It began as a harmless journey into the steamier corners of Cyberspace. But when Paul Edmands adopted the name Silk Stockings, his life changed for ever...
Chatting up women was never so easy IRW - In the Real World. On CompuServe, I am five inches taller without gaining an ounce, have a full head of fair hair, piercing blue eyes and bulging pecs. The women there - stunners all, so they say - cannot resist. The electricity is more than literal. One thing leads to another.

And "the other" - known as "hotchat" or cybersex - gets pretty steamy. One would-be partner called herself BeBrutal. Another, with the handle LadyLust, preferred a more gentle, though no less graphic, seduction. The most unusual liaison was when I became a tiger biting through the fur on the nape of Tigress's neck ... animal passion, you know.

I discovered "hotchat" on Compu-Serve's CB Communicate through a tip from a colleague. Loosely based on America's citizen's band radio - made famous by long-distance truckers and Country and Western singers - it has two adult bands, each with 36 channels. Most are open, but three are specialist - number 13 for transvestites, 33 for gay men and 34 for lesbians. The public channels are filled with the usual inane Net chat - incomprehensible to outsiders, with shorthand phrases such as lol (laughing out loud) and (evil grin). But it is the private channels that get interesting. Most activity is late at night, when Americans get home from work.

The talk on CB Communicate is usually harmless flirting taken to an extreme. Some users emphatically refuse to hotchat at all. Others are established couples using their computers to keep their private lives active while they are physically separated. At least two had met partners on-line with whom they now have real world relationships (last week, a couple announced their engagement on Channel One's Digital World, having conducted their courtship on-line). Another said it was her way of cheating on an overbearing husband. "It's safer than the real thing," she said.

Tuning to one relatively quiet channel, and monitoring a second, I started looking for partners. My opening lines ranged from a simple "hi" to a comment on the receiver's handle, or nickname. I called myself Ravisher, so that no one would have any doubts what I was after.

The results were as mixed as one would get in a London pub or night-club, but the put-downs were less hurtful. Mona Lisa was vain and bitchy; Puff was coy, playful and flighty; WrySilk warm and friendly; ConchShell a delight to talk to; HornyWife direct. Often the reply was a blunt "Busy, later". Still, my "pull-rate" was far higher than down at the local.

Sometimes we would dive right into a mutual fantasy.

RAVISHER: "Would you like a tour of the palace, m'Lady?"

LADYLUST: "Oh, Sir Rav, what are all those medals on your broad chest for? You must be quite the hero!"

But usually there was a getting-acquainted period first, as in real life. It worked best to make them laugh and then tease out some details, real names, age, looks. "Add 10 years and two stone to anything they say about themselves," advised one regular.

Often the questions begin on a more basic level. Asking someone their gender is so common it has an abbreviation, MORF (Male Or Female). As an experiment, I changed sex and became Silk Stockings.

In my new persona, I was suddenly besieged by suitors. Cybersex made a vulgar pass. Hot4U(m) was more subtle - he asked my name, and what I look like undressed. (5'2", 34B, 28, 34, I decided). I found being female disconcertingly easy. The men do most of the talking, with an occasional "mmmmm, oh" or from me to keep them going.

Understanding a little better what women have to put up with from men, I retreated to channel 34, the lesbian channel. The public discussion revolved around sending hugs to each other, writing poetry, and flaming intruding males. I joined in the latter with relish. Two lesbians contacted me privately. The first, Alison, wanted to know what size pantihose I wore. Sensing trouble, I replied that I didn't wear any. "What's a speculum then," she demanded, on the assumption that masquerading men do not have dictionaries.

Petal, from Bristol, was more trusting. "Do you have any toys with you?" she asked. Later, much later, she asked to meet in person. Feeling guilty, I begged off, and resolved to stick to male characters in future.