Cybersex addiction: definition, causes, symptoms, and risk factors
Table of content
- What is cybersex addiction?
- What is the other term for cybersex addiction?
- How does cybersex addiction develop?
- What are the causes of cybersex addiction?
- What are the signs of cybersex addiction?
- What are the symptoms of cybersex addiction?
- How does cybersex addiction impact an individual’s mental and emotional well-being?
- Can cybersex addiction affect personal relationships?
- What are the treatments available for cybersex addiction?
- Can cognitive behavioral therapy treat cybersex addiction?
- How is cybersex addiction prevented?
- How do cybersex addiction and internet addiction relate to each other?
- What is the difference between cybersex addiction and sex addiction?
Cybersex addiction is a type of non-substance use addiction that involves compulsive urges or impulses to engage in online sexual activity even when it causes problems in real life. It shouldn’t be mistaken for sex addiction, which doesn’t necessarily involve online activity.
Symptoms of cybersex addiction include obsession with online sex, increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, strong cravings, unsuccessful attempts to quit, and using cybersex as an escape or for instant gratification. Other symptoms of cybersex addiction include preoccupation with cybersex, loss of control, interference with relationships, escalating behavior, behavioral changes, continued use despite negative consequences, interference with daily life, and compulsive behavior.
Causes of cybersex addiction include impaired balance of serotonin, genetic predisposition, trauma, and substance abuse. Other causes of cybersex addiction include psychological factors, social and environmental factors, neurochemical factors, conditioning and reinforcement, and internet accessibility.
Treatments for cybersex addiction include inpatient and outpatient programs, support groups, medications, and psychotherapy.
Risk factors for cybersex addiction are being male, boredom, stressful life experiences, personal history of mental illnesses and substance abuse, family history of sex addiction, unhealthy interpersonal relationships, exposure to sexually explicit content online, lack of parental supervision, low self-esteem, and having secret sexual fantasies.
What is cybersex addiction?
Cybersex addiction is a non-substance addiction indicated by a persistent and compulsive urge to engage in internet-related sexual activities despite negative consequences. The term cybersex does not necessarily indicate sex between two people on the internet; it includes exposure or engagement with sexually explicit content online.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t feature cybersex addiction, but psychiatrists and psychologists may use screening tests to determine whether their patients have this type of addiction.
Cybersex addiction appears in many forms including mutual masturbation with online cam performers, online activity in fantasy chat rooms, masturbation to erotic images or stories, sexting (sex-related text messaging), alternate and virtual reality sex, and the use of teledildonics. The latter refers to the use of connected sex toys.
While information about this addiction is scarce, around 10% of internet users are addicted to cybersex, according to the 2023 cybersex statistics from Gitnux. The same report showed cybersex addiction was present in 5.37% of online chat users among the German internet population in 2018. Moreover, only 16% of people who indulge in internet sex feel it has no impact on their real-life relationships.
What is the other term for cybersex addiction?
The other term for cybersex addiction is internet sex addiction. This term is used interchangeably with cybersex addiction because both point to the type of sex addiction that takes place online.
How does cybersex addiction develop?
Cybersex addiction develops through mechanisms that are listed below.
- Disbalance of serotonin: this neurotransmitter is involved in the inhibition of behavior and helps regulate moods or emotions. Low levels of serotonin correlate with a higher level of impulsivity and sensation-seeking behavior, which are present in behavioral addictions, such as cybersex addiction.
- Genetic predisposition: behavioral addictions may have a genetic component, according to a paper by R.F. Leeman and M.N. Potenza in the May 2013 issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. This could indicate a person may inherit genes that make them more susceptible to developing addictive behaviors, such as engaging in online sex.
- Trauma: exposure to trauma may increase the risk of addictive behaviors, as per a systematic review by B. Konkoly Thege et al. in the May 2017 issue of BMC Psychiatry. In the study from June 2019, issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Y. Efrati and M. Gola reported that early life trauma was strongly associated with the development of compulsive sexual behaviors.
- Substance abuse: the use of alcohol and drugs has a negative impact on sexual behavior and thereby may contribute to the development of cybersex addiction.
What are the causes of cybersex addiction?
The causes of cybersex addiction are listed below.
