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November 2002
SEX ON-LINE: WHO‚S ADDICTED?
Understanding Obsession with Porn Sites and Chat Room Sex

By Carol Boulware, Ph.D., MFT
, ABS Certified Sex Therapist, Licensed Marriage, Family Therapist

A vast network of millions of people with computers has provided, for virtually everyone, a tantalizing new „Adventurelandš in which to experience and express their sexuality. Amazingly, recent studies have shown that more than half of all Internet visits are involved, in one way or another, with sex. And they have a lot of choices. There are currently over 100,000 sex-related websites.

But for many cybersex explorers, the fun and excitement of this new land, has turned into a compulsion, obsession and/or addiction. They have found themselves spending more and more time at porn sites and in chat rooms, at the expense their relationships with their family and friends. They discovered that their time on the Internet pursuing sex was consuming a significant chunk of their work time, distracting them from other activities, and pushing out, for lack of time or interest, existing relationships or new relationships.

What is Cybersex or Sex On-Line?

Before we explore the underlying causes of on-line sex addition, it will be helpful to define some of the terms that are currently being used in discussing this subject. The term, „cybersex,„ or „on-line sexš, usually refers to: viewing pornography, downloading sexually explicit materials, e-mail or chat room conversations involving sex, phone sex or masturbation while involved in the activities just listed, and sex with people met on the Internet. „Chat room sexš refers to sexual activity between two individuals through the medium of an Internet chat room.

How Do I Recognize Cybersex or On-Line Sex Addiction?

For a growing number of people, on-line sex has becoming a dominant force in their lives. So powerful, in fact, that it has become a serious problem. Many men and women are now discovering that their Internet sex has become as addictive as alcohol or drugs. And, just as with any other substance abuse or addiction, it is wreaking havoc in their lives -- jeopardizing their jobs and imperiling their existing relationships.

In fact, a recent survey of corporate management revealed that one of the leading reasons for firing employees, now, is the time they spend on-line during their workday! Other people have reported that their obsession with on-line sex has affected the quality of their relationships with their families and contributed to their estrangement or divorce.

Sexually addicted individuals will withdraw from their social relationships. They feel they must hide their behavior because they fear others will condemn or reject them.

Their fear of „getting caughtš is caused by their strong feelings of guilt and shame. They often lose respect for themselves for acting against their own values, or standards of behavior, and assume others will also. Most addicts are afraid of losing important relationships, especially those with family members, or that family members will lose respect for them. They may also be afraid that their friends will reject or ridicule them. A big part of the behavior pattern of addiction, is „keeping the secret.š They constantly worry about being „found outš and suffering the dire consequences. Naturally, they must create a veil of deceit to cover up their clandestine, „forbiddenš activities.

Many obsessive individuals use the self-defense mechanism of „Denialš to keep from facing the truth about their behavior. They may tell themselves, „It‚s no big deal,š or „I can control it,š or „I only do it once in a while,š or „I‚m not hurting anyone.š Some, who have recognized their on-line sex compulsion as a serious problem, are seeking psychotherapy and other forms of help. But many others are trapped in a struggle between their uncontrollable urges to participate in sexual behavior via the Internet and their desire to regain control and balance in their lives.

An Example of On-Line Sex Addiction

To illustrate how compulsive on-line sex can negatively impact your life, here is an example of a couple with the following situation: the male partner had been masturbating to porn since he was a teenager. Back then it was porn magazines, but with the advent of the Internet, and the virtual „candy storeš of available materials, and the ease and convenience of in-home „sex-surfing,š he soon switched to on-line porn.

This man derived great pleasure from his secret masturbation ritual. His partner had no idea at all that he was doing this, or that he was interested in pornography. During the day, at work, he would search for sites he liked. Driving home after work, stressed, or sometimes bored, from his day, he looked forward to the pleasure and relaxation of his cybersex that evening. When he got home, he would usually tell his partner that he had work to do on the computer for the next day.

At first he spent about 15-minute searching for porn. Then, his Internet time increased to 30 and 40 minutes, and more. He was enjoying it so much that the frequency of his on-line masturbation also increased. By the time he fell into bed at night, his energy was thoroughly spent. When his partner wanted to make love, he had no interest, giving her excuse after excuse. Needless to say, she was hurt, upset and confused, wondering if he was having an affair.

One day, she sat down at their computer to do something, and happened to notice the Browser history -- full of porn sites! When she confronted him, it created a crisis in their relationship. She insisted that he stop. He didn‚t want to stop, but he also didn‚t want his marriage to break up, so he agreed to stop. She purchased „porn patrolš software, for which only she had the password.

