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Cybersex can lead to a 21st century form of addiction which threatens relationships, writes Nuala Macklin. In the s with the predictions relating to the internet becoming mainstream, the potential effects of virtual pornography were somewhat miscalculated. Feminists of the day warned it would unleash a wave of unprecedented sexual violence against women. While this forecast might not be completely off the mark, the insidious and destructive effects of cybersex on human relationships are taking a toll.
A conference in Dublin next weekend examines the extent of a growing problem. Last year Naomi Wolf conducted some informal research among university students and wrote about her findings.
Apparently, young women are finding themselves under increasing pressure to compete with readily available, "virtual" women on the internet. Also, young men are experiencing a deadening of their libido when it comes to relating directly to "real" women. Far from cybersex making men more rapacious, Wolf said: "In fact, it is making a whole generation of men less erotically able to connect to women as people. In addition to a wide range of pornography, the internet offers adult chat rooms which facilitate the most mundane sexual encounters to the most extreme fetish scenarios.
Mobile phones are another vehicle for virtual sex. This is causing widespread anxiety among parents, as so many children and teenagers now own one.
The implications of this are serious as demonstrated last year by the distribution of a controversial image of a schoolgirl via mobile phones. The virtual nature of the internet can create seductive environments which allow people to disguise their real identities and "flaws", and spice up their sex lives in a disease-free zone.
The very real consequences of online sex can be online infidelity, cyber-sexual addiction, while having a profoundly negative impact on family and emotional wellbeing. As Extreme cyber sex chat frontiers are transgressed, the online sex-seeker can make their way from the initial chat room experience, past the lure of hard core and beyond. At an advanced stage, he or she can find that their sexual preferences have changed past the point of return and, in doing so, seriously run the risk of marriage or relationship break-up.
Wexford-based psychotherapist Eoin Stephens specialises in addiction counselling and has a special interest in sexual addiction. When asked if there was a healthy aspect to sexual encounters via the internet, he says: "Some encounters that happen in the realm of cybersex do lead to relationship, and can be just another way of meeting someone.
This can sometimes deepen and grow into a real and emotionally intimate relationship. You don't actually know who you are meeting. You are in fact only meeting text and pictures - an edited version of a person which lacks all the dimensions of physicality, body language, etc. Even in real life, if you meet someone, it takes time to get to know the 'real' person. In other words, 'If you want to know me, come and live with me'. Addiction can be a consequence when people try to meet their needs virtually, he says.
If someone is shy, socially anxious or has been hurt in a relationship, they may feel safer because cybersex is less intimate. They feel more powerful and in control, while avoiding the uncomfortable side of a real relationship and sticking with the enjoyable and novel aspects. That's even before a person might become addicted. Addiction brings things up to another level," Stephens adds. Cybersex is particularly addictive because the internet is affordable, Extreme cyber sex chat and anonymous.
There is quite a gambling psychology attached to cybersex. You don't know when or if you're going to 'hit the target' and, 'if I stay on a bit longer, something really exciting might happen' can draw someone in very strongly. It's the 'psychology of the chase' in operation. This means that it reinforces the behaviour because it keeps people trying.
Like the slot machines where you might win occasionally and the buzz it provides, it's the associated comfort and escape from reality factors that make it so highly addictive, he says. They go online and find someone in a chat room, or use pornography. It can be very comforting and good for the ego, not to mention the excitement of the risk of being caught. This kind of less intimate sexual contact does seem to fit in particularly well with male sexual psychology.
But not exclusively so, as women obviously also use chat rooms for sexual or romantic purposes. Any of scenarios can have occurred by the time professional help is sought, he says. Or a person might be discovered using the internet inappropriately at work. They can get careless and leave a trail of evidence. Alternatively, their relationship is beginning to fall apart. Often, a wife may try to rationalise her husband's involvement with the computer as 'not really infidelity'.
According to Stephens, "If you feel that your partner is more in love with his PC than he is with you, then you are probably right. A gut feeling will tell you if something feels wrong. The effects of cybersex on an actual relationship will eventually become apparent.
Someone who is becoming deeply involved will begin to feel jaded, as his actual relationship starts to feel slightly mundane and lacking in the intensity and novelty provided by the internet.
Stephens says they can become very demanding of their partner because of the growing sense of power, and "getting what they want - when they want it". As they turn away from the real relationship, they objectify their partner and regard them merely as a sex object. Help is available, but the road to recovery is not easy. Success will depend heavily on the motivation, support and stability of the situation, Stephens says. Whatever the validity of historical arguments, we now have a tangible basis on which to challenge the role of pornography.
One that is emotional and health based, as opposed to a moral one. It is for counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers, doctors and other health professionals interested in updating their knowledge on current trends and practices relating to sex and the internet.
Please update your payment details to keep enjoying your Irish Times subscription. Cybersex addiction takes toll but not in the way predicted Tue, Feb 22, Cybersex can lead to a 21st century form of addiction which threatens relationships, writes Nuala Macklin In the s with the predictions relating to the internet becoming mainstream, the potential effects of virtual pornography were somewhat miscalculated. : mrcs eircom.
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Cybersex addiction takes toll but not in the way predicted