- Psychological factors
- Social and environmental factors
- Neurochemical factors
- Conditioning and reinforcement
- Internet accessibility
1. Psychological factors
Psychological factors are processes that operate on an individual level and affect mental state thereby influencing a person’s behaviors. The mental state has a major impact on every aspect of life and may contribute to the onset of addictive behaviors.
Psychological factors become a cause of cybersex addiction because a person may use online sex to cope with major stress or negative emotions caused by depression and anxiety. When people can’t process negative emotions or feelings healthily, they may engage in risky or addictive behaviors. One of these behaviors is online sex.
Although studies on this subject are scarce, a study by V. Estellon and H. Mouras in the January 2012 issue of Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology showed that marked depression constitutes the backdrop on which sexually addicted behaviors are developed and become chronic.
In the cross-sectional study from the January 2021 issue of Frontiers in Psychology, C. Camilleri et al. reported that out of 1031 students, 56.6% reported pornography use. Of these, 17.0% reported severe or extreme levels of depression, 20.4% had severe or extreme anxiety, and 13.5% reported severe or extreme stress. Compulsive pornography use significantly affected all three mental health parameters.
2. Social and environmental factors
Social and environmental factors are the effects of a person’s social circle and the environment where they grow up, live, or their culture on the development of their personality, disease risk, and mental well-being. Social and environmental factors can contribute to the development of cybersex addiction.
Social and environmental factors become a cause of cybersex addiction because they affect a person’s behavior. For example, pornography watching represents a cultural resource through which people (typically males) develop their values and beliefs about sex, sexuality, and gender, according to a paper by Emily Setty of the University of Surrey in the UK, published in the February 2021 issue of Porn Studies. Certain aspects of cybersex, such as watching porn or subscribing to sexually explicit content online are considered normal in the modern world. While it may start with exploring one’s sexuality and preferences regarding intercourse, this kind of content may pave the way to problem use and addiction.
Environmental factors play a role in the development of cyberspace addiction because the use of the internet has become widely prevalent and the world of social media hypersexualized. At the same time, lack of parental control or exposure to unhealthy sexual behaviors in the environment could lead to participation in compulsive sexual behaviors.
3. Neurochemical factors
Neurochemical factors are changes in levels of neurotransmitters that contribute to the development of a mental illness or addiction. Changes in the brain’s structure and function could pave the way to cybersex addiction too.
Neurochemical factors become a cause of cybersex addiction due to the effect of online sex on dopamine levels in the brain. In August 2021, The Guardian published an article that explained how digital media turned us all into dopamine addicts. People seek online activity for quick hits, to seek attention, validation, and distraction. Dopamine motivates a person to do things they think will bring pleasure, according to the article.
4. Conditioning and reinforcement
Conditioning and reinforcement refer to cases when a stimulus has acquired the capability to reinforce behaviors through the learned association with a primary reinforcer. Reinforcement plays a role in a person’s behaviors and attitudes thereby contributing to or worsening addictions to substances or behaviors, including cybersex.
Conditioning and reinforcement become a cause of cybersex addiction because sex is one of the naturally reinforced behaviors such as eating. These behaviors act on the brain’s reward system, specifically dopamine. A naturally rewarding behavior can become a supernormal stimulus that leads to dysregulation of the dopaminergic system, according to an August 2018 post on Counseling Today. Sex can hijack the functioning of the reward pathway thereby leading to addiction. This can also be the case with cybersex addiction.
5. Internet Accessibility
Internet accessibility is easy access to internet services. Although internet access can help improve mental health through the easy availability of resources and information, it can contribute to the development of internet-based addictions such as cybersex.
Internet accessibility becomes a cause of cybersex addiction due to instant gratification and the triggering of the brain’s reward system. Every time a person participates in internet sex-related activity or they see explicit content online, their brain may produce small rewards that further facilitate these behaviors. The ease of internet access amplifies cravings due to increased exposure to triggers of cybersex addiction.
What are the signs of cybersex addiction?
Signs of cybersex addiction are listed below:
- Obsession with online sex: spending a lot of time fantasizing about cybersex or engaging in internet sex behaviors.
- Strong cravings: a person with cybersex addiction experiences cravings that motivate them to engage in online sex and related activities such as watching pornography.
