There can be little doubt that the technological revolution that brought the power of the internet to the average consumer over the past decade has opened up enormous possibilities for sharing and disseminating information and has changed our lives for the better in countless ways. Similarly, there is also little doubt that the loftiest creations of our finest minds are often manipulated for the basest purposes. Despite the obvious virtues of the internet, there is also a shadow side.
According to Nielsen Net Ratings in 2003, 32 million unique individuals visited a porn
site in September alone in the United States . Of those 32 million, 22 million viewers were male. On any given day in cyberspace, 260 million pornographic web pages are available on over 9 million web sites. As reported in the Washington Times, the research of Dr. Robert Weiss, of the Sexual Recovery Institute, states that sex is the #1 searched for topic on the Internet. And MSNBC’s study with Stanford and Duquesne University found that 60% of all web-site visits are sexual in nature. It should also be noted that video streaming and many other web-based innovations, were all started by the sex industry long before they entered into the mainstream.
So while the internet has profoundly altered our lives in many positive ways, to those struggling with issues of sexual addiction, it has become an all-too-easy route down the road to disaster.
While many laugh it off as a cheap excuse for people who want to sleep around, sexual addiction is legitimate and those caught in its grasp fall prey to a myriad of destructive behaviors. Like any other type of addiction, sexual addiction is a complicated matter. In order to understand compulsive addictive behavior better it is important to make distinctions between use, abuse, and addiction. For example, people can use alcohol–maybe a nice glass of wine with dinner–and not get drunk. That seems to be a legitimate use of alcohol for most people in society. Someone who has twelve drinks in a given night is abusing alcohol. But their problem can come to a halt when they embarrass themselves at an office party, crash their car or when a friend or relative confronts them and asks them to simply stop drinking. When confronted with these types of situations, the person in question is able to stop abusing alcohol .
The addicted person, however, is defined as someone who does not have the power to cease abusing whatever they are addicted to. Dr. Tom Legere, a noted addictions specialist in the Philadelphia area states that “even when there are adverse consequences for the addicted person they are unable to discontinue use. That is what classifies someone as addicted: they may want to stop but they are powerless to do so.”
Addicted to Sex
In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior, $12.95
Sexual addiction is no different. One psychologist (who asked to remain anonymous) spoke of a client who ran up hundreds of dollars in phone bills at his place of employment by calling phone sex lines repeatedly. He placed his job at risk–and even risked possible jail time–in order to get that quick fix of phone sex. He also spoke of a patient who was unable to quit surfing a kiddie porn website even after the FBI knocked on his door.
Dr. Legere points out that “When it comes to pornography and some very powerful drugs, we’ve entered a new phase of the addiction world. Some things by nature are never good for the human soul. So in cases where pornography isolates you from other people, or where it becomes an obsession, use is abuse automatically.”
So when we’re looking at the case of a sexually addicted person coupled with the technology of the internet, we’re looking at a powder keg meeting a lighted match. What does the internet offer the sexually addicted person? Dr. Patrick Cairnes, the author of In the Shadows of the Net and the most noted expert on the subject of sexual addiction on the internet, offers five major factors for why the internet is so dangerous for potential sex addicts:
- Accessibility: Sexual experience before cyber-technology had limitations. Access to strip clubs and pornographic movies are limited. At some point the doors close and people have to leave. With the internet the access to sex is unlimited. At home, work, even on your cellular phone you can have access to porn sites.
- Isolation: While being separated from the outside world, the internet offers no distractions. There’s nobody here to guide you away from the task at hand. You can easily justify your experiences on the internet because they exist outside of the real world.
- Anonymity: The internet offers the opportunity
to separate from the outside world and engage in whatever sexual fantasy you’d like without risk of disease or recognition. You won’t run into your doctor online but you might run into him while entering the strip club.
- Affordability: Cybersex is actually a low-budget solution for pornography for the serious user. Hardcore porn magazines may cost over $20 per magazine while internet access may be as cheap as $5 a month for a simple dial-up connection. Secondly, there’s an opportunity to select only the fetishes you wish to delve into. There’s no need to buy some magazine that has loads of other pictures that you’re uninterested in. In short: no mess, no hassle.
- Fantasy: With cybersex there’s no risk of rejection or fear of trying something that you might not try in real life. So if you’re interested in seeing two women having sex you can find a live video stream that will show that to you. Interested in creating a sexual experience with a specific body type? Some sites let you create the perfect person to objectify. Looking for teen-agers? It’s right there on the net—easy to access and just a mouseclick away.
According to Cairnes: “These five factors seem to increase the chances that the internet will become a problem for those who already struggle with sexual compulsivity and for those who are emotionally or psychologically vulnerable to sexual availability.”
A Nielsen survey seems to confirm Cairnes’ hypothesis. While there are around 148 million internet users in the United States, approximately 8.9 million users need intervention for their compulsive use of cybersex. Another 14.8 million use cybersex moderately and show the initial signs of sexual addiction to it.