Cybersex addiction is a form of sex addiction in which the sexual behavior involves the use of the internet for a sexual experience that becomes addictive, that is the addict is unable to stop excessive sexual behavior despite the consequences. Cybersex goes beyond pornography addiction, in which the addict spends 10 or more hours a week viewing pornographic internet images or videos. These may be legal pornography or they may be illegal, i.e. images or videos involving children or underage teens. Addiction to internet pornography is now being talked about as a virtual epidemic in the United States and elsewhere. In the Christian community alone, 57% of pastors report that porn addiction is the most damaging issue for their congregation (Dan Drake, MS) and 71% of those with sexual acting-out problems also use the internet as a sexual venue.
Teens and Cybersex Addiction
There are many ways in which the internet can fuel cybersex addiction. “Sexting” had become common in recent years among teens in particular. In sexting young people share sexual material with others in the form of written text that has sexual content or they transmit sexual images such as nude photos of themselves or someone else. The internet is a significant gateway drug for young people to be primed for cybersex addiction. The average first time contact with internet pornography is age 11. The largest consumers of internet pornography are the 12 to 17 year old group. Even without pornography however, teens and even children are subject to a barrage of sexual content through electronic games that contain highly sexual material.
Cybersex Addiction in Many Forms
A wide range of adolescent and adult behaviors fit under the broad category of cybersex addiction. These include accessing sexual chat rooms, finding prostitutes, finding “hook-ups” (others who are immediately available for sex in real life) and selling or trading of pornographic photos and videos. When these activities are engaged in excessively they tend to interfere with the person’s normal functioning in their daily life. When the person fails to stop the excessive sexual behavior despite the consequences they are like a drug addict who cannot do without their drug. They are described as having a cybersex addiction.
The Real Life Problems Associated with Cybersex Addiction
I had a patient who was a successful medical doctor who was so in the grip of a cybersex addiction that he had on one occasion had sex with seven different women in one day, all of whom he found through ads on the internet. For the most part we think of cybersex addicts as using a computer or laptop but this same man told me that when he gave up his access to his smart phone and laptop in an effort to quit, he managed to find a way to use his automobile GPS to find a “hook-up” i.e. access to an immediate sex partner.
Cybersex addiction is often called “the great accelerator” or “the crack cocaine of sex addiction”. A person prone to sexual acting-out behavior discovers new kinds of imagery and behavior that they never thought of consciously before and quickly becomes compulsively fixated on these new images and scenarios, ultimately seeking to act them out in their life. It is thought that this takes place because the new imagery acts to trigger something unconscious, something forgotten but not gone, in the psychosexual history of the person.
Cybersex addiction is particularly insidious because it is sexual contact that is easily accessible, often cheap or free and can be done anonymously in private. It is equally insidious because in contrast to some other kinds of sex addicts such as those who have serial affairs, spend their salaries on strippers or prostitutes, or engage in real-life risky behaviors like voyeurism or exhibitionism, cybersex addicts have little fear of the consequences because they can tell themselves that their behavior may be compulsive but that it is basically harmless or victimless. This is most definitely not the case. It is a pattern of behavior that exists over time and usually does not resolve itself but rather tends to increase or “escalate” in terms of the obsession with the behavior, the frequency of the behavior, the risks taken in the process, and the increasing disregard for what is socially acceptable.
Cybersex addiction has serious consequences on many fronts: marital, financial, and occupational. One of my patients who is a cybersex addict developed a fetish that completely consumed him sexually both online and in real life. He sought treatment when he realized that he was himself disgusted with this behavior and that he was incapable of a normal relationship. Of the many costs of cybersex addiction, perhaps one of the least appreciated is that young males who view significant amounts of pornography are becoming unable to be sexually aroused by a real person. So insidious is the airbrushed perfectionism of the internet’s sexual imagery (97% of internet imagery is artificially altered to be more perfect) that recent findings suggest that men are becoming impotent in real life situations with real women.
If not actually causeing impotence, cybersex addiction presents a serious risk to a person’s ability to bond with another in a love relationship. The expectations of what sex is become too unrealistic. A sex addict I know in his 50’s who has struggled with cybersex in many of it’s forms is fond of saying: “Miss January is always there for me, she always wants me!” Never mind that’s she’s not a real person.