researchers in the management and psychology elds have adopted the ve-factor
model of personality, a standard personality trait measure that provides a taxon-
omy of the personality through ve personality factors: extraversion, agreeableness,
conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to new experiences (Costa
and McCrae, 1992; John et al., 2008). In order to understand why some people use
Facebook—one of the most widely known social networking sites that currently
has more than 500 million registered users (—more fre-
quently than others, Kelly Moore and James C. McElroy (2012) recently carried out
a study involving 219 undergraduate students. The subjects’ personality and their
reported usage of Facebook were analyzed by means of a survey, and the resulting
data were combined with users’ Facebook data:
In terms of Facebook usage, less emotionally stable (neurotic) individuals report
spending more time on Facebook, while more emotionally stable and more introverted
users report more frequently going to Facebook to keep up with friends. All of the
personality factors are related to regret, with the exception of openness to new expe-
riences, with more agreeable, more conscientious, more emotionally stable and less
extraverted users reporting greater levels of regret for inappropriate content. (Moore
and McElroy, 2012,p. 272)
The results produced by Moore and McElroy conrmed and improved the ndings
of previous studies, which were limited only to surveys of Facebook users without
[I]: Is the number of disabled people who use the online tool to communicate
and meet other people high?
[A]: No, it isn’t. It is very low, at least in my experience.
[I]: However, do you believe that a disabled person chatting would admit to
being such?
[A]: Maybe yes, and he wouldn’t conceal it from me, since I declare it.
[I]: And has that happened?
[A]: Yes, because normally I don’t hide being a disabled person, even if it isn’t
the rst thing I say; but it is never the last.
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