Addiction to Cybersex and Internet Pornography

Web address on screenI am getting asked more about cybersex and online pornography addiction from therapists. It seems to be a growing problem in their practices. I thought I would address some of the fundamentals regarding how the addiction is sustained by the addict, or what I call the “start-stop relapse cycle.”

Eric is a 46-year-old computer programmer who described how hard it was for him to go “cold turkey” from cybersex during work. “I always go to the same chat room for cybersex. I feel comfortable there, and I typically find a good partner quickly. I always think about cybersex when I feel stressed from work and overwhelmed on the job. I always promise to only do it for a half an hour or hour, but time just slips by. Besides, my drive is stronger than my wife’s, so it won’t hurt, actually it will help our relationship, so I don’t go looking for someone in real life. Afterwards, I realize that I should not do this to my wife and also to my work. My boss will find out one day if I don’t stop doing this in my office. Each time I log off after cybersex, I promise myself that I will never do it again. I hate myself for all the wasted time I spent online and quickly try to catch up on the lost work. I go a few weeks, then the pressure seems to build up inside. I play mind games with myself, telling myself just a little won’t hurt. No one will know what I am doing. Sometimes I actually believe that I am in control. I wear myself down, and the whole process starts all over again and I feel defeated that I will never get rid of these feelings. The temptation is constantly there and relapse is just a click away.”

Relapse is a common struggle for anyone in recovery, but the problem often seems compounded by the need to use the computer while in recovery from cybersexual addiction. The relapse process is especially difficult for the cybersex addict due to the stop-start relapse cycle. The cycle is an internal dialogue that serves to maintain the compulsive behavior.

    Rationalization – Users will rationalize that cybersex serves as a “treat” from a long, hard day of work often making self-statements such as, “Just a few minutes won’t hurt,” “I can control my net use,” or “I am right here at the computer, what the heck?” The user will try to justify the need to look at a few pictures or chat for a few minutes, but they soon discover that time slips by and the behavior is not so easily contained.

•    Regret – After the cybersexual experience, the users experience a period of deep regret. Once they climax, the addict feels guilt or shame for the behavior such as, “I feel guilty for how this is hurting my wife” or “I can’t believe I wasted all this time,” or “I am a horrible person for what I just did.”

•    Abstinence – The addict views the behavior as a personal failure of willpower and promises never to do it again, and a short period of abstinence follows. During this time, the addict temporarily engages in healthy patterns of behavior, resumes interests in old hobbies, spends more time with his family, exercises, and gets enough rest.

•    Relapse – The addict in recovery feels tempted to return to the computer during stressful or emotionally charged moments. They begin to crave and miss cybersex. They tell themselves that cybersex is the best way to relax and feel good about themselves. Or they begin not to care about the consequences. They remember how good cybersex felt both sexually and emotionally, and they forget how bad they felt afterwards. The rationalization period starts again and the cycle repeats itself.

How does an addict kick the cybersex habit when he or she needs to be on the computer for work? How can the addict stop abusing when relapse is just a mouse click away? Similar to programs that address overeating and food addiction, the addict will need to learn how to make healthy, positive choices about his or her Internet use because complete abstinence isn’t always possible in today’s technological world. There are two basic principles to follow:

Principle One: Learn to moderate legitimate use of the Internet.
Principle Two: Abstain from all contact with sexual material online.

As in food addiction, certain types of food trigger binge behavior. Let’s say chocolate or potato chips will trigger binge behavior but celery sticks will not, so avoidance of those “trigger” foods is a necessary part of recovery. Recovery from food addiction is about relearning how to eat in order to make more informed and healthier food selections, with success being measured through objective goals such as changes in caloric intake and weight loss.

To address cybersexual abuse and addictive behavior, the same basic steps are applied. First, it is important to determine the Internet activities, situations, and emotions that are most likely to trigger net binges. A particular chat room, a certain time of day, or the mood you are in just before you go online may all serve as “triggers” that will lead to inappropriate conduct and abuse. Recovery means relearning how to use the Internet in order to make better choices about time spent online, with success being measured through objective, measurable time management goals and abstinence requirements that are achieved and maintained. Goals should include a reduction in the number of hours you spend online in total, the ability to maintain abstinence from adult online content, and an increase in other offline activities.