However, his urge was so powerful, and his habit so strong, he was soon back masturbating on-line--only now he was doing it at work! Since he had a private office, he was able to get away with it for a while. But, soon his interest in his work waned and his job performance deteriorated. Later, he was fired. His partner, finding out about the deceit, gave him an ultimatum to go into therapy, or end their relationship.

The Consequences of Addictive Behavior

The social consequences of an addiction are great, whether the addiction is to a substance or to on-line porn or chat-room sex. Significant social relationships suffer because the addict will isolate herself or himself from their „outer world.š You might say that an Internet sex addict withdraws into a world the size of a computer screen. An addict‚s job performance will certainly be affected: frequent tardiness from staying up late at night with their on-line habit, deterioration of the quality and effectiveness of their work from their waning interest in work and growing distraction of their porn obsession. Emotionally, an obsessive or compulsive individual feels hopeless and despairing. They realize they are trapped between their feelings of guilt and shame and their powerful drive to indulge their on-line sexual addiction. But underlying their compulsion is another strong desire, the desire to regain control of their lives.

CYBERSEX ADDICTION - A SELF-QUESTIONNAIRE

If you have concerns about your own sexual behavior on the Internet, or worry that your spouse or a loved one or friend may be having a problem with compulsive cybersex, the following Self Questionnaire may help you, or them, evaluate the severity of the situation. It may be advisable for you to have your situation evaluated further by a professional therapist or counselor.

Answer „Yesš or „Noš to each question. Then total your „Yes‚s and „No‚s for the evaluation that follows the questionnaire.

  1. Do you visit porn sites or sex-oriented chat rooms more than 5 times a week?
  2. Do you use your computer at work to access porn sites during the day?
  3. Do you ever feel guilty, or ashamed of your on-line sexual activities?
  4. Do you keep your cybersex a secret from your mate or partner?
  5. Have you ever masturbated while watching Internet porn?
  6. Do you frequently erase your computer files to conceal your cybersex activity?
  7. Have you tried to cut down on the time you spend at sex-related sites?
  8. Have you been successful at cutting down the hours you spend on the Internet for sex?
  9. Do you feel anxious or upset when you are not able to access sex on-line?
  10. Do you worry that someone you know will discover your on-line sexual activities?
  11. Does it seem to you that your sex chat room friends are more significant to you than your regular friends or family?
  12. Does the time your spend on-line for sex, sometimes interfere with, or distract you from, your real life activities or responsibilities?
  13. Has a chat-room relationship ever progressed to phone sex, or sex in person with that individual?
  14. Have you purchase sex-oriented materials or products on-line?
  15. Do you very much look forward to your Internet sex activities?
If you have answered „Yesš to eight or more questions, it may indicate that your on-line sexual behavior is problematic. Although this questionnaire may be an important first step to getting your cybersex behavior under control, it is not an absolute accurate measure of a cybersexual problem.

Getting Help for Cybersex Addiction

I would advise anyone who is uncomfortable or concerned about their on-line sexual activities to seek further evaluation by a professional counselor or therapist. You can find one on the Internet or through a referral service in your area.

For some people, any addictive behavior can be a symptom of an emotional or psychological problem. Individuals with unresolved pain or trauma from childhood events often exhibit problem behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive-obsessive behaviors or sex addiction. The good news is that effective, relatively short-term therapies are available. If you have been distressed about your on-line sexual behavior, and believe that you have made numerous, sincere attempts to change your behavior without success, you may benefit from seeking professional counseling. The earlier you take action to get help, the sooner the problem will be addressed and corrected.

There are 12-step programs available for sex addiction. One is Sex Addicts Anonymous, or SAA. Their website is www.sexaa.org. Many people find this type of program very helpful.

Other options are traditional psychotherapy that delves into childhood experiences and trauma, in order to discover the root cause or causes of the problem behavior. A relatively new therapy that is highly effective for fear-based problem behaviors and addiction is EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing. The good news is there are a variety of treatments available from mental health professionals, psychotherapists and counselors who have good track records with helping people regain control of their addictive behaviors.

Carol Boulware, Ph.D. , MFT ABS Board Certified Sex Therapist #1466
Licensed Marriage, Family, Therapist MFT11632
Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress
EMDRIA Certified in EMDR, Level II-'94
EMDRIA Approved Consultant
3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550
Santa Monica, CA 90403 - (310) 395-3351
Redondo Beach (310) 395-3351

Email: CarolPhD@psychotherapist.net
Website: http://www.psychotherapist.net

Copyright © 2002 Carol Boulware, Ph.D.

Dr. Boulware is a psychotherapist in practice in Santa Monica and Redondo Beach. She is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.

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