Even while previewing seemingly harmless sites on the Internet – such as cooking or exercising – millions of people can get strange pop-up requests with requests to “cyber.” For those that reply with a “yes,” they may be introduced – and potentially hooked, and then consumed – on cybersex, part of the “unspecified” sexual disorders included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
Cybersex is a rapidly growing form of sexual addiction that can cause a person tremendous harm to their personal relationships, their employment and their mental health. Addiction specialists such as Dr. George McDermott reflect many experts’ opinions that the subject is hard to address, and quite complex to work through.
During cybersex, a person engages in explicit and sexual conversations or chats online, often while engaging in the act of masturbation. Cybersex can seem harmless to those who participate, and they may believe it’s less harmful than pornography. However, research indicates that spouses believe cybersex is just as emotionally serious and painful as if their husband or wife committed an affair, and many families are destroyed because of an addiction to cybersex.
While the phrase cybersex is listed in the DSM-IV, and is included as an area of specialty at many sexual addiction treatment programs, it is listed as a non-specific sexual disorder and is the source of debate concerning its addictive properties. Dr. Reid Finlayson, Vanderbilt University, created a research plan to use fMRI imaging to look at which parts of the brain were excited during periods of sexual arousal in an effort to learn more about why some people become addicted to cybersex and some do not. The project, however, experienced barriers in encouraging people to participate and in receiving adequate funding.
Other experts, like Dr. Jennifer Schneider, psychiatrist and author, says cybersex is particularly dangerous because it can rapidly lure in someone who has never had any kind of Internet addiction before. The financial cost is low, the rewards seem immediate and it’s available around-the-clock – causing cybersex to be compared to some types of addictive street drugs.
Like addictions to alcohol or drugs, or other forms of dysfunctional sexual materials or behaviors, a cybersex addict may need more and more of the action to get the expected “high” – until they neglect their families, jobs and other responsibilities to acquire more cybersex encounters. Once the addiction phase is reached, the person may be unable to stop their behavior without professional intervention. They may seem socially withdrawn, and their response to a friend or family member intervening can include high levels of agitation or anger.
As with many types of sexual addiction, cybersex can be quickly consuming to people because most keep their problem hidden. Sexual addictions are often perceived to be associated with socially unacceptable behaviors such as the use of child pornography or other bizarre sexual acts. For these reasons, many who are addicted to cybersex refuse to admit the problem exists until it has become all-consuming.
Experts agree that the problem of cybersex addiction is not easy to address, but that talking about it with family members and then seeking professional guidance can help bring the person closer to a healthy, addiction-free life and restore their relationships.