- Increased tolerance: compulsive sexual behaviors can lead to increased tolerance indicated by higher frequency or more time dedicated to sexual behavior to experience the same level of arousal or consuming more stimulating online sex-related content, according to a paper that K. Lewczuk et al. published in the December 2022 issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.
- Withdrawal symptoms: occur upon abrupt or sudden cessation of engaging in certain behavior. Watching too much pornography is a good example. According to a February 2022 post on GoodRx Health, pornography withdrawal may include symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, cravings, and aches and pains. A person may feel unwell, more tired than usual, or their stress levels may increase.
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit: a person may attempt to reduce or stop their cybersex-related activities, but these efforts turn out to be unsuccessful.
- Cybersex as the main form of sexual gratification: people with cybersex addiction prioritize online sex over actual sexual intercourse with their partner. Their sex life and sexual satisfaction are primarily tied to cyberspace.
- Online sex as a form of escape: to a person with cybersex addiction online sex may be a way to escape from negative situations and emotions in life. They don’t healthily manage anxiety or depression. Instead, they use cybersex as an outlet.
What are the symptoms of cybersex addiction?
The symptoms of cybersex addiction are listed below.
- Preoccupation with cyber sex
- Loss of control
- Interference with relationships
- Escalating behavior
- Behavioral changes
- Continued use despite negative consequences
- Interference with daily life
- Compulsive behavior
1. Preoccupation with cybersex
Preoccupation with cybersex is spending a lot of time engaging in internet sex-related activities, thinking about them, or planning when and how to participate next. A person with cybersex addiction may spend a lot of time looking for explicit material online or they regularly visit adult websites, watch porn, or engage in sexual chats and video calls.
Preoccupation with cybersex becomes a symptom of cybersex addiction because engaging in internet sex activities acts on dopamine. The concentration of dopamine in the brain plays a role in sexual reward stimuli, according to a paper that R. de Alarcon et al. published in the January 2019 issue of the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Dopamine is in charge of the brain’s reward system. Drugs of abuse and alcohol act on the reward system thereby contributing to addiction. Behaviors such as sex and cybersex can do the same. Activities such as sex activate the reward system in the brain because they reinforce behaviors necessary for survival, according to a paper by T. Love et al. in the September 2015 issue of Behavioral Sciences. Engaging in cybersex stimulates the release of dopamine and produces feelings of pleasure. A person wants to experience that pleasure and satisfaction again, which is why they keep engaging in cybersex.
2. Loss of control
Loss of control is an inability to terminate consumption of a substance or stop engaging in specific behavior or activity. When a person loses control over their urges and impulses it is a clear sign they have become addicted.
Loss of control becomes a symptom of cybersex addiction because an affected person is unable to control their urge or desire to engage in internet sex-related activities. This happens due to the impact of cybersex on the brain, especially neurotransmitters such as dopamine. The more people engage in cybersex, the more satisfaction they experience initially, and the more they want to experience it again. This intense need to experience that same level of satisfaction and pleasure may lead to a loss of control over impulses and urges.
In cybersex addiction loss of control may stem from desensitization or boredom with specific content. A person who engages in internet sex may become bored with certain videos or activities online; they no longer produce satisfaction. When that happens they lose control over their desires. Repeated exposure to internet sex or pornography downregulates the reward system and contributes to desensitization, according to a paper that A. Jha et al. published in the October 2022 issue of the Journal of Psychosexual Health. That means a person needs to increase exposure to experience the same effects, which worsens their addiction and also makes them lose control.
3. Interference with relationships
Interference with relationships is the presence of arguments and disagreements between two or more people due to specific reasons. Addiction takes its toll on a person’s relationship. Cybersex addiction can cause major problems in a person’s love life or impair their relationship with family, children, parents, or siblings.
Interference with relationships becomes a symptom of cybersex addiction because engaging in internet sex-related activities causes a major rift between people. Partners or spouses of people with cybersex addiction feel betrayed or cheated on. They lose trust in their significant other, especially if they keep promising to quit but never do. Engaging in cybersex becomes a subject of many disagreements that may end in separation, breakup, or divorce.
