Everything You Wanted to Know About Cybersex Addiction

But Were Afraid to Ask

Girl sitting on bed with computer in her underwear
Cybersex can involve real time sexual interactions. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Cybersex addiction, or internet sex addiction,is a growing phenomenon. Cybersex addiction is a combination of sex addiction and internet addiction, which can develop when people compulsively use the internet for sexual gratification.

The internet has provided a new way for people to access pornographic images and to meet potential sexual partners in ways that would be difficult and labor-intensive any other way.

This has lead to people who might never have otherwise become addicted to either the internet, or to sex, to become embroiled in all the difficulties of both kinds of addiction. Unlike many other forms of sex addiction, and addiction to substances such as alcohol and drugs, internet-based sex addiction is readily available at any time, can be free, and is often easier to hide or cover up.

What Is Cybersex?

There are many different forms of internet-based sex. All can cause problems and pose risks to internet users. There are three main categories of cybersex:

  • Online Porn - this includes pictures, audio, video and text.
  • Real Time Interactions - this includes "talking" to people about sexual topics in internet chat rooms, sexting, and exchanging images and files, such as audio and video, or arranging real life "hookups."
  • Multi-Media Software - this includes x-rated movies, sexual games, online erotic media, and CD-ROMs with sound and video clips.

    Why Do People Get Addicted to Cybersex?

    Five central factors make cybersex particularly appealing:

    1. Accessibility

    The internet provides easy access to many forms of sexual material and potential sexual partners, 24 hours a day. Cybersex can be accessed anywhere, from home, school, cyber cafes, even from work.

    Unlike other access points to the sex trade, such as prostitution, sex shops and strip clubs, users are not limited by location or time.

    2. Isolation

    Cybersex provides an opportunity for the user to separate himself from other people, and to become lost in a fantasy world of his choosing. Unlike many other forms of sex addiction, there is no risk of sexually transmitted infections or the distraction of reality. This allows the user to believe his behavior is harmless.

    3. Anonymity

    The apparent privacy of the internet allows people to think it is an anonymous way of obtaining and using porn or having sexual interactions with other people. Unlike going into a sex shop or strip club, users feel they cannot be recognized or identified. Users can present a completely fabricated image of themselves, easily lying about their age, gender, address and appearance in a way that would be impossible using other forms of interaction.

    4. Affordability

    Once the cost of accessing a computer and internet has been taken care of, cybersex can be a low-cost means of accessing porn and other sexual material. The user also avoids unwanted material, such as the advertising and articles which fill up magazines.

    5. Fantasy

    Cybersex allows people to develop sexual fantasies and objectify others without the risk of ridicule or rejection. Some cybersex products allow users to define exactly the partner they desire, choosing their gender, age, hair, skin, body type, eye color, and so on. They can even choose the sexual scenarios they wish to engage in. For people with unusual sexual preferences, the internet provides access to material that would be difficult and embarrassing to obtain in other ways.

    Why Is Cybersex a Problem?

    As with all addictions, a number of problems can arise from becoming overly attached to one way of coping with the stress of life.

    However, particular problems relate to cybersex addiction specifically. These are related to sexuality and the online experience.

    When people use the internet, they become detached from the world around them, and from other people. Taken to the extreme, this detachment can cut you off from developing relationships with others, and from living in the present, both of which can cause difficulties in relationships, especially intimate relationships. Using the internet also allows you to remain detached from the people on the screen (who are, in fact, only images to you). This detachment also prevents you from exposing your own vulnerability to another person, something which is essential to forming genuine connections in the real world.

    While the detachment of online sexual experiences may feel safer than real relationships, it also diminishes the user's abilities to relate to real people. Real people are also vulnerable, messy and unpredictable, but none of these human characteristics affect the online sexual experience. People who lack competencies in relationship building before engaging in cybersex are more at risk of isolating themselves further, making it less and less likely that they will risk a real relationship.

    Finally, people who engage in online affairs often think that they are not really cheating. Partners can be left wondering if their spouse is having an online affair, And even if you don't have sex in person, the damage caused to relationships can be just as real as an in-person affair.


    Carnes, P., Delmonico, Griffin, M.A., E., & Moriarity, J. In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Sexual Behavior. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

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