Why Do Women Get Addicted to Cybersex?

Cybersex addiction is the term for a condition that shares features of two forms of behavioral addiction — sex addiction and Internet addiction. While there is no agreement on the precise definition of these ailments in the U.S., mounting evidence supports their presence in a small but sizable portion of the general population. In a study published in 2014 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, a team of German researchers explored the reasons some women who access sexual material over the Internet subsequently develop the symptoms of cybersex addiction.

Sex Addiction and Internet Addiction

Like all forms of behavioral addiction, sex addiction and Internet addiction are characterized by damaging changes in brain function and behavior that stem from excessive participation in a pleasurable, usually harmless non-substance-based activity. These changes are strongly analogous to the problems that mark the presence of substance addiction, and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has created a category of illness called addictive disorders to help doctors diagnose affected individuals. A person dealing with sex addiction has an ongoing, dysfunctional relationship to participation in legally permissible or illegal sexual conduct, sex-related thinking and/or specific sexual fantasies. While the APA has not provided an official definition for this condition, research gathered over the last 30 years supports its existence. People affected by Internet addiction have an ongoing, dysfunctional relationship to participation in at least one form of online activity. As of late 2014, the American Psychiatric Association has not fully acknowledged the existence of this condition. However, the APA has designated a subtype of addictive online behavior, known as Internet gaming disorder, as a special target for future research. In line with this designation, the organization has set forth a list of potential Internet gaming disorder symptoms that researchers across the globe are currently subjecting to experimental scrutiny.

Cybersex Addiction

As the name of the condition implies, a person with cybersex addiction has a dysfunctional relationship to the consumption of sex-related material over the Internet. Like an individual dealing with sex addiction, an individual affected by this form of virtual addiction may focus his or her attention on sexual acts that are legal and generally permissible under community standards. However, he or she may also focus attention on the consumption of sexual material considered illegal in most or all jurisdictions and communities. Potential indications of a cybersex addiction include a preoccupation with online sexual material, reliance on online sexual material to avoid dealing with unpleasant emotions or situations, use of increasingly extreme forms of online sexual material, use of deceit to hide the extent of sex-related Internet participation and involvement in clearly illegal online sex-related activities.

Why Do Women Get Addicted?

In the study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, researchers from Germany’s University of Duisburg-Essen and Erwin L. Hahn Institute for Magnetic Resonance Imaging used information from 102 women to explore the underlying reasons some women who access sexual material over the Internet develop cybersex addiction. Half of these women identified themselves as consumers of Internet-based sexual material; the other half only used sexual material while not online. For both groups of women, the researchers used detailed questionnaires to explore various sex-related issues such as the general ability to be sexually aroused, the amount of arousal gained from viewing sex-related imagery, the level of craving for sex-related material, involvement in specific damaging behaviors and the presence of general mental/emotional dysfunction. After reviewing the interview results, the researchers concluded that, compared to the women who only viewed sexual material while not on the Internet, the women who viewed such material while using the Internet experienced higher levels of sexual arousal and sexual craving. They also concluded that the level of arousal and craving, as well as several other factors among women who access online sexual material, act as predictors of the eventual development of cybersex addiction. Examples of the additional relevant factors include the presence of general mental/emotional dysfunction and involvement in specific damaging, sex-related behaviors. In addition, the researchers concluded that several factors have no bearing on women’s risks for cybersex addiction, including such things as relationship status, level of satisfaction with the quality of real-life sexual encounters and the frequency of real-life sexual encounters. The study’s authors note that these findings largely mirror the findings previously reported for heterosexual men who develop cybersex addiction.

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