In the first part of this series, we explored what sexual addiction is and examined how easy access to pornography on the internet poses a problem for those who struggle with sexual compulsivity.
This second installment explores in greater detail how the internet creates problems for those who are prone to sexual addiction. To do so, we need to look at what Patrick Cairnes author of In the Shadows of the Net calls the arousal templates.
Cairnes cites three primary emotion systems that make up our arousal templates:
- a sex drive, commonly called lust, which motivates us to
mate and continue our species.
- Attraction or infatuation, which helps us choose a mate.
- And Attachment which helps people sustain relationships long enough to actually mate and procreate.
The internet has become “an amplifier” for the chemical reactions that take place during these drives simply because they give us quick access to these emotionally charged situations by providing virtual settings to stimulate them.
While these aren’t actual encounters with other people, Cairnes notes that, physiologically speaking, the same chemicals in the brain are triggered by both virtual and physical sexual encounters. It is akin to the physical experience of fear while seeing a horror movie. Clearly we are not in physical danger and yet our heart rate increases as we anticipate something that is about to happen.
But unlike a movie, the specific element of control that exists with the internet, allows web surfers to search for specific images that suit their sexual appetites, thus reducing the level of passivity offered by a pornographic movie or magazine. Even the kinkiest of fetishes can be easily found via a simple Google search. Many people who suffer from online sexual addiction point to this factor as the one that pushed them over the edge.
Dr. Thomas Legere, a leading addictions counselor remarked that “the internet makes it easy for people to have access to all kinds of sexual stimulus. It’s cheap and easy to access too. What’s more is that people say it’s more effective than other forms of pornography like a magazine or a strip club. There’s plenty of things that you’ll see in a strip club or even a pornographic magazine or film that may not turn you on at all. The internet allows you to get specific; you can find exactly what turns you on quickly and achieve arousal quickly.” Legere also points out that the immediacy and isolation of web surfing enables people to achieve the point of orgasm–which is the goal for most men– faster than other forms of pornography.
Perhaps the most dangerous part of online sexual sites is that the enormous variety of sexual acts one is able to find online can widen our arousal templates. “You can find things on line that you never even heard of!” Legere notes. “These things you might stumble across might catch your eye and trigger something in the sex drive—which could even be positive—if it’s something like romantic chatting with a man or a woman.” For example maybe being chivalrous becomes something that makes a man feel sexy and when acting this way in a chat room he tests this theory on other women. When they respond positively he has the courage to act this way in “reality.” Legere points out that not all situations, of course, are as positive. “What happens when someone is surfing porn sites and they come across one that has a nine year old boy in bed with a 50 year old man, or someone having sex with a sheep and it turns them on? If it weren’t easily available on the internet would they ever find out about this?”
Finally the net provides an opportunity for exploring the forbidden. Let’s say you always wanted to try having sex with multiple partners but your religious or moral beliefs didn’t allow you to pursue the fantasy… Now the internet can allow you to explore the fantasy virtually. You don’t need to find two people to come into your bedroom, you can simply participate in a cybersex version of a threesome. “It’s not the real deal,” one cyber-user reports, “so you find yourself letting your guard down more and opening yourself up to new virtual experiences that you might have been unwilling to try in public.”
Cairnes points out that pornographers are capitalizing on a very simple function of the internet: “One of the best things about the internet is that you can find other people who are interested in the same things you are. However, the worst thing about the internet is that you can find people who are interested in the same things that you are.”
We’ll explore what happens to the person when they get hooked in part three of Skin Deep.