When I was 12 my parents had no idea how naughty I truly was. By day I was the perfect child -- an honor student, a weekend artist, a water-skiing aficionado -- but at night, when the adults weren't looking, I was a very bad boy. I would visit AOL chat rooms and pretend to be a muscled, 21-year-old twink boy from New Orleans. Men from all over the country would send me illicit private messages; as a child I was a pioneer of virtual sex. At school my teachers would speculate that my bleary eyes and mild interpersonal dysfunction were the result of a sleepless, unhappy home.
I knew better.
I knew a world far more interesting than the one my parents, teachers, and friends inhabited. I knew a world of unrestrained sexuality that drew me in night after night. At age 12 I was hooked.
My online chats were augmented by endless amounts of porn. Whatever my preteen mind could fathom I could find with a few keywords. Previous generations relied on finding their dad's Playboy stash in the attic; as a millennial, I enjoyed an unrestrained sexual awakening thanks to new technologies. I could find any disturbing hardcore porn I wanted. I could pretend to be any type of slut imaginable. The line between fantasy and reality was never drawn for me.
More than a decade later, I still play the online sex game. As a child I wasn't addicted to porn, and as an adult I'm not addicted to sex. I'm addicted to the attention that people give me online. I'm addicted to feeling special. I want to be looked at, talked to, and drooled over. I "read" every new man I meet online. I get a sense of what I need to say to create trust. I deduce what qualities they are looking for in a sex partner, and I frame myself accordingly. I send pictures that tell the story of my life -- but my life as others want to see it. I don't lie or try to be somebody I'm not; I simply curate who these men envision when they talk to me.
Each new virtual persona I create is a distinct yet complementary part of my real self. These "Virtual Matts" feel all the same emotions as their real-world counterpart; however, the fact that I feel emotions doesn't necessarily make them a real part of my life. Despite how thrilling the online world is, I can't help but fear that I've been damaged by technology. I feel like part of my mind has been erased, and I will one day be unable to distinguish between what is real and what is make-believe.