Having sex, or accessing other sources of sexual stimulation, is arguably easier now than it has ever been before. What with online dating, hookup apps, sexting, webcams and more, not to mention the instant availability of free pornography that can be obtained and viewed anonymously, sex is pretty much at our fingertips all the time. Awareness and diagnoses of sex addiction have also blossomed in recent years, which has led some experts to draw a connection between compulsive sexual behavior and the shear availability of sex in the digital age. Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S and author of Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age, refers to these tools for sexual interconnectivity as “sexnology.” But does “sexnology” simply facilitate the compulsive behaviors of the sexually addicted, or is it actually helping to create addiction?
Sex Addiction, Sex-Related Technology Have Emerged Simultaneously
Similar questions have arisen about compulsive gambling and the rise of Internet gaming sites that make it easier than ever before to access many forms of gambling. However, the fact that sex addiction has only gained widespread recognition within the last decade or so—when the digital age was already in full swing—makes it difficult to know just how entwined the two phenomena really are. Without data about sex addiction from before “sexnology” exploded, we don’t really know how much these tools have fueled this illness. However, there is no question that the world of online porn, hookup apps, webcams and the like are a part of sex addiction here and now. Someone who is already addicted to sexual activity is never going to ignore the increased opportunities for sexual activity that the Internet provides. At the same time, the presence of technology to facilitate sexual activity is not enough to cause addiction on its own. What these increased sexual opportunities may be doing is increasing the likelihood that people at high risk for sexual addiction (people with a family or personal history of addiction or people with a history of childhood sexual trauma) will enter into a pattern of compulsive sexual behavior. The compulsive pursuit of activities like sex and gambling with strong reward stimulation excite the same areas of the brain that are involved in chemical addiction and can cause people to become similarly hooked.
Widespread Opportunities for Sex May Make Recovery Challenging
Sexual facilitation tools may also complicate recovery for people in treatment for compulsive sexual activities. In the past, people could dispose of their collection of print or video pornography to avoid temptation, but these days no one with an Internet connection is more than a few clicks away from as much porn as he or she could ever wish for. Social media and dating websites also provide readily available temptations for people who are trying to recover from problematic behaviors such as constantly browsing for potential sexual partners. Weiss believes that “sexnology” is helping to fuel sex addiction, but that this does not mean people who use dating apps or look at online porn need to panic. Different individuals have different levels of comfort when it comes to engaging in various forms of sexual activity. Employing sexual technology to facilitate this activity becomes problematic not at a particular frequency, but at the point at which an individual feels discomfort, guilt and depression surrounding his or her activities. These, along with secrecy and other negative consequences, are signs that sex addiction may have developed.