ABC’s 20/20 Interview With Psychosexual Therapist About Cybersex Addiction |

Question: Can you explain the phenomenon of the growth of cybersex in the last ten years?Answer:
The cybersex phenomenon is the sexual revolution of the 60’s re-emerged to the 1000th degree because now the hottest sex in town can be found on a laptop computer. In only the last five years, the birth of a new electronic sexual revolution has been silently taking place and we are witnessing the birth of a new disorder that affects people who have no history of sexual compulsion. Cybersex offers new dimensions in sexual satisfaction as we now have instantaneous access to almost any type of sexual content imaginable. It’s become the biggest porn shop in the world. Recent studies suggest that there are nationally over 300,000 people addicted to cybersex. Millions of people spend significant amounts of time each day lost in the world of pornography, fantasy role-play chat rooms where online partners hook up to discuss sexual fantasies and fetishes almost instantaneously, live sex in front of webcams, steaming adult videos, newsgroups, and unfortunately, child pornography.Unlike any medium before it, we now have a tool that unleashes sexuality in a way that has been traditionally kept abated through censorship. The computer offers us an unlimited smorgasbord of sexual feasts. Anything else goes. No topics are off limits-bestiality, radical S&M, transvestitism, live sex shows and kiddie porn, to name a few, proliferate the net.The power of the Net is accounted for by a number of parameters. The first is that it provides anonymity: Your coworkers and friends won’t see you at the strip club or purchasing pornography at the local newsstand. On the Net, people are known only through screen names or made-up handles. This is a world of fake identities and personas where one can engage in bold sexual fantasies without anyone knowing.The second is accessibility. Websites are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s always under your nose. No trips to the bookstores or newsstands that close at a particular time. Distance to get your “porn hit” is no longer a problem.Third is diversity. With hundreds of new adult sites added each day to the millions that already exist, your deepest, most bold, most “perverse” desires are waiting to be sated on the internet. These kinds of satisfactions are rarely available in real life. A person can get a particular, customized sexual rush from his deepest, diverse fantasies without risk.Affordability is another factor that fuels use. For anyone on a budget, cybersex provides a low-cost means to a sexual high. Prostitutes, phone sex, and pornography are expensive.Finally, the ultimate factor that feeds cybersex addiction: Fantasy. It’s a perfect opportunity for people to develop sexual fantasies and objectify others without fear of rejection. You can choose the ideal partner in an ideal situation. The user is free to become part of the fantasy without responsibility, consequence or rejection. This is a faceless and nameless community fueled by fantasy. The user is free to imagine or project the qualities of the “perfect” person on the other side of the computer. These are people who feel dissatisfied with life and people as they are, and are always in search of perfection. If one chat buddy isn’t right, click the mouse and you have access to a new holder of your fantasy projections. You can also use the computer to conjure up a fantasized image of who you are. One’s imperfections magically disappear without having to do the hard work of change.Question: What is the difference between printed pornography and cyberporn?Answer:
Regular pornography leaves you vulnerable to being found out, and is not anonymous in that you have to go to public places to buy it. The fantasy potential is limited to what the publisher presents to you. In addition, regular porn is not interactive whereas cybersex gives the illusion that you are not alone and are sharing your sexual fantasies with others.Question: What is the difference between regular sex addiction and cybersex addiction?Answer:
Regular sex addiction has a slightly different dynamic that cybersex. Sex addicts want human contact without connection. They want to be in bed with a prostitute who will satisfy their sexual and sometimes emotional needs. People addicted to phone sex usually ask for the same woman, so they have the illusion that there’s a person out there who knows their needs and doesn’t judge them. Cybersex, on the other hand, offers an intense sexual high with no real human interaction. It also offers more diversity – anything is possible – any fantasy, fetish, pseudo-interaction with a fantasy woman/man/child is within reach with the push of a button.Question: What are the warning signs? How does a person know when he’s reaching the threshold of addiction? How much is too much? Answer:
