THREE LOOKS AT CYBER-ROMANCE & CYBERSEX ADDICTIONS
Understanding Addictive Cybersex (excerpts)
By Jennifer P. Schneider, M.D., Ph.D. and Robert Weiss, LCSW, CAS
The Internet is profoundly transforming our culture and our world in ways similar to the introduction of the telephone 100 years ago. In addition to its function as a source of information, the Internet is leading a revolution in the delivery of sex and sexual content. Cybersex, which is any form of sexual expression accessed through the computer or the Internet, is now a major industry. Currently, over 60 percent of all visits on the Internet involve a sexual purpose.
These days cybersex activities include not only viewing and/or downloading pornography along with masturbation, but also reading and writing sexually explicit letters and stories, e-mailing to set up personal meetings with someone, placing ads to meet sexual partners, visiting sexually oriented chat rooms, and engaging in interactive online affairs which include real-time viewing of each other using electronic cameras hooked up to the computer. Many people allow themselves to engage in sexual behaviors online (S&M, cybersex with adolescents or children, presenting themselves as persons of the opposite gender) which they would never do in the real world. Spin-offs of cybersex activities are phone sex with people met online, and online affairs that progress to real or offline affairs.
For most cybersex users, the Internet provides a fascinating new venue for experiencing sex. Some users become hooked on cybersex and experience significant life problems as a result.
For those hooked on cybersex, the negative consequences can be divided broadly into two categories: those resulting from the many hours the user spends on the internet, and those which specifically relate to the sexual content of the user's activities.
The former group include:
* User's life becomes constricted and lonely. Many hours are spent alone with the computer, involved in fantasy sexual activities, while real-life friendships and social contacts fall away.Consequences which result specifically from the sexual nature of the computer use include:
* If the user is married or in a relationship, the partner feels lonely, ignored, unimportant, neglected, or angry because the user prefers to spend so much time on the net rather than with the partner and family.
* Children are neglected or ignored because of the parent's involvement with the computer.
* If online sex leads to real-life sexual encounters, the user risks acquiring HIV and other oral/genital sexually transmitted diseases.
* If the user downloads Internet pornography on the work computer or engages in cybersex on the job, he or she risks job loss.
* Cybersex participants who engage in sex with minors risk arrest and imprisonment.
* Many users lie repeatedly about the sexual activities; in response, their partners feel distrust and betrayal.
* The devastating emotional impact of a cybersex affair is described by many partners as similar, if not the same, as that of a real or offline affair. This is equally true when the cybersex user has also had "real" affairs. The partner's self-esteem may be damaged; strong feelings of hurt, betrayal, abandonment, devastation, loneliness, shame, isolation, humiliation, and jealousy are evoked. Cybersex activities were considered particularly destructive in that a) they took place right in the home and b) were so time-consuming.
* The couple's sexual relationship suffers, not only generally because the user stays up much of the night, but specifically because the spouse (and often the user) compares her body and her sexual performance to that of the online men and women, and believes she/he can't measure up and/or the user or partner loses interest in having sex with each other. Many couples have no relational sex in months or years.
* Online sexual activities may be followed by physical contact with others; the partner may retaliate or seek solace in extramarital affairs.
* Children may be exposed to pornography and may develop unhealthy attitudes towards sex and women.
Internet and Cybersex Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects and Treatment
Michael G. Conner, Psy.D
The Internet is especially addictive because [it] is endless, interactive, social and exploding with never ending images and information. Being on the Internet can be an escape from reality... For some people, a painful or disgusting fantasy is preferable to a less painful or disgusting reality.
The term “addiction” used to be exclusive to chemicals such as alcohol, drugs, or nicotine. With recent research on the brain and its processes, we now understand that many behaviors can become as chemically addictive as a substance. Extreme overuse of the Internet is such an addiction.
Internet Addiction Disorder
Like all other addictions, Internet Addiction Disorder is a psychophysiological disorder involving:
* tolerance (the same amount of usage elicits less response; increased amounts become necessary to evoke the same amount of pleasure)What are the signs, symptoms and patterns of Internet addiction?
