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Sex Addiction and the Internet

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The Internet is perhaps the most recent of the great advances in the history of human communication. It has greatly expanded the way we exchange information with each other. Just as it has enhanced interchanges in business dealings, social interactions, and educational pursuits, it has likewise transformed the way people addicted to sex pursue their sexual highs. Research that tracks on-line user trends reveals that almost from the beginning sex has been the leading activity occurring on a daily basis on the Internet. Statistics tell us that thousands of new sex sites appear every day and that the sex-related portion of the Internet constitutes a multi-billion dollar industry annually.

The mainstay of Internet sex is pornography. Pornography as a preoccupation seems to have developed alongside other forms of human development, with pornographic images appearing in ancient Egyptian and Roman wall carvings and paintings. Pornography in print goes back to the beginnings of the printing industry. With each new innovation in the field of representational art, pornography has quickly found its way into the art form. Thus, stone carvings, painted canvases and printed pages gave way to pornographic photography and then pornography in film. More recently pornographic videos provided a much wider audience for porn. And finally the Internet created a virtual explosion of pornography that has reached deep into modern life. A Feb. 12, 2008, ABC news program had this to say: The Adult Video News Media Network, a trade publication, estimates that the [porn] industry earns $14 billion annually, and the Web site pornsunday.com estimates there are 4.2 million pornographic sites online with 40 million visitors daily. The pornsunday site also reports that 48% of Christian families admit they have a serious problem with pornography.

Since sex addiction creates an insatiable hunger for sex, it is no surprise, therefore, that the acting-out activities of sex addicts have been profoundly impacted by the advent of the Internet. Somewhat older sex addicts had relied for years on whatever printed pornography they could find, since prior to the 60's the publication and distribution of porn was clandestine. Sometimes they might also have been able to acquire an occasional porn home movie. Next they could see porn on the big screen in XXX-rated theatres. Then pornographic videos and eventually "adult channels" on TV provided easy private home viewing. But when the Internet arrived, addicts who had slowly progressed over decades were suddenly able to view a hundred or a thousand times more pornographic pictures than they had ever seen, all in one sitting and without any expense beyond the purchase of the computer and a small monthly Internet access fee. Add to this mix the elimination of a need for physical storage and the relative ease in concealing both the collection and the use of it, and presto, the years of gradual progression accelerated rapidly into the advanced stages of the addiction. And now the younger addicts, whose sexual acting out starts out on-line, become hooked quickly and often find themselves as far advanced in the progression of the addiction as their older counterparts, in a fraction of the time.

Because many homes now have computers with access to the Internet, where thousands of sex sites are available, large numbers of children are being exposed to on-line pornography, many of them at a very early age. According to a report of the Business Wire news service as far back as December 2000, three million of the visitors to adult websites in September 2000 were age 17 or younger. And Newsweek reported in May 2000 that 21 percent of teens said they had looked at something on the Internet that they wouldn’t want their parents to know. Since Internet statistics increase yearly, those figures may have doubled by 2007. A logical conclusion to be drawn from these trends is that growing numbers of child users are on the path to sex addiction.

A sidenote: responsible parents engage in informed dialog with their children about their use of the computer and use blocking and filtering software on the family’s computers to reduce the prospect of their children’s exposure to Internet sex. Following is a link to a very helpful site for parents about all aspects of monitoring their children’s computer use, including information and links for different kinds of blocking and filtering programs. http://kids.getnetwise.org Next are links to two sites where blocker software programs are compared and can be purchased. (The site you are currently using does not endorse any of the products you may find, but merely offers links to these resources for getting more information and for making a more informed decision about protecting your children from the significant dangers of the Internet.) http://www.wellresearchedreviews.com

Sexual acting out on the Internet is by no means limited to pornographic images. The net affords a myriad of ways to interact sexually with others. No longer is the addict confined to “one night stands,” following hours at one or more bars, to locate and seduce a willing partner, or limited to anonymous sex with a stranger after hours of cruising. Now with a few mouse clicks the addict can find any number of people ready to participate in a mutually arousing dialog in a chat room or to have “virtual” sex together as both people graphically describe their sex acts or exhibit them for each other on their web cams.

Because of the many enabling enticements the Internet offers the sex addict, and due to the euphoric and hypnotic spell it casts, the Internet has been called the crack cocaine of sex addiction. As the addiction closes in, ways are invented to return to the trance again and again and for longer and longer periods of time: leaving work early and beating everyone else home, calling in sick in order to spend the whole day on-line, making up excuses to stay home when the rest of the family takes a trip, getting up after everyone else is asleep. The addict wants the high again and is looking for more-different-better than the last time. For those who become addicted to Internet sex, less and less time is spent with family or in healthy activities, and the addict goes to work exhausted after hours of viewing or chatting and masturbating.

As the condition progresses further, the addict may take the habit to work where furtive minutes or hours of time are consumed viewing pornography, sending and receiving pornographic images or emails, chatting sexually online with strangers or maintaining contact with secret sexual relationship partners—often combined with masturbation in a locked office or afterward in the restroom. Two corporations specializing in Internet security and monitoring, Cerberian Inc. and SonicWALL, reported in July 2004 that 15% of workers have viewed pornographic websites at work at least 10 times. As these scenarios multiply, the consequences begin to pile up. It is not uncommon for on-line addicts using work computers to wind up losing their job, creating chaos and disaster in the addict’s life and the lives of those affected by the addict. Websence Incorporated and The Center for Internet Studies reported back in 2000 that more than 30% of 1500 companies surveyed at that time had terminated employees for inappropriate use of the Internet.

The rapid progression of on-line sex addiction and the increasing negative consequences it produces can actually turn into a positive, however, since they sometimes move the addict more quickly to a point of being willing to get help, if only to prevent threatened losses. For information on getting help:  click here for out-patient help and click here for in-patient help. Click here for the program in Houston, Texas, that maintains this site, and click here for free 12-step program help.