I guess the question is what defines a cybersex “addict” vs. a recreational user or someone who uses the net to explore his/her own sexuality as a way of exploration and experimentation. I had a patient who said it very simply: “I could not bring myself to stop despite knowing all the horrid consequences of my actions.” A classic definition of addiction is: inability to discontinue use despite adverse consequences.” The signposts to addiction are distinctive: a person becomes pre-occupied with getting on the net and walks around in a trance-like “erotic haze”. If denied access for too long, he becomes irritable and panicky. He goes on the net to stay for an hour and five pass by. I had a patient who took a day off from work and spent 14 hours on the net. As addicts spend an increasing amount of time on the computer, he begins to lose interest in other people…children, spouse, good friends. He lies about his behavior, saying she’s staying in the den until 3:00am paying bills. Staying up until all hours, the addict rolls into bed after his spouse is asleep and gets up a few hours later to go to work.Now he’s sleep deprived which contributes to depression and lost productivity on the job. Often, despite the fact that he knows the company techs are monitoring his computer, he continues surfing while at work, often getting fired. Careers are ruined.He begins to use the Net to self-medicate: to escape feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, failure and social alienation. Cybersex activities begin to surpass all other interests. His judgment may be so clouded that he begins to traffic in illegal (child) porn which results in legal problems.Now spouse and children are emotionally neglected. When his entire sex life begins to revolve around a computer where he can get what he wants when he wants it without having to be reciprocal, sex becomes a narcissistic endeavor rather than a shared, intimate activity with a loved one. He begins to lose interest in real sex with a real person because it doesn’t match the thrills he gets on the Net. This usually has devastating emotional impact on the spouse. Now, in addition to ruined careers, there are ruined marriages.The bottom of the well of cybersex addiction is helplessness, hopelessness, financial ruin, isolation from the human community and self-hatred.Question: How, exactly, is it that addicts are able to stay on the computer for up to 14 hours a day?Answer:
The compulsion to stay on the net for hours at a time is based somewhat on a biological factor, as well, of course on psychological factors. Biologically, a sexual idea, urge or fantasy releases serotonin and dopamine into the brain resulting in a euphoric high, or “the erotic haze”. The state is an extremely pleasurable one – tantamount to an alcoholic taking his third drink. That’s why I always suggest that new patients consult a doctor about possible medication for depression and/or adult attention deficit disorder. These are the conditions that addicts are usually seeking to self-medicate with the “erotic haze.” In my experience, the right medication can help to mediate a ceaseless preoccupation with sex and can also help the person to begin to control his impulses.Question: Why depression and ADD?Answer:
Being in the “erotic haze” is the best anti-depressant around. As I mentioned before, sexual fantasies release chemicals into the system that make the person feel enlivened, awake, aware, cohesive, motivated and alive. The addict is the person who uses sex to achieve self-cohesion and self-identity. The non-addictive person experiences some of these feelings but during and after sex, but doesn’t use sexuality to confirm or validate the self.Adult ADD and cybersex addiction is an interesting phenomenon. About a third of my clients have been diagnosed with adult ADD. This is almost a separate story – the connection between ADD and sex addiction. Suffice it to say, the adult ADD client suffers from restlessness, hyperactivity, and distractiveness and often uses hypersexuality to self-medicate these symptoms.Question: That explains the biological factors. What about the psychological reasons for cybersex addiction?Answer:
Psychologically, the trance-like “erotic haze” is so enticing and so need fulfilling, it becomes a drug-like state. This euphoric state produces a state of mind where you can maintain the illusion that “you can have it all.” Perfection exists. The people who populate the cyberworld are perfect people who have none of the flaws of the people in real life. Depression, anxiety, self-doubt, boredom, loneliness, marital problems, perceived sexual/social inadequacies, stress from the office, all disappear like magic. You don’t have to do the work of developing self-esteem or enhancing relationships, compromising, dealing with frustration or disappointment. All personal growth stops as sexual pleasure provides the only meaning in life. Other values and morals fall to the wayside, giving sway to the euphoria of living in the “erotic haze.” Not being subject to the limitations of reality, there’s no necessity to compromise. One lives in a world of exquisite sexual fulfillment of life-long fantasies with none of the vulnerability of rejection and failure. It’s a regression to the infantile self where all needs are magically met with no self-responsibility.Question: What is “regression to an infantile state”?Answer:
I have found that people who use sex compulsively do so because of early-life real or perceived traumas. Compulsive sexuality, be it regular sex addiction, cybersex addiction, fetishes, cross-dressing, or what-have-you, is the result of an unconscious impulse to “undo” the early trauma. But this is the stuff of the actual treatment.Question: Is there a sense of shame associated with having a secret life?Answer:
Of course, there’s shame about lying to the people you love about such an important part of your life. There’s a sense of fraudulence.But shame goes deeper than that. People who keep secrets have a “secret life”. We know this breading the newspaper about accomplished, intelligent leaders who are discovered to have two different sides of their personalities. A “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” syndrome develops where the person compartmentalizes some behaviors from others and is actually lying to himself. The result is a split in the personality and the loss of integrity about living as the person you really are. The sense of being a whole person is eroded. Furthermore, people know that cybersex is a self-devaluing, rather than a self-enhancing behavior. Gradually this lowers one’s sense of self worth and diminishes the capacity for intimacy, adding to social isolation and shame.The culture has yet to set guidelines about what’s appropriate cybersex conduct. In the meantime, people have to listen to their own inner voices about moral choices. Is an internet affair really an affair? Of course people, at least unconsciously, acknowledge that they’re breaking their own moral codes. I hear the shame in my patients every day. “I’m just a piece of turd”. “What if the soccer moms knew what a pervert I am?” “I’m disgusting to myself.” Perhaps the price paid in self-esteem is the most damaging part of cybersex addiction.Question: What about the effects on the family?Answer:
There are powerful and adverse consequences to those whose partner has become compulsively involved in cybersex. As a person gets more caught in the web of cybersex, one of the primary effects on the rest of the family is the loss of time with that person. He spends less time with family, more time in the “den”, paying bills, slithering into bed in the wee hours to get only a few hours of sleep. He can appear anxious, frustrated and angry when he can’t get on the web. He stops being interested in having sex with her. He feels distant when making love. He may blame his wife for not being good in bed or ask his partner to participate in sexual activities that she finds repulsive.The spouse can feel that their partners are drifting away but they don’t know why. She feels like she’s living with a stranger. She often doesn’t know how to behave. Feelings of hurt, betrayal, rejection, abandonment, devastation, loneliness, shame, isolation, humiliation, jealousy, anger, uncertainty, confusion and loss of self-esteem are typical. Often, spouses of addicts compare themselves unfavorably with the online women and they feel hopeless about being able to compete. She begins to live on an emotional rollercoaster. She may discover hidden emails, or get a credit card for a porno website. Evenings are spent alone. She may start to respond “co dependently” – trying to be “good enough”, trying to seduce him away from the computer, becoming an obsessed detective on the computer. She starts with rationalization to save her sanity: “At least he’s not drinking”; “Well, it’s a computer, not a real person”; “Men will be men.” She blames herself; she starts withdrawing from friends and family. She loses herself in her partner’s addiction and may even eventually accept her partner’s sexual norms as her own.
Websites such as “Cyberwidows”, S-Anon, or COSA give support to spouses of cyber addicts.The impact on children is also devastating. A premature exposure to pornography and especially to deviant sex can influence a child’s healthy love and sexual development. A home in which the possibility for access and exposure to sexual sites creates a sexualized energy that permeates the house and will effect the child’s psycho/sexual development.Also, the child may get involved in parental conflicts, may be emotionally and sometimes physically neglected and the child may have to endure the intense feelings associated with feelings about parental divorce. Children of sex addicts often become addicts themselves.Question: What types of sites do men prefer vs. what women prefer? Also, what is the difference between the way men and women use internet sexual activity?In an article inSexual Addiction and Compulsivity, a survey revealed that 77% of men liked porn, 26% engaged in real-time sexual activities and 46% spent time in chat rooms.For women, only 10% looked at pornography, but an astonishing 80% of the women reported using the chat rooms, and 80% said that chat-room activities led to actual sexual encounters.So what does this tell us? While most of the cybersex addicts I treat are men who use the net to fulfill fantasies in their heads, there exists a wellspring of women who abuse the internet. The difference between men and women is that women use the net to set up actual meetings with men, usually with the unconscious hope of romantic involvement. Men stay anonymous.