Cybersex-related activities such as watching pornography cause people to emotionally detach from their partners, according to a 2023 article titled, “Is Pornography Destroying Your Marriage?” from Verywell Mind. People may develop unrealistic expectations from sexual intercourse and their partners. Unrealistic expectations can negatively affect relationships.
4. Escalating behavior
Escalating behavior refers to displaying a certain pattern of behavior that can worsen over time and follow a specific pattern. Addiction has a direct impact on a person’s behavior and may lead to its escalation.
Escalating behavior becomes a symptom of cybersex addiction due to the influence of internet sex-related activities on dopamine in the brain. The release of dopamine increases feelings of satisfaction and excitement. With repeated exposure, dopamine receptors become less sensitive meaning people need to increase online sex activity to experience the same effects. Their internet sex-related behavior escalates as they keep wanting more.
5. Behavioral changes
Behavioral changes are involuntary changes in a person’s behavior, attitudes, actions, and habits. People change behaviors for several reasons including mental illness and addiction.
Behavioral changes become a symptom of cybersex addiction because addictions change the way people behave, alter their attitudes, and lead to the formation of new, unhealthy habits. People with cybersex addiction exhibit changes in their behaviors such as becoming more secretive or spending more money on subscriptions for their internet sex-related activities. They become socially isolated and fail to complete their tasks, projects, or homework due to increased engagement in cybersex. Since exposure and addiction to cybersex can negatively affect mental health, a person with this addiction can become moody and irritable.
Cybersex increases dopamine release. High dopamine levels affect behavior and contribute to competitiveness, aggressiveness, and poor impulse control. Dopamine participates in motor function, mood, and decision-making.
6. Continued use despite negative consequences
Continued use despite negative consequences is the act of maintaining exposure to online sex or use of cybersex-related activities even when a person is aware it causes negative effects on their life. Addiction to substances or specific behaviors such as cybersex or gambling is best depicted by the fact that a person knows it isn’t good for them, but continues to engage.
Continued use despite negative consequences becomes a symptom of cybersex addiction due to strong cravings. Online sex activities increase the production of dopamine, which makes a person feel satisfied or excited. Their addiction is based on the need to keep engaging in order to experience the same effects again. As addiction progresses it becomes difficult to stop, even when a person knows their actions harm their psychological wellbeing or relationships. The cravings they experience motivate the continued use of cybersex.
7. Interference with daily life
Interference with daily life refers to the negative consequences of a specific behavior on a person’s life satisfaction or quality of life and overall well-being. Addiction to substances and behaviors takes its toll on a person’s life and causes problems whose consequences can be severe if their problem is left untreated.
Interference with daily life becomes a symptom of cybersex addiction because engaging in online sex repeatedly and excessively brings along many problems. A person who keeps participating in online sex-related practices may neglect their family and friends in favor of their addiction. They may spend a lot of time and money on cybersex to the point they neglect their chores and responsibilities. This can jeopardize their school or work.
Cybersex addiction can interfere with daily life by harming mental health and contributing to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem or worsening them.
Cybersex addiction also interferes with daily life due to easy access to internet-related sexual activities. People can use them on the go due to easy internet accessibility. This gives them freedom to engage in cybersex whenever they feel the urge thereby neglecting their “real life” at that specific moment.
8. Compulsive behavior
Compulsive behavior is defined as repetitive and persistent acts that a person feels compelled to perform. People develop compulsive behaviors due to structural, chemical, and functional abnormalities in the brain, conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but also due to addiction.
Compulsive behavior becomes a symptom of cybersex addiction due to an irresistible desire to engage in online sex-related activities. A person with cybersex addiction may become distressed if they are unable to engage in their addictive behavior.
In their paper “Addiction: Choice or Compulsion?” from the August 2013 issue of the Frontiers in Psychiatry, authors E. Henden et al. report theories about the connection between compulsive behavior and addiction. They explain that strong desires do not necessarily remove an individual’s ability to control their behavior, but addictive desires do. In their paper, Henden et al. report the theory that addiction isn’t a neurobiological disease because addictive behavior develops due to a person’s decision-making process and is within their capacity to volitionally influence. However, they argue that a person with addiction may experience repetitive behavioral patterns in characteristic circumstances that they find difficult to override by intentional effort. More precisely, a person with addiction may want to avoid their source of addiction but they aren’t strong enough to succeed, which leads to engaging in that specific behavior.
