When Sex on the Internet Becomes an Addiction

Dianova dedicates a series of articles to non-substance related addictions; today's article addresses the various forms of sex addiction through the Internet

Read article: Internet Addiction, Fact or Fad?

According to search engines statistics, the word "sex" and all its variants appears to be one of the top ten most popular keywords of internet users. Alone, it accounts for more search engine requests than the words music, games, travel, car, health and weather put together.

Activities of a sexual nature abound on the Internet … Firstly we may find websites with pornographic videos or pictures – these contents being referred to as cyberporn, which is characterized by the absence of a direct relationship between partners – while, at the other end of the spectrum, new technologies allow people to have a genuine, computer-assisted sexuality – some sort of remote sex made possible by the use of special bodysuits, headgears and gloves allowing people to engage in tactile sexual relations with partners they will never meet in real life – the latter activities being referred to as cybersex.

In between, the World Wide Web is swarming with all kinds of sex offers, from websites specializing in adultery dating, to societies providing their customers with striptease live shows or other sex games accessible by webcam, and online messaging services or discussions forums where sex enthusiasts enjoy the opportunity to meet partners, exchange explicit pictures or show off through their webcams.

A revolution in sexual pleasure?

The Internet has become a sort of sex supermarket for all libertine couples, hedonists or singles in search of new thrills. The sensual and sexual games of cybersex have a liberating function: discrete, because practiced under a pseudonym, these activities allow the user to meet partners from most diverse backgrounds and walks of life, and above all, to satisfy multiple fantasies without the difficulties and consequences of meeting people in real life.

Within the time of an online relationship, this shy woman may become sexually domineering, while that successful businessman may turn into a docile, obedient slave. In short, cybersex is often a good way to spice up one's sex life. For the majority of cybersex enthusiasts, these activities pose no real problem, as long as they are carried out between consenting adults and within the limits of legality.

When addiction is installed

When addiction is installedProblems arise with  inadequate use. For cybersex lovers and pornography aficionados – most of whom are men although women may also be involved – discovering this kind of websites is the cause of a great excitement which tends to fade rapidly. According to a study published in the journal "Sexual Addiction & compulsivity" in the US, 1 percent of these men's interest will eventually turn into real addiction: they will spend more and more time on these sites, sometimes up to twenty hours per week, with negative consequences on their social life, family and work.

Those addicted to cyberpornography share characteristics common to most dependencies. The tolerance phenomenon, which induces drug users to take higher doses of their drug to get the same level of response achieved initially, translates into their searching for more intense experiences, sometimes prohibited by law, and their being disappointed vis-à-vis regular sexual relations with their spouse, or even to their completely forsaking any "normal" sexual intercourse.

These men are under a compulsion to visit porn sites and masturbate up to 15 times a day, causing injuries and fatigue. According to the aforementioned study, 34% of those affected have stopped all sexual relationship with their spouse for months or even years.

Cybersex or cyberpornography addiction involves a sexually-motivated behavior which is made possible through the Internet, as a instrument. Unlike other addictive behaviors, such as substance-related disorders or pathological gambling, cybersex addiction has not been officially recognized. According to experts, this type of dependency is simply akin to regular sexual addictions, first described in the 80s, that is to say all of compulsive sexual behaviors and troubles related to a disorder of emotional control.

Sexual addictions consist of a number of behavioral symptoms including a high frequency of sex, compulsive masturbations, resorting to pornography through movies or attendance to sex-shops, and avoidance of emotionally-binding relationships; or emotional symptoms such as obsessive thoughts, feelings of guilt and shame vis-à-vis one's spouse, feelings of worthlessness or helplessness when facing the sexual act.


The American study quoted before also mentions that 98% of patients had experienced sexual problems with their spouse before developing their addiction. This is when the addiction cycle is settling: the person is consuming more and more Internet sex to overcome his difficulties, then he develops an addiction problem which eventually makes him neglect his spouse and his social or professional life, which in turn contribute to increase his guilt and self-hatred… that he will be capable of relieving only through online porn.

Should we prohibit or educate?

Edouard Levé: "Pornography" - argentic print, 70x70The Internet has opened up a new, positive space for sexual non-conformists and a new terrain of very "safe sex".

At the same time, the Internet has also played a leading role in what some call the "mainstreaming of pornography", the movement of porn from the darkest corners of society into millions of homes.

The accessibility of online pornography raises many issues:

 On the one hand, online pornography is influencing the sexuality of an increasing number of adolescents who depict themselves as "hooked" to online porn and complain about erectile dysfunction and an inability to maintain sexual relationships in real life. On the other hand, some argue it is impossible to partake in online pornography without indirectly supporting sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Many voices argue for censorship or online porn, at least partial censorship. However unless we choose to ban all porn contents from the world wide web – a solution which has been carried out in dictatorial countries only – only can we prohibit certain websites, i.e. those displaying illicit contents, only to see them reappear under a different name, in another country.

Pornography is one of the byproducts of democracy. We must combat its most harmful consequences, such as addiction problems, with the weapons of democracy. Education is one of them. We should opt for advancing better cultural education about licit and illicit sex industries, the diverse, complex consequences of consuming pornography, and the hypersexualization of our society. Only through education shall we be capable of managing an ever growing phenomenon

Read article: Internet Addiction, Fact or Fad?