Sex File: I'm scared to meet my online lover in the flesh 

Sex File: I'm scared to meet my online lover in the flesh 
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Q. I met a new partner online and it has been a revelation. Being behind my laptop somehow gave me confidence to be quite outrageous, but now I am worried that when we meet up I will be too shy and he will be disappointed with me in person.

A. Ordinarily, the golden rule of online dating is to take it offline as fast as you can. No good comes from nursing illusions about Mr or Miss Right because almost no one is exactly who they say they are online. It's easy to present an edited version of yourself online, and when you give someone only half the picture, their imagination fills the gaps and creates an "ideal".

It is not surprising that you found it easier to be sexually confident when you were behind your laptop. Video sex gives you a false sense of control, so digital intimacy is much less intimidating than meeting in the flesh. It is a state of unreality where anything feels possible, and when risk-free sexual pleasure is coupled with easy emotional disclosure, it can accelerate intimacy. The prospect of meeting can become so intimidating that some people decide that it is safer to stay in the cloud, where they can't get hurt, physically or emotionally.

Since neither of you is likely to be exactly the person you presented in your online relationship, there is no point worrying about possible disappointment. However, you may also find that your relationship begins to change now anyway. Catalina Toma at Cornell University in the US found that the only thing that limits online misrepresentation is the possibility of a real-world meeting. The next few weeks give you an opportunity to come clean and admit that you are nowhere near as sexually confident in real life, a pretence that you may find you have in common - it might be a relief to both of you.

However, it's also important to reveal the true you because if you are not clear about your real-world sexual boundaries before you meet, you may find that he expects you to engage in activities that make you feel uncomfortable.

All first dates are a little nerve-racking, but despite all the fibs we may tell online, humans are very good at assessing traits such as trustworthiness, even through brief interactions online. You have the advantage of already knowing quite a lot about each other and are primed to like each other because you have been giving each other positive feedback for months. If the chemistry is good when you meet in the flesh, one of the biggest challenges for you will be how to translate your cybersexual relationship into a real-world one because you may have crossed boundaries online that you in fact have no intention of crossing in the real world.

The best way to deal with this issue is to look on your digital relationship thus far as you might a fantasy. Many couples use fantasy as a way of boosting arousal with, for example, verbal narratives to explore scenarios that they would never dare to really engage in. By agreeing all of this and making your boundaries clear in advance, you give yourselves the opportunity to discover the joy of real-world intimacy and romance together. And if the relationship works and you ever want a blast of virtual sex, you can always go back to Zoom.

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