What are the risk factors for cybersex addiction?
Risk factors for cybersex addiction are listed below.
- Being a male
- Unhealthy family dynamics
- Stressful life experiences
- Personal history of mental health illnesses such as depression
- Personal history of substance abuse such as taking alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
- Family history of sex addiction
- Unhealthy interpersonal relationships
- Exposure to sexually explicit content online
- Lack of parental supervision
- Having low self-esteem or feeling lonely, exhausted, and socially isolated
- Having secret sexual fantasies and not being able to share them in the “real world”
How does cybersex addiction impact an individual’s mental and emotional well-being?
Cybersex addiction impacts an individual’s mental and emotional well-being negatively. Mental and emotional well-being is defined as the ability to cope with and manage life challenges, stress, and emotions or have positive relationships. This type of addiction can contribute to or worsen mental health issues.
Prior research indicates that online sexual activity may be positively associated with elevated levels of stress, depression, and anxiety, according to a master’s thesis at Swinburne University of Technology written by Marcus R. Squirrell in May 2011.
The more time a person dedicates to cybersex-related activities, the worse their depression or anxiety becomes. People engage in internet sex activities to reach satisfaction and gratification, but right after that, they feel guilt, shame, and remorse.
The negative feelings can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression or worsen them in people who already have these mental illnesses. At the same time, psychological factors such as mental illnesses can contribute to the development and worsening of cybersex addiction.
This creates a vicious cycle where a person experiences depression and anxiety due to internet sex addiction but may engage in cybersex-related activities to manage depressive symptoms.
Can cybersex addiction affect personal relationships?
Yes, cybersex addiction can affect personal relationships. According to a paper that Grace Tanimoonwo Fasugba-Idowu and Siti Aishah Hassan published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Humanities and Social Science, engaging in cybersex causes a lack of satisfaction from sexual and emotional contact between people in a relationship. The same paper reports that cybersex is the leading cause of separation and divorce for affected couples. When a person can’t control the outcomes of their activities, they lose self-esteem, which leads to problems with social functioning or interpersonal relationships.
Cybersex addiction ruins personal relationships in several ways. Partners or spouses of people with cybersex addiction tend to feel betrayed, ashamed, rejected, abandoned, jealous, and angry. They lose confidence in their relationship and can’t trust their partner anymore.
Where can you seek cybersex addiction diagnosis?
You can seek a cybersex addiction diagnosis in the places listed below.
- At a psychologist’s or psychotherapist’s office
- Addiction rehabilitation centers (rehabs)
- Community-based organizations that provide support to people with compulsive sexual behaviors
What are the treatments available for cybersex addiction?
The treatments available for cybersex addiction are listed below:
- Inpatient treatment: requires admitting patients to a rehabilitation facility for a specific timeframe. Patients receive treatment while living in the rehab center. Rehab offers support and professional supervision to manage symptoms, learn to cope with negative situations and develop skills to support recovery. Inpatient treatment is most suitable for people with moderate to severe cybersex addiction. It allows people to focus exclusively on their recovery. This setting minimizes triggers and distractions are minimized. The inpatient treatment helps to treat cybersex addiction because it relies on education, skill development, and psychotherapy. The latter is the cornerstone of addiction treatment and the most common approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Besides individual therapy sessions, patients attend group therapy. Benefits of inpatient treatment include an intensive and structured environment, a multidisciplinary approach, skill-building and coping strategies, relapse prevention, and peer support. Unfortunately, data regarding the effectiveness of inpatient treatment for cybersex addiction specifically is unavailable, but this treatment approach is effective for the management of substance use disorders, according to D. de Andrade et al. who published their paper in the August 2019 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Residential treatment also proved to be effective in the management of other behavioral addictions such as gambling, as per Rapid Evidence Review: Effective Treatment and Support for Problem Gambling from March 2020 and published by Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO). The duration of the inpatient treatment is 30, 60, or 90 days.