Second, the addict must abstain from sexual material online. In this case, it means removing all the bookmarks and favorites leading to these sites, adding filters that prohibit sexual material from getting through the browser, or possibly changing the entire Internet Service Provider (ISP) system to one that is family friendly. These family friendly ISPs stop sexual content from the server end, so there is less chance of relapse. This has been found to be the most effective way to dealing with the addiction.

Related articles:
Super-sizing Sex
The Double Bind of Sex Addiction
Sex Addiction is a Relational Disorder

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kimberly Young, PsyD, therapist in Bradford, Pennsylvania

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Nancy

    February 23rd, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    Are you telling me that these men are claiming to have an addiction to this? Please- it is a way of legitimizing behavior that they know is wrong, and the excuse that they have come up with is that they are now addicted to it. That really burns me up- why can’t they just be faithful the way that most women are? And if they can’t be faithful then own up to it and quit making stupid excuses for that kind of little boy behavior.

  • Bodhiket

    February 23rd, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Nancy, maybe you should educate yourself before making such harsh and uninformed judgments. We all have our own forms of addictions, some of them minor and some major. Look into your own life and see what you can’t let go of.

  • Nancy

    February 24th, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    I can assure you that the things in my own life that I find that I need are not as sad as having to have online cybersex

  • Kay

    February 24th, 2012 at 8:36 PM

    Seems like addiction to pornography and related topics like cybersex are finally coming to the fore.Most people I’m sure are still hiding the fact or do not acknowledge that they suffer from an addiction.I feel I am a part of this group too,I just hope I can probably get some help and finally get over this.

  • TravGood

    February 25th, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    I am not necessarily proud to say this but I am a married man, pretty happily too, but I have been to these chat rooms and have sought cybersex just kind of for the thrill of it. I am in no way addicted to this and I love my own wife very much, but still there is somethign about the secrecy about this along with a little bit of a high that there is nothing else that can replicate that. I know that my wife would probably leave me if she even thought that I was roaming around online like this, but I just feel like if she does not know then it will not hurt her or me either one. It is not like this takes away from our own sex life, if anything I think that it adds to it.

  • Lizz

    February 26th, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    What is so wrong with porn in the first place? My boyfriend and I look at it together all of the time and it spices up our relationship, does not put a damper on it. I guess I can see how it would get some women down if you are not confident in yourself and your relationship but if you are then there is not anything that you have to worry about. Use what you see and read for inspiration!

  • Dakota

    February 27th, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    What about site blockers? Do those work?

  • Andy

    March 4th, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    As a married man who also has a wife and family he loves very much I got a particularly ironic laugh at TravGood’s comments. He is a textbook addict and hypocrite. I’m sorta kinda ashamed of this, maybe, but I love the thrill of going to cybersex chatrooms. I am no way addicted, but the secrecy of the cybersex gives him “a little bit” of a high that can’t be replicated. His wife would leave him if she found out and yet he won’t stop. What she doesn’t know won’t… etc. etc. Replace the word cybersex with, say, heroin, and I’d say he was a classic addict. Am I saying I’ve never looked at online porn? No, I’m not a hypocrite. A picture now and then but no chatrooms. My wife has had some serious depression issues and has not been interested in sex in a long time. But I don’t make any bones about how shabby, pathetic and dishonest the whole thing is. TravGood, you need to man up, quit lying to yourself and deal with whatever issues you have going on in your life. If you believed that what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her you wouldn’t have posted an anonymous confessional to a cybersex addiction site in the first place, yes?

  • Phil

    October 2nd, 2014 at 4:38 AM

    I’m a young guy, fresh out of college. I always felt that cybersex addiction was one of those “old people are conservative and fear technology and sex” things. Saddened to say how wrong I was. My best friend just won’t stop. He lies and manipulates everyone around him just so he can continue his stupid online addictions. He, 25 years old, “ran away from home” to sit in Starbucks and McDonald’s alternatively to cyber. He’s a dangerous combination of childishly immature and deviously manipulative.
    So yeah. If you feel the need to defend your cybersex, just know even if you don’t have am addiction, there are plenty of people who are. :/

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