Cybersex: Human Sexuality and Internet Chat Rooms

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We are currently living in a world dominated on many fronts by the Internet. For some people, the Internet is their primary means of life – they communicate solely by e-mail, instant messages, and message boards, they shop on-line, and they meet new people in Internet chat rooms. For this group of individuals, communication with the outside world is limited to the daily routine of work. As a result, the Internet is altering patterns of social communication and interpersonal relationships. This is nowhere more true than in the field of sexuality (Cooper 1998). Furthermore, sex is the most frequently used search term on the Internet today (Brown 2002). With the rapidly enlarging role of computers in homes and offices, psychotherapists and addiction counselors are increasingly seeing clients with a new problem, "cybersex addiction." Cybersex can be defined as the use of digitalized sexual content (visual, auditory, or written), obtained either over the Internet or as data retrieved by a computer, for the purpose of sexual arousal and stimulation (Schneider 1994). Cybersex is a phenomenon unknown before the mid 1980's. As use of computers and the Internet has exploded in the United States and other countries, accessing the Internet to obtain sexual stimulation has increased considerably in frequency. In 2000, about one in four regular Internet users, or 21 million Americans, visited one of the more than 60,000 sex sites on the Web at least once a month (Griffiths 2001). In addition to viewing and/or downloading pornography along with masturbation, Dr. Deborah Corley and Dr. Jennifer Schneider (2002) say that cybersex activities also include reading and writing sexually explicit letters and stories, visiting sexually oriented chat rooms, placing ads to meet sexual partners, e-mailing to set up personal meetings with someone, and engaging in interactive online affairs sometimes using electronic cameras for real-time viewing of each other. While some people will eventually move away from the Internet back to the real world, others will escalate their involvement, arranging meetings with online contacts for in-person sex. Cybersex addiction and cyber-relationship addiction are claimed to be specific subtypes of Internet Addiction (Young, 1998). It is estimated that one in five Internet addicts are engaged in some form of online sexual activity (primarily viewing online pornography and/or engaging in cybersex). Furthermore, men are more likely to view online pornography, while women are more likely to engage in erotic chat (Young et al., 2000). Researchers have formed a checklist of warning signs of cyber-sex addiction (Young et al., 2000). These warning signs include: regularly spending significant amount of time in chat rooms and private messaging with the only purpose of finding cybersex; feeling preoccupied with using the Internet to find on-line sexual partners; frequently using anonymous communication to engage in sexual fantasies not typically carried out in real-life; anticipating the next on-line session with the expectation of finding sexual arousal or gratification; frequently moving from cybersex to phone sex (or even real-life meetings); hiding on-line interactions from significant others; feeling guilt or shame from or about on-line use; accidentally being aroused by cybersex at first, and now actively seeking it out when online; masturbating online while engaged in erotic chat; and less interest with real-life sexual partner and preferring cybersex as the primary form of sexual gratification. It has been found that people who suffer from low self-esteem, a severely distorted body image, untreated sexual dysfunction, or a prior sexual addiction are more at risk to develop cybersex addictions (Young et al., 2000). In particular, sex addicts often turn to the Internet as a new and safe sexual means to fulfill their compulsions without the expense of costly premium...
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