Treating Cybersex Addiction

An Analysis of Counseling Interventions
Cybersex, Part 3 of a 3-Part Series

PATRIL 20150909 8607010035_4c713f3f66_bCybersex addiction is a widespread problem in our society that has serious consequences for both addicts and their spouses. In the first article in this series, I introduced the phenomenon of sexual addiction and outlined its effects on addicts and their partners. In the second article, I provided a transcript of a first-time visit to a therapist of couple who had been affected by sex addiction, showing what may typically occur in therapy. In this final article in the series, I discuss some studies that have highlighted important points in the therapeutic treatment of sex addiction.

Effective Counseling for Cybersex Addiction

In a study of 248 professional counselors, Swisher (1995) found that while marital therapy plays a significant role, individual and group therapies are more commonly suggested for sexual addictions (Zitzman & Butler, 2005). Issues to be addressed in counseling may include reducing shame, challenging beliefs, learning to deal with emotions, creating a support system, and reframing the problem (Zitzman & Butler, 2005). Counselors were found to be ineffective when they minimized the significance of Cybersex behavior, failed to make it a priority to stop illegal or self-destructive behaviors, or did not consider the effects on the spouse or partner (Schneider, 2000).

Tools for Recovery

Moreover, counselors have also identified specific tools for recovery that Cybersex addicts can adopt. These include:

  • Make the computer safe to use (location, blocking software, deleting of files, etc.)
  • Include the spouse or partner in therapy
  • Join a 12-step support group,
  • Learn more about sexual addition
  • Combat isolation and physical inactivity (Schneider, 2000)

Rebuilding Trust after Sex AddictionPATRIL 20150909 file771308723281

The vignette presented in the previous article shows what may occur in an initial counseling session. The therapist will share the information gathered from Phil and Sally’s times alone in the counseling room so that there are no secrets. One of the goals of therapy is for a couple to develop honest communication. Trust has been broken and will probably be the thing that takes the longest to restore. One way to facilitate the rebuilding of trust is to include another person who acts as a neutral party to the experiences of the one addicted. The therapist can either validate or call the bluff of the person who has had a history of lying in order to cover up and manipulate. A sponsor from a 12-Step Program can also serve as a neutral person who is capable of calling the addict’s bluff and validating the process (Zitzman & Butler, 2005). Other ways to build trust include safe-proofing the computer by locating the screen in a readily visible spot, putting on porn controls, and finding programs that record one’s Internet history. Another trust builder is for both partners to attend – not necessarily together – a 12-Step Program for sex addicts. Addiction is a hard word to say, but Cybersex abusers will eventually have to admit to their addiction.

Therapeutic Approaches to Sex Addiction

A survey for partners (Schneider, 2000) found that cognitive therapy is helpful in getting the wife to a place where she accepts that her husband or partner’s involvement in Cybersex was not about her, her lack of desirability, etc. If she feels victimized or blamed for his behavior, she will need help in moving emotionally from being the victim to the being an observer (Zitzman & Butler, 2005).

Recovery that focuses on taking a day at a time acknowledges the process, and also facilitates growth. Here is an excerpt from Zitzman and Butler (2000):

The therapist told both of us what to expect. He said, “The chance that you will relapse is so high, but that is okay … We talked about how you need to handle this … You’re prepared if [you do relapse].” I think that made a really big difference because all of a sudden … it wasn’t like Steve felt like he gave him permission to [relapse]. But instead it took a lot of pressure off. I think it almost made it easier to stay away … because there is not as much pressure to stay away.” Steve remarked, “No matter where I am in the process, as long as I am trying, even if I am failing, I shouldn’t be beating myself up.”

According to Zitzman and Butler (2005), the benefits related to joint marital therapy included the restoration of trust, the softening of emotions, which prepared the couple to be mutually supportive in the recovery process, beneficial shifts in their recovery approaches and attitudes, and secondary marital gains or enhancement.