* withdrawal symptoms (especially, tremors, anxiety, and moodiness)
* affective disturbances (depression, irritability)
* interruption of social relationships (a decline or loss, either in quality or quantity).
At this time, there is no official diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, which defines mental health disorders and establishes criteria to be used by mental health professionals. However, since the patterns so closely match those of Pathological Gambling (which was included in the most recent update of the diagnostic manual), many in the addiction field expect Internet Addiction to be added to the next edition. If it is included, it is likely to require that a person meet three or more of criteria such as these during a twelve month period:
* The need for increasing amounts of time on the Internet to achieve satisfaction and/or significantly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of time on the Internet.What causes or precipitates Internet addiction?
* Use of the Internet as a way of escaping problems or relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression (those with psychological disorders are particularly prone).
* Feelings of restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use.
* Lying to family members or friends to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet.
* Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of Internet use.
* Risking the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of excessive use of the Internet.
* Two or more withdrawal symptoms developing within days to one month after
reduction or cessation of Internet use (i.e., quitting cold turkey), which cause distress or impair social, personal or occupational functioning, including: tremors, anxiety, and voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers.
* Use of the Internet to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
While it may appear that addictions are pleasure-seeking behaviors, the roots of any addiction can usually be traced to a wish to suppress or avoid some kind of emotional pain. Addiction is a way to escape from reality, from something that is either too full of sadness (such as an abusive relationship) or too devoid of joy (an emotionally empty life). Emotional trauma in early life may be at the source of many addictions.
Internet addiction offers a fantasy world in which there are endless people who appear to be interesting to - and interested in - the person. Young, sexually inexperienced people, especially males, may find it easier to engage in Internet “relationships” than risk the face-to-face rejection of a real person. As the addict becomes more immersed in this shadow world, denial takes hold and he or she comes to view these these “friends” and “partners” as more real than the actual spouse or family.
What is cybersex addiction?
Until recently, men dominated the overall use of the Net but women are now online more than men. Both men and women use the Internet for "cybering" (cybersex). Cybersex is defined as the consensual sexual discussion online for the purpose of achieving arousal or an orgasm.
In addition to viewing and/or downloading pornography along with masturbation, Dr. Jennifer Schneider says that cybersex activities also include:
* reading and writing sexually explicit letters and stories
* visiting sexually oriented chat rooms
* placing ads to meet sexual partners
* e-mailing to meet and attract a potential cybersex/cyber-romance partner; set up personal meetings with someone
* engaging in interactive online affairs sometimes using electronic cameras for real-time viewing of each other
While some people will eventually move away from the Internet back to the real world, others will escalate their involvement, arranging meetings with online contacts for in-person sex. For some, this increased danger in real life grows out of viewing dangerous content online, what Dr. Michael Conner calls “danger downloading.” Often, their cyber screen names reflect this view toward risky or c behavior.
What are the effects of Internet addiction?
Like most addictions, Internet addiction disrupts relationships with family and friends and tends to replace education and other positive activities. A spouse or partner who discovers this behavior usually feels “cheated on,” as real a betrayal as any infidelity, and one that can lead to a break-up. In addition, Internet addiction creates risks and losses in the workplace. For example:
* Nearly 55% of workers exchange potentially offensive messages at least once a month (PC Week).
* Personal e-mails – 47% of employees send up to 5 per day, 32% send up to 10 daily, and 28% receive up to 20 per day (Vault.com).
* Almost one in five people go to cybersex sites while at work (MSNBC poll, June '98).
* 68% of companies characterize messaging misdemeanors as widespread, with losses estimated at $3.7 million per company a year (Datamation).
* Recently a major US computer manufacturer installed monitoring software and discovered that a number of employees had visited more then 1,000 sexually oriented sites in less than a month. Twenty people were fired for misusing company resources (USA Today).
Can you break addiction to the Internet?
