More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Does Virtual Intimacy Exist?
January 4, 2007
By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

That?s what a recent study in the journal, CyberPsychology & Behavior set out to determine. The study examined the levels of intimacy reported by individuals in face-to-face and computer-mediated (or ?virtual?) romantic relationships in 546 participants.

The study discovered that while there was some degree of intimacy in computer-mediated relationships, stronger intimacy was reported in all participants? face-to-face relationships. Results also indicated that individuals who had online, virtual relationships reported less intimacy in their own face-to-face relationships compared to individuals who had engaged exclusively in face-to-face relationships. The researchers suggested that people may turn to virtual relationships after having experienced ?challenges? in face-to-face relationships.

There were a few serious confounds to this study, however, that call the researchers? results into question.

The first is a traditional sampling error. If you?re going to compare two groups, researchers typically try and ensure that the groups are homogeneous ? that is, they are alike in nature, number and composition. Two confounds rear their head here. First, twice as many females were sampled in both groups than males. Second, out of 546 participants, only 15% of the participants were in the computer-mediated (or ?virtual?) relationship group. For it to be a stronger comparison, that percentage in both cases should have been much closer to 50%. There is virtually no information regarding how the subjects were obtained and what kind of population they were derived from.

The other serious confound is something I?m not certain the researchers even considered ? whether their measures have any validity to measure the strength of an online relationship. Certainly Rubin?s Love Scale, developed in 1970, is perhaps not the ideal candidate to measure something that didn?t exist in that form at the time of its development. Some of the items in Rubin?s scale specifically pulls for physical intimacy, rather than emotional or other kinds of intimacy. And so what actually defines intimacy, and ?strong intimacy? over other kinds is also a good question. Sternberg?s Intimacy Sub-scale, originally published in 1990, also is largely before the time of ?virtual relationships.? While having less items with an emphasis on physical intimacy, it, like the Rubin scale, pre-supposes a certain type of traditional relationship.

It may very well be that online intimacy is qualitatively different than face-to-face intimacy, and that traditional scales of this nature cannot tap into these differences. Unfortunately, that alternative hypothesis was not offered by the researchers.

So take this research with a grain of salt. Do people have intimate, strong online relationships? Absolutely. Are they qualitatively different than face-to-face relationships? Very likely. Have we measured this difference and described it adequately yet? No, not yet.

Reference: Scott, V.M., Mottarella, K.E., & Lavooy, M.J. (2006). Does virtual intimacy exist? A brief exploration into reported levels of intimacy in online relationships. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 9:759-761.
Most of the intimacy my fiance and I had was virtual because we're in a long distance relationship. It was as good as face-to-face intimacy, and maybe better sometimes, but that's because we had more experience with virtual than face-to-face, and maybe because its easier to express ones most intimate and deep thoughts over the internet and because it involves a lot of word communication. It's very mind stimulating. It's different than the pleasure of physical touch but its a different type and level of pleasure that I recommend to anyone :)

BTW I met my sweetheart online too and I never felt closer to any other man before.
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...Nice to read that I am not the only one out there who accidentally got close to a man living 7 hours away via an online Over 40s chatroom. We both were there out of boredom, loneliness at nighttime, during dinner hours. 3 years now we have been talking for hours on the phone, via webcam, online messaging, snail mail. It can happen. Love can happen through the wires. It is so cool to me too because we started talking on the phone very casually, no airs or facades. It is very intimate, it is awesome to connect with someone this way. We consider each other as best friends, and who knows right?


I just believe it is way to easy to hide 'some' of yourself if you are not face to face and that dealing with someone all the time "in your face" is the true test of love, we are really all full off carrots! Friendships and advise can be awesome but what is love really when you have no one to tuck you in :) I Clearly never had a virtual relationship ;)


I have tried it in the past, but without much luck. Before I moved to Albuquerque and ended up getting involved in some online romance scams I had online encounters with women that I had met through Adult Friend Finder and

The girl that I met through Adult Friend Finder was from my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota and at first things were cool between us, but for some reason things just died out.

After that I met a girl that was from the Ukraine and she was allright, but obviously very, very lonely. We chatted for a long time until my hard drive crashed on me and I was not able to get the issue resolved right away. Because of that we lost touch with one another.

I personally think that while the internet is ok, there is still a lot to be desired with it and that it is probably best to look offline for romance rather than online.

Because of all the romance scams that I have encountered and the ease at which anyone can pretend to be someone they are not on the internet I have pretty much given up on the internet when it comes to romance.

The way that I see it now it is best to leave the internet to what it is really good at and that is business and maybe even to make some nice pen pals and business partners, but even there you have to be careful because of all the scams that are occuring on the internet.

Because of it all I seriously doubt that I will ever try to use the internet for anything other than business. If I do meet anyone online and it is not business related I am going to be a lot more cautious now because of what I have experienced in the past with the internet.


Something that's rarely remembered in discussions like this: Before the telephone and motorways (freeways) were invented, it was normal for relationships to be conducted primarily via letters. You know, snail mail. There is a credible argument that written correspondence allows the couple to express themselves more freely, and more sensitively, than has become normal in face-to-face relationships. Dating sites - where most of the initial contact is by email - actually mirror that more closely than anything we've known since communications improved.
Interestingly, posted mail is now showing a dramatic upturn. Perhaps the Web has reminded us all how to write to one another!

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Good points.

Interestingly, posted mail is now showing a dramatic upturn.

Really? I haven't seen anything to suggest that among my frriends, family, and acquaintances. Then again, I rarely write back if it isn't email because I can carry a letter around for weeks before I remember to actually mail it.

Perhaps the Web has reminded us all how to write to one another!

Sadly, one or two sentences at a time and often in "txt spk".

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I think in Canada the trend is to email and text messaging, now that cell phones are everywhere. And I think Canada Post is worrying about the reduction in demand and the competition from UPS and Purolator.


David said:
And I think Canada Post is worrying about the reduction in demand and the competition from UPS and Purolator.

I did some contract work for Canada Post, their overall Staff went from approx. 200,000 employees about 15 years age to less than 60, 000 today, and dropping...(Nationwide), yes due to to Tele-text....e.g. e-mail, cell phones.

What many here in Canada don't know is that Canada Post owns Purolator and has for a very long time and that yes e-mail and the like has sharply reduced at home deliveriers of Hand Written letters as Grace was saying.....having said that, they (Canada Post-Purolator) has had a sharp increase in "To Home" Parcel Delivery-due to online ordering.
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