A Success Story in Overcoming Addiction

A story of success by others always brings hope. Here is a story of recovery from sexual addiction quoted by Schneider (2000):

A 55-year-old married man, who for five years had been heavily involved in masturbation while viewing pornography online, wrote, “I lost productivity at work. I lost a promotion. I numbed my emotions, and blocked intimacy. I was ‘never there’ during sex with my wife. I felt resentful. I was very secretive. My children had to put up with my intolerance, irrational anger, and lack of open love.” He got into 12-Step recovery, and wrote after three months, “I’m developing full, real intimacy, brutal honesty, unconditional love, open communication, have written out bottom lines and a set of vows. I ‘love the program’ and am happier than ever in my life. I now know real intimacy and can have sex without guilt.” When contacted again one year later, he wrote, “I now have 15 months in recovery. My relationship with my wife is the best I have had. Things go well.”

Christian Counseling for Cybersex Addiction

Sexual addiction can have serious consequences, both for the life of someone who struggles with it, and for his spouse. As a Christian counselor, I have seen how the rise of the Cybersex has caught people in a cycle of addiction and shame. However, hope is possible and Christian counseling can provide a safe space in which to acknowledge and overcome your addiction. It can also provide a supportive space for the partners of Cybersex addicts as they seek to make sense of their situation.

•  Cook, I. (2006). Western Heterosexual Masculinity, Anxiety, and Web Porn. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 14, 47-63.  Cook is psychoanalytical and quotes some of Freud’s theories regarding men and their mothers. Not a critical source, but includes some examples of web porn, which none of the other articles contain.
•  Cooper, A., Delmonico, D.L., & Burg, R. (2000). Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives: new findings and implications. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7, 5-29. Cooper et al. are quoted often by other researchers. This article is based on a large sample population and is thorough and interesting.
•  Malamuth, N., Addison, T., & Koss, M. (2000). Pornography and sexual aggression: are there reliable effects and can we understand them? Annual Review of Sex Research, 11, 26-68. Discusses the existence of reliable association between frequent pornography use and sexual aggressive behaviors, particularly for violent pornography and/or for men at high risk for sexual aggression. Compares aggressive and non-aggressive men, and rapists and non-rapists.
•  Manning, J.C. (2006). The impact of internet pornography on marriage and the family: a review of the research. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13, 131-165. Cites the effects on marriages, families, children, and adolescents. This article is organized and has lots of lists.
•  Philaretau, A.G., Mahfouz, A.Y., & Allen, K.R. (2005). Use of internet pornography and men’s well-being. International Journal of Men’s Health, 4, 149-169.  Contains some interesting interview excerpts, which give a window into the effects, thoughts, and feelings of the people involved in pornography.
•  Schneider, J. P. (2000). Effects of Cybersex addiction on the family: results of a survey. Sexual Addiction & compulsivity, 7, 31-58.  This is a smaller sample of just under 100 subjects who were the partners of Cybersex addicts. Anything written by her is great!
=  Schneider, J. P., (2000). A qualitative study of Cybersex participants: gender differences, recovery issues, and implications for therapists. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7, 249-278. Different from the article above, this one uses another smaller sample of Cybersex addicts who experienced adverse consequences. Has definitions, progression of use, examples of consequences, suggestions, and hope for recovery.
•  Shim, J W., Seungwhan Lee, M.A., Paul, B. (2007). Who responds to unsolicited sexually explicit materials on the Internet? The role of individual differences. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10, 71-79.  College students were used for the sample in order to research the differences in response to unsolicited sex on the Internet according to various personality traits.
•  Whiteman, T. (2003). How the internet affects the family: a survey of therapists. Marriage & Family, 6, 505-514.  Whiteman’s sample of 97 therapists give their perspective on the effect on the Internet in general, including online pornography.
•  Zitzman, S.T. & Butler, M.H. (2005). Attachment, addiction, and recovery: conjoint marital therapy for recovery from a sexual addiction. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 12, 311-337.Photos
“Finding Endor,” courtesy of by Jason Jenkins, Flickr CreativeCommons, (CC BY-SA 2.0); “IMG-3020a.jpg, Ship Aground,” courtesy of Schick, morgueFile.comt

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