Internet Sexual Addiction

he convenience of the Internet has helped shape compulsive patterns of online use, espe­cially in the area of sexuality (Boies et al., 2004; Young et al., 2000). Today, men and women can search on­line for information about sex, engage in online chats, and buy sexual products and materials. Some of these Internet activities may be potentially addictive, especially those that involve sexually related Internet crimes, such as cyberstalking (Griffiths, 2001). It’s not hard to understand how an addic­tion might develop when we learn that about 200 new sex – related sites are added to the Internet every day, and sex on the Internet generates 1 billion dollars each year (Carnes,

2003) .

A person who has an Internet sexual addiction routinely spends significant amounts of time in chat rooms and in­stant messaging with the intent of getting sex; feels preoc­cupied with using the Internet to find online sexual partners; discusses personal sexual fantasies not typically expressed offline; masturbates while engaging in online chats; ob­

sesses about the next opportunity to engage in online sex; moves from cybersex to phone sex or face-to-face meetings; hides online chat sessions from others; feels guilty; and has decreasing interest in real-life sexual partners (Griffiths,

2001) . Men and women with low self-esteem, a distorted body image, an untreated sexual dysfunction, or a prior di­agnosed sexual addiction are more at risk for developing an Internet sexual addiction (Young et al., 2000), and those who seek out Internet pornography have been found to have higher levels of loneliness, compared to those who do not (Yoder et al., 2005).

Many paraphiliacs turn to the Internet as a "safe" out­let for their sexual fantasies and urges. Psychotherapy and support groups often offer the most help for those with Internet sexual addictions. More research is needed into this new and growing problem. Reesearch has shown that there is a small minority of men and women who experience significant disturbances caused by their online sexual activ­ity (Griffiths, 2000).

Many have criticized the idea of sexual addiction, however. They argue that terms such as “sexual addiction” are really disguised social judgments. Sexual addiction may be nothing more than an attempt to “repathologize” sexual behaviors (Keane, 2004). Before the sexual freedom of the 1960s, those who engaged in promiscuous sex were of­ten considered physically, mentally, or morally sick. Some scholars suggest that there has been an attempt to return to a pathological model of sexuality using the concept of ad­diction (Irvine, 1995). In “sex-positive” cultures, where sex is seen as healthy and ac­ceptable, having sex frequently, even several times every night, is seen as normal.

Although little systematic research has been done on sexual addiction, a number of psychologists have argued that sexual addiction is a real phenomenon that describes the behavior of a certain subgroup of people in both the heterosexual and homosexual com­munities (Pincu, 1989). Clinicians have found that sexual addicts tend to have a low opinion of themselves, distorted beliefs, a desire to escape from unpleasant emotions, difficulty coping with stress, a memory of an intense “high” that they experienced at least once before in their life (and that they are looking for again), and an uncanny ability to deny that they have a problem, even when it severely disrupts their lives (Earle & Crow,

1990) . In response, a number of self-help groups have been organized, including Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and Co-Dependents of Sexual Addicts.

Internet Sexual AddictionQuestion: I think about sex a lot—it seems like it is almost all the time. I also like to have sex as often as I can. Do I have sex addiction?

Probably not. Thinking about sex is a universal human pastime, espe­cially when a person is younger and just beginning to mature as a sexual being. Sexual addiction becomes a problem when people find their sexual behavior becoming dangerous or uncomfortable. People who find that they cannot stop themselves from engaging in behaviors that put them at physical risk, that they find immoral, that make them feel extremely guilty, or that intrude on their ability to do other things in their life should probably seek counseling—but that is true whether or not the behavior is sexual.