The Internet and Sexual Addiction

While causes for sexual addiction vary among the estimated 18 million Americans who have the addiction, the Internet is continuing to fuel conversations and research for its ability to hasten or escalate a person’s sexually addictive behaviors.

Recent research studies have explored the connection between subjects like sexual sites, chats and connections on the Internet with higher rates of infidelity. Conclusions seem to reinforce what sexual addiction experts and treatment professionals have known for years – the Internet may not be the actual cause of a person’s sexual addiction, but it can serve to help keep the problem secret from friends and family, as well as to quicken a person’s ability to find online sexual relationships.

Access to online pornography has skyrocketed in the past few years, with an estimated 25 million pornographic Web sites available. According to some research studies, as many as 60 percent of people who have sexual compulsions or sexual addictions do use the Internet to find online forms of sexual materials. Even young people or children can view sexual materials online, and some experts, such as Angie Ridings, an Oklahoma-based counselor, say this can lead them down a path to sexual addiction.

Few online sites with pornographic content ask for verification of a person’s age, and many can be accessed anyway by entering a false age. No matter at what age a person views Internet pornography, research suggests that the material triggers modifications at the brain level that can come in the form of dopamine releases. As the pattern continues, a person can become dependent on this dopamine activity to feel "ok" or to escape from negative emotions and life stressors.

Like other addictions to drugs or behaviors like gambling, treatment experts say the person loses their ability to stop the behavior – despite the destruction to their families, careers and finances. Treatment options include group support or group therapy, individual counseling, Internet monitors and couples-based therapy, because the addiction has such a strong impact on the spouse and on the marriage.

Pornography use on the Internet may also fuel other behaviors associated with sexual addiction, such as escalation of online sexual chats to real-life meetings with multiple partners. Other Web sites create an environment for people with sexual addictions to encourage each other to continue with their addiction, creating an anonymous "peer support" area online. The Internet is powerful toward sexual addictions, say experts, because it provides a sense of confidentiality and can allow users a false identity, as well as 24/7 access – a different scenario than previous forms of sexual materials from a decade ago.

In some cases, an underlying condition, such as an anxiety-related illness or a mood disorder, must also be addressed during the recovery process for sexual addiction. Parents are urged to have a talk about online pornography early with their children, and repeat that talk many times, as rising numbers of pornographic viewers are falling into the 12 to 17-year age range.