Frequently Asked Questions about Cybersex Addiction
By Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S
Q: I spend many hours a week involved in online cybersex and checking out social networks for sex/relationship partners; I enjoy every moment. How do I know if I might have an addiction?
If you repeatedly spend more time on online looking for sex and love than you intend, if you continue this despite significant negative consequences in your life (examples: risking loss of relationships, job, health problems, time away from loved ones, recreation, or viewing illegal porn), and if you are obsessed or preoccupied with these activities when you should be focused on other aspects of your life, then you likely have an addiction or related problem. Research suggests that those addicted to online sex or those with online pornography addiction spend at least 11 or 12 hours a week on the Internet, but often it’s double or triple that amount of time.
Q: The cybersex activities I most often engage in are masturbation with pornography. Can this be a part of sex addiction?
Yes. Compulsive masturbation with or without pornography and compulsive viewing of porn with or without masturbation both present long-standing problems for many cybersex addicts. Whether it is through cybersex, phone sex lines, social networks, videos, smartphones, porn magazines, or simply through fantasy, sex addicts can lose hours daily to the isolating activities of fantasy and masturbation. Loss of control, continuation despite negative life consequences, and preoccupation or obsession with the activity are the defining characteristics of any addiction.
Q: If alcoholics and drug addicts define “being sober” by not drinking or using mind altering chemicals, how does a cybersex addict define sobriety – abstaining from sex altogether?
Fortunately, no. Sobriety for cybersex addicts consists of avoiding the sexual and cybersexual activities that cause the addict to feel shameful, hold secrets, or stop activities that are illegal or abusive. Cybersex addicts may also have to avoid nonsexual Internet activities such as surfing the Web or just spending lots of time alone with the computer because it can lead them back to cybersex activities.
Q: My wife caught me several months ago in online cybersex/romantic chats and porn viewing. Although I’ve gotten help for my problem and have not acted out sexually since that time, she continues to be distant, critical, angry, and mistrustful.
Most partners feel betrayed and emotionally abandoned when either through disclosure or discovery they learn of their spouse’s online sexual activities, even if a real-life affair has not occurred. Rebuilding trust takes time. Give your partner space and understanding to express his or her hurt and anger without trying to avoid, dismiss, or make it different. In time things will improve. Consider couples counseling, or attending a couples’ support group to help work through the rough times. SRI also offers couples treatment.
Q: I have a larger sexual appetite than my partner, so for years to satisfy myself I’ve been involved in affairs, both online and offline; use porn; and regularly receive sensual massages. Is this really a problem?
Part of what determines whether someone is a sex addict is not just looking at the person’s sexual behaviors, but also at how he or she is living his or her life. Many sex addicts constantly lie to their partners, keep sexual secrets, and find ways to justify their sexual behaviors. How does your current sex life affect your sense of integrity and your own personal values or belief systems? Have you risked your marriage or primary relationship, your job, or your health in order to maintain access to your sexual activities? Try not having sex at all for 30 days. If you cannot maintain this commitment to yourself, you may have a problem. Think seriously about how your life would change if your spouse saw you engaged in these secret sexual behaviors – or better, run that by a friend –that will likely answer your question quickly.
Q: I am a married woman and my time online is mostly spent in sex and romance chats. I’ve had brief offline affairs with some of these men. I am afraid and embarrassed to ask for help. I think I am a sex addict and I really struggle with this.
There are many women sex addicts. Unfortunately, while our society often rewards men for excessive sexual behavior, it simultaneously punishes and devalues women for the same activities. No wonder it is so difficult for women to come forth and admit they have a problem. About 60 years ago or so when AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) was getting started, most of those meetings were male dominated. Alcoholics were assumed to be males, usually found drunk in back-alleys and half-way houses. Of course, now we know there were many women alcoholics. Increasingly, 12 step sexual addiction recovery programs are welcoming women. It is essential that women in sexual recovery seek out and find the fellowship of other recovering women to share their stories and reduce the stigma of being a woman with this problem. Part of the problem is that most women don’t identify as having a “sex” problem or sexual addiction. Women will more frequently relate to having relationship, love, or marital problems even though they may be engaging in addictive sexual activity. There are increasingly more books to read, more support groups to attend –both online and live – that help women to address their sex and relationship problems. There is no shame in checking these out to see if they are a fit for you.
Q. My partner and I haven’t had sex in many months. I suspect he’s spending nights viewing pornography online, and maybe hooking-up with strangers met on his smart-phone for sex. I asked him about this, and he denied it. I’m sick at heart, but I just don’t know what to do.
Whether or not your partner is indeed engaging in sexually addictive behavior, your relationship is clearly in trouble. Go together for couples treatment, preferably with a counselor who is knowledgeable about how the Internet can affect relationships. If your spouse is unwilling to go with you, then it is even more likely that he is hiding some behavior. In this case, it would be helpful for you to see a counselor alone in order to sort out your options. You might also consider joining an online support group for partners of sex addicts. The only requirement for membership in these groups is that you are being affected by someone else’s sexual behavior. These days, sexual addiction is a major topic of discussion in the online support groups.
Q. After the intensity and novelty of acting out with porn or cybersex, can sex with an ordinary long-term partner ever be just as good?
Consistent involvement with any intensity-based sexual experience (porn, prostitutes, or affairs) gives the participant a high that cannot be repeated in the course of healthy relating. But online sex addiction has many drawbacks as well, and the price can be exorbitant. Alone with only the computer for company, cybersex participants are in fact isolated from real human contact. Cybersex objectifies participants and reduces them to body parts. Real-life sex with a committed partner can evolve into an intimacy that is very different than sex with an image on a screen. But real intimacy takes dedicated work, communication, and play – for any addict it is always going to seem easier to pick up the phone, the computer, or a stranger for instant gratification than struggle with the messy unpredictability of an intimate relationship. The rewards for that intimate relationship are far greater than you get with sexually addictive behaviors.