Understanding Cybersex Addiction

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By Scott Brassart

In today’s increasingly digital world, we can’t avoid the use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other internet-enabled devices. And with this technology comes easy, affordable, mostly anonymous access to pornography, webcams, sexting, sexualized social media, hookup apps, virtual reality sex performers, sex-driven video games, and lots of other sexnology.

For the majority of people, this is not an issue. They’re either not interested or they’re able to experiment and play with sexnology without becoming addicted or experiencing negative consequences – just as most folks can have a cocktail or go to the casino without major problems. However, for individuals vulnerable to addiction and other psychological disorders, usually thanks to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, cybersex behaviors can be as slippery and dangerous as alcohol, drugs, gambling, and other potentially addictive substances and behaviors.

Even worse, cybersex addiction is very much on the rise. With every new advance in digital technology, more and wider varieties of people are challenged by compulsive sexual behavior. As digital technology has increased our ability to easily, affordably, and anonymously access sexual content and contacts, sexual addiction has proliferated. Today, it would be difficult to find even one active sex addict for whom cybersex behaviors are not an integral part of the addiction. And many sex addicts engage in their addictive behaviors entirely (or almost entirely) online. Many younger sex addicts say (often with a considerable amount of shame) that they’ve never been sexual in-the-flesh.

Porn is unquestionably the most common manifestation of cybersex addiction. It’s free, it’s endlessly available in every ilk imaginable, and it’s easy to hide the use of it. Even a serious porn addiction is relatively easy to cover up. That said, pornography is only the tip of the cybersex iceberg. The amount and variety of online sexual content, contacts, and behaviors is practically endless, with new sexnologies (and therefore new forms of cybersexual activity) arising almost daily.

Behaviors commonly engaged in by cybersex addicts include (but are not even remotely limited to) the following:

  • Online pornography, with or without masturbation
  • Casual hookups via apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Ashley Madison
  • Sexting
  • Webcamming (usually mutual masturbation or some type of sexual performance)
  • Prostitution (both online and real-world) via hookup apps and dating sites
  • Communicating with live performers
  • VR sex games

In the last few years, hookup apps have become, for many cybersex addicts, every bit as problematic as pornography. Dr. Robert Weiss, in his book Sex Addiction 101, says hookup apps are the equivalent of crack cocaine for sex addicts, fueling both intense sexual fantasies and opportunities for sexual interaction with real people (both online and real-world). Many cybersex addicts have profiles on numerous hookup apps and stay logged in almost constantly. Often, they find themselves flirting and exchanging imagery and/or webcamming with multiple people on multiple apps at the same time – searching for the next or a better sexual encounter before they’re even done with the current sexual encounter.

For the most part, the basics of sex addiction are the same whether the addiction takes place online, in real life, or both. As such, cybersex addiction is in most respects a subset of sexual addiction, though some people, especially those who act out their addiction primarily or exclusively with pornography, struggle to self-identify as sex addicts because they’re not having ‘actual sex.’ That said, using the basic criteria that we rely on to diagnose sexual addiction, they certainly qualify.

  • Preoccupation to the point of obsession with sexual fantasy and behavior
  • Loss of control of the use of sexual fantasy and behavior (generally evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back)
  • Negative consequences related to the out-of-control use of sexual fantasy and behavior

If, however, individuals who engage in compulsive sexual behaviors mostly online wish to self-identify as cybersex addicts or porn addicts rather than sex addicts, that is their prerogative. The challenges of the addiction – lost relationships, trouble at work/school, depression, diminished self-esteem, etc. – are the same either way.