The symptoms of cybersex addiction overlap with a generally addictive and dysfunctional pattern of Internet use, according to new findings from a team of French researchers. Cybersex addiction is an informal term sometimes used to describe cases of sex addiction that center on dysfunctional consumption of pornography or other sex-related resources accessed through the Internet. In a study scheduled for publication in July 2015 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers from France’s Center of Studies and Research in Psychopathology sought to differentiate general cases of addiction to Internet use from specific cases of cybersex addiction or other forms of behavioral addiction that can be supported through Internet use. These researchers concluded that people who use the Internet to support specific forms of addiction often have traits that contribute to a generalized Internet addiction.
A person affected by sex addiction has an unhealthy, recurring and life-disrupting relationship to at least one form of sexual activity, sexual fantasy or sex-related thinking. Common indicators of such a relationship include the use of sex as a shield against dealing with unwanted or unpleasant emotions, a lack of effective restraint on the time spent on sexual activity or sexual thought/fantasy, increasing involvement in sex-related behaviors that may or may not bring pleasure and purposeful concealment of sexual thought, fantasy or behavior from friends of loved ones. Doctors in the U.S. lack a standard definition for sex addiction and commonly rely on any one of a range of screening tools to identify the condition in their patients. A person with cybersex addiction relies on widely available access to the graphics-heavy Internet to carry out dysfunctional involvement in sexual fantasy, thought or behavior. Potential indicators of the condition include frequent accessing of Internet-based sources of pornography, loss of control over the amount of time spent on online sexual pursuits, sex-related use of the Internet in inappropriate circumstances (e.g., while working or at school), frequent downloading of pornography accessed on the Internet and the use of Internet sites that feature illegal forms of pornography. As is true with sex addiction in general, doctors commonly rely on screening tools to distinguish people affected by cybersex addiction from people who suffer no ill effects from their consumption of Internet-based sexual material.
Like sex addiction and cybersex addiction, Internet addiction has no single definition in the U.S. However, the American Psychiatric Association has asked researchers from around the world to probe the accuracy of a proposed condition called Internet gaming disorder, which centers on some of the likely core symptoms of addictive Internet use. Examples of these symptoms include a demonstrated inability to keep Internet use within predetermined time limits, a preoccupation with Internet-related matters while taking part in other aspects of daily life, reliance on Internet use as a means of avoiding unwanted emotional states and a self-perceived need to spend increasing amounts of time on the Internet. Internet gaming disorder addresses these symptoms in the context of games played over an Internet connection.
Overlap in Forms of Addiction
In the study published in Computers in Human Behavior, the French researchers used data collected from 378 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 to explore the connection between a general addiction to Internet use and cybersex addiction and other specific forms of behavioral addiction that rely on Internet use or can be supported by Internet use. Examples of the other forms of addiction under consideration include gambling addiction (officially known in the U.S. as gambling disorder), shopping addiction, gaming addiction and social media addiction. All of the study participants took a questionnaire designed to generally identify an addiction to the Internet. They also took additional questionnaires designed to specifically identify cybersex addiction and the other addictive behaviors. The researchers concluded that there is a significant connection between generally addictive Internet use and Internet use in the service of cybersex addiction or other specific forms of non-substance-based addiction. In many cases, the presence of a specific addiction helps set the stage for generally dysfunctional involvement in Internet use. The researchers also concluded that the strength of the connections between specific forms of behavioral addiction and generally addictive use of the Internet can vary considerably between younger and older adults, as well as between men and women. They point toward a need for additional research on the links between Internet addiction in the abstract and specific reasons for addictive Internet access.