Sexual addiction is the inability to stop sexual behavior, even when it damages your life. It involves engaging in excessive sexual fantasies and urges in response to anxiety, depression, or stressful life situations. Sexual addiction is characterized by repetitive but unsuccessful attempts to control or significantly curtail these fantasies, urges, and behaviors. Engaging in sexual behavior without regard for the risk of emotional or physical harm to yourself or others is another hallmark of sexual addiction. This article is the first in a 3-part series in which I share the impact of Cybersex.
Pornography and Sexual Dysfunction
Sexual function or dysfunction as a result of viewing pornography, especially on the Internet, is not specifically listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychological Association (DSM-V, 2013). However, research indicates that the results of habitual pornography use may cause acquired sexual dysfunction (and indicates that sexual dysfunction only develops after a period of normal functioning), and may be influenced by situational or psychological factors. Sexual dysfunction is characterized by a disturbance of sexual desire and by changes in the body, mind, and emotions.
Pornography viewing also has some resemblance to Paraphilias, which the DSM-V describes as characterized by: “recurrent, intense sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situations and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. For some individuals, paraphilic fantasies or stimuli are obligatory for erotic arousal and are always included in sexual activity. In other cases, the paraphilic preferences occur only episodically (e.g. perhaps during periods of stress), whereas at other times the person is able to function sexually without paraphilic fantasies or stimuli.”
The DMV-V criteria for the individual paraphilia of Voyeurism describes the behavior as follows:
- Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act of observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity.
- The person has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.
History and Prevalence of Cybersex Addiction
Although a small percentage of women are involved in Cybersex addiction, in this article I address the issue only from the standpoint of male Cybersex users. Sexuality is one aspect of human social behavior that is being dramatically impacted by the Internet, with sex reported as the most frequently-searched topic on the Internet (Cooper, Delmonica, & Burg, 2000) . Cooper (1998) suggests that the “Triple-A Engine” of accessibility, affordability, and anonymity explains why almost 31% of the total online population had visited an adult web site as of August 1999 (Cooper, Delmonica, & Burg, 2000). Of the approximately 1% of a sample group classified as Cybersex compulsives, 82% reported that their activities interfered with some aspect of their lives and 72% indicated that at least one aspect of their lives was in jeopardy as a result of their Cybersex activities (Cooper et al., 2000). While the reasons for Cybersex addiction are hard to pin down, a survey by MSNBC found that most people had not suffered from sexual addiction before beginning to visit Internet sex sites (Whiteman, 2003). Those who reported a 10-, 20-, or even 30-year history of low-level compulsive sexual behaviors experienced severe life repercussions within a year or two of going online (Schneider, 2000). According to research by Shim, Lee, and Paul (2007), those with positive sexual dispositions and/or those with highly antisocial dispositions were most likely to respond to unsolicited sexually explicit materials.
How Does Cybersex Affect Men?
In their research paper entitled “Use of Internet Pornography and Men’s Well-Being,” Philaretou, Mahfouz, and Allen found that the 6.5% of men who spend six hours or more per week in pursuit of Cybersex commonly experienced its negative intrapersonal ramifications. These included depression, anxiety, and problems with felt intimacy with their real-life partners. Over time, some men find themselves becoming considerably engrossed in their sexual fantasies and end up becoming addicted to Cybersexual masturbatory practices as the only avenue for fantasy fulfillment, stress release, and as a way to deal with their depression and anxiety (Philaretou et al., 2005). Cybersex promotes ego-centric and narcissistic attitudes (Zitzman & Butler, 2005). Ian Cook found that central to online pornography is the assault on masculinity or male identity in regard to penis size and performance anxiety (Cook, 2006). According to Schneider (2000), the adverse consequences of Cybersex include depression and other emotional problems, a worsening of the sexual relationship with one’s spouse or partner, harm done to the marriage or primary relationship, the exposure of children to online pornography or masturbation, decreased productivity at work and even the loss of one’s job, loss of income, the progressive constriction of one’s life and the abandonment of other social activities, and arrest and jail time if the Cybersex involves children or adolescents (Schneider, 2000).
However, one of the major findings of Cooper, et al. (2000) was that for the vast majority of respondents to an online survey, surfing the Internet for sexual pursuits did not lead to significant difficulties in their lives.
Current findings by Malamuth, Addison, and Koss (2000) suggest that, for the majority of American men, pornography exposure (even at the highest levels) is not associated with high levels of sexual aggression. However, those who are very frequent pornography users (12% of a high-risk group) have sexual aggression levels approximately four times higher than their counterparts who do not consume pornography very frequently (Malamuth, et al., 2000).
How Does Cybersex Addiction Affect A Partner or Spouse?
The spouses of Cybersex addicts have been found to go through a sequence of responses to their partners’ addiction. These pre-recovery phases consisted of (1) ignorance or denial, (2) shock at the discovery of Cybersex activities, and (3) problem-solving attempts. When their attempts failed and they realized how unmanageable their lives had become, they entered the crisis stage and began their own recovery (Schneider, 2000). Spouses may experience self-blaming, shame, hurt, resentment, insecurity, and emotional withdrawal (Zitzman & Butler, 2005). According to research by Schneider (2000), upon learning of their significant other’s online sexual activities, partners felt hurt, betrayal, rejection, abandonment, devastation, loneliness, shame, isolation, humiliation, jealousy, and anger, as well as a loss of self-esteem. Being lied to repeatedly was a major cause of distress. The partners compared themselves unfavorably to the online women (or men) and pictures, and felt hopeless and unable to compete with them (Schneider, 2000).
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.
“Moana Beach Family Adelaide,” courtesy of Les Haines, (CC BY 2.0); “Warning Sign,” courtesy of Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain License, all-free-download.com/free-photos