Treatment for people who have been diagnosed with Internet addiction is very hard to find:
* Not all psychologists or physicians acknowledge that the disorder is real.
* Many psychologists do not know how to diagnose, treat, and follow-up for these patients.
Spouses or other family members who become aware of the addiction may try to intervene.
Just as an alcoholic’s spouse or child may pour contents of bottles down the drain, the Internet addict’s family may try to monitor computer use, put blocks on chat rooms, or make frequent calls to the person to interrupt computer activity. While these interventions may have brief effect, the only lasting change will occur when the addict fully realizes the costs being paid for his or her behavior: loss of family, job, money, status, reputation, etc.
Treatment alternatives include:
* 12-step group programs to help participants gradually reduce the addictive behavior
* other methods analogous to the treatment of alcohol or drug addictions
* psychotherapy with an addiction specialist
* professional counselors offering chat and telephone counseling at reasonable rates to provide immediate assistance for individuals, partners, and parents in crisis
* clinics specializing in treatment of computer/Internet addiction, such as those at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, IL and at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA.
SEX ADDICTION (the underlying problem with some Cyberpaths)
1. WHAT IS SEX ADDICTION?
Sex addiction is a way some people medicate their feelings and/or cope with their stresses to the degree that their sexual behavior becomes their major coping mechanism for stresses in their life. The individual often can not stop this sexual behavior for any great length of time by themselves. The sex addict spends a lot of time in the pursuit of his or her sexual behavior/fantasy or they may have a binge of sexual behaviors.
2. WHY DO PEOPLE BECOME SEXUALLY ADDICTED?
This is different for every sex addict but generally speaking there are biological, psychological, and spiritual reasons. The following is a short explanation of each reason why someone can become a sex addict.
The biological addict is someone who has conditioned their body to receive endorphins and enkephlines (brain chemicals) primarily through reinforcing a fantasy state with the ejaculation that provides these chemicals to their brain.
Psychologically, the need to medicate or escape physical, emotional or sexual abuse can demand a substance, the early addict finds the sex medicine usually before alcohol or drugs.
Spiritually, a person is filling up the hole in them with their sexual addiction. The addiction is their spirituality, it comforts them, celebrates them and is always available and present. Then there is the sex addict who can be two or even three of the above reasons. This is why a specialist in sex addiction is the best route for recovery with sex addiction.
3. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SEX ADDICTION AND A HIGH SEX DRIVE?
I have heard this question on almost every national talk show or radio show I have been on over the years. A person with a high sex drive is satisfied with sex. It's not about a fix for something; when their partner says "NO" it doesn't make them go off the handle thinking their partner is totally rejecting them and have to leave the house or act out in some other way. If you can relate to this the chances are there may be an addiction issue. You may benefit from any of the following books or tapes:
4. CAN YOU BE ADDICTED TO MASTURBATION?
Yes, this is by far the most common sex addiction that I have treated in working with sex addiction. This usually is the first sexual behavior many of us will have on a repeated basis. This is usually where the sexual compulsion starts with sex addicts and this behavior, regardless of other acquired behaviors, usually stays active.
5. WHAT ROLE DOES PORNOGRAPHY PLAY IN SEX ADDICTION?
Pornography for many sex addicts combined with regular masturbation is the cornerstone for most sex addicts. Many sex addicts have great difficulty getting sober from this combination of behavior. The pornography with fantasy creates an unreal world that the sex addict visits throughout their adolescence and other developmental stages and creates an object relationship that conditions their emotional and sexual self to depend upon these objects and fantasies to meet their emotional and sexual needs hundreds of times before having sex with a real person.
6. CAN SOMEONE BE A SEX ADDICT AND NOT BE SEXUAL WITH THEIR SPOUSE OR COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP?
YES! In this stage of sex addiction, the addict prefers the fantasy world and fantasy sex with themselves or others instead of relational sex with their spouse or partner. The addict avoids relational sex and hence this couple has sex infrequently.