Monday, August 11, 2008

Internet Use and sexual compulsivity

In my opinion, there is no greater bane for individuals who struggle with sexual compulsivity than the internet. In the nearly 15 years since wide integration into all aspects of our life, the internet has provided easy access for all types of sexual content. The access has only increased the amount of unhealthy behavior and pushed those who struggle with it further from support networks. Cooper in a series of articles focused much of his later research on this topic. One citation is used below, but his work spanned about 8 years. He is easily the “grand daddy” of the internet research and sexuality. One key finding that I find helpful is the metric of how many hours a week are spent using the internet for online activity. His research suggests that 11 hours or more per week is the point that distinguishes those who many have a problem versus those who probably don’t. The number reflects not simply internet use, but specifically internet use for sexual content.

The types of internet use for sexual content is changing at a rapid pace. In the early stages, with dial up the process was primarily pictures downloaded as binary files and reassembled by the user. Now, with readily available high speed access, streaming pornography is present. The rise of internet-capable cell phones highlights the newest expression of how easy it is to access sexual material online. My point isn’t to say this is bad, but too point out how easy an individual with sexual compulsivity struggles with the issue. It is akin to a drug addicting having the drug waved in front of his or her face and being told not to do it. Given the increasing importance of the internet in all aspects of our life (banking, email, news, managing accounts with service agencies, setting up doctor appointments) the problem is only going to intensify.

They types of internet sexual behaviors are too many too list here. As the internet has increased in sophistication, the types of behaviors have adapted. I expect the adaptation to continue as well. I use Cooper’s measure of 11 hours or more per week of online sexual behavior as a metric to suggest further review of the behavior. When you look at your internet use, consider the following behaviors:

  1. Looking at pictures of sexual explicit material
  2. Downloading or viewing streaming pornography material.
  3. Online chatting behavior focusing on sex.
  4. Searching for specific types of material (fetishes)
  5. Reviewing profiles on sex specific connection profiles
  6. Using free websites to set up meetings for sexual sites
  7. Using websites to review which public cruise sites are the focus of police stings.
  8. Using non-sex websites for sexual content (e.g. Craigslist).

Questions to consider:

  1. How many hours a week are you using the internet for online sexual behavior?
  2. Are you using the internet for sexual behaviors where if discovered would create serious consequences (i.e., work)?
  3. Have you attempted to cut back the amount of use and repeatedly used?
  4. Have you attempted to restrict your use through filters or other controls only to circumvent these controls?
  5. What devices have use used to access explicit material (phone, computer, etc?)
  6. How does there internet set up other problematic behaviors (internet to sex to drug use?)

In terms of the acting out cycle, it is important to examine how the internet is both a cause and effect in the cycle. I can be bored, sign online for chat that leads to a sense of desperation, which leads to a hook up. Or, I can get a text message that leads to a hook up and if drugs are present relapse on the chemicals. As a focus of treatment, it is important to identify specific and measurable plans that can facilitate healing. What are your plans?

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