- Outpatient treatment: a program where patients receive treatment for addiction, but without having to live in a rehab facility. Mostly suitable for people with mild to moderate addiction, the outpatient treatment program is useful for individuals who complete inpatient treatment and need more support while navigating their day-to-day life. Outpatient treatment helps to treat cybersex addiction because it provides education and therapy such as CBT, but in a less strict environment that allows a greater deal of freedom to patients. The main benefits of outpatient treatment are improved flexibility, lower costs, continuum of care, skill development, peer and family support, and opportunity for direct application of adopted coping skills to real-life situations and triggers. Outpatient programs for compulsive sexual behaviors focus on helping identify core triggers and beliefs about this kind of addiction in order to develop healthier choices and coping skills. This minimizes urges that a person experiences, according to a paper that Timothy W. Fong published in the November 2006 issue of Psychiatry (Edgmont). Outpatient programs are effective in the treatment of addictions, but evidence on cybersex addiction specifically is lacking. However, this approach is effective for people with internet and computer game addiction, according to a paper by K. Wölfling et al. in the July 2019 issue of JAMA Psychiatry. The duration of outpatient treatment is three to six months. Patients are required to attend therapy sessions and outpatient services for about three hours a day 3-5 days a week.
- Support groups and 12-step programs: gatherings of people with the same or similar problems who share their experiences during group meetings. The 12-step programs are structured self-help programs that help people overcome addictive behaviors. Support groups and 12-step programs help to treat cybersex addiction because they offer emotional support, foster a sense of community, provide information and resources, promote empowerment, and encourage sharing and learning. The 12-step programs focus on self-examination, personal growth, and spiritual development. Support groups and 12-step programs are an effective approach in the treatment of cybersex addiction. For example, self-help groups in combination with individual therapy deliver more focused help to people with compulsive sexual behaviors, according to a study by Y. Efrati and M. Gola in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. Involvement in self-help groups such as Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is directly associated with improved subjective well-being and quality of life or higher levels of life satisfaction, as per a study by M. Wnuk and E. Charzynska in the May 2022 issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. There is no specific duration of this type of treatment, people can attend meetings for months or years.
Are there any medications that can help with cybersex addiction?
Yes, there are medications that can help with cybersex addiction. Since, there are no FDA-approved medications for internet sex addiction, a healthcare professional may prescribe medicines to treat underlying mental health issues. The goal is to manage mental health problems that contribute to or worsen symptoms of cybersex addiction.
For instance, people with cybersex addiction may receive a prescription for antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). In a case report that M.S. Bhatia et al. published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, treatment with 20mg a day of an SSRI medication fluoxetine led to a reduction of severity, intensity, and frequency of cybersex addiction. The 24-year-old unmarried male patient received counseling along with medication. The improvements occur within six weeks after the beginning of the treatment and the medication gradually tapered off after five months.
Another case report, involving a 36-year-old male with compulsive sexual behavior, showed treatment with SSRI fluoxetine is effective, according to authors G. Singh et al. who published their report in the September 2022 issue of Cureus. The use of fluoxetine in the management of compulsive sexual behaviors is particularly beneficial for people with existing depression.
A review by L. Malandain et al. in the May 2020 issue of Current Psychiatry Reports confirmed that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the first-line pharmacological treatment for sex addiction. The same review also revealed that naltrexone, an FDA-approved medication for the treatment of alcohol use disorder and opioid addiction, can help treat symptoms of sex addiction. Indeed, in a study from the February 2010 issue of the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, N.C. Raymond et al. found that naltrexone reduced symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior for a period ranging from two months to 2.3 years. Researchers concluded naltrexone could be a useful adjunctive treatment approach for people with compulsive sexual behaviors.
Adding naltrexone to a medication regimen that included SSRIs led to a noticeable reduction and eventual resolution of cybersex addiction symptoms in a study that J.M. Bostwick and J.A. Bucci published in the February 2008 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The 24-year-old male patient experienced improvements in social, personal, and occupational functioning.
Naltrexone works by suppressing abnormal sexual behavior due to its effect on dopamine whereas SSRIs work to manage depression by improving levels of neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
Medications such as SSRIs are helpful because they work well in combination with psychotherapy. A study by M. Goslar et al. from the April 2020 issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, confirmed that a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medications is more effective than monotherapies.
People with cybersex addiction may receive prescriptions for mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medications as well.
Antidepressants such as SSRIs may start working within two to four weeks, but it may take up to eight weeks to experience full benefits. Naltrexone starts working within an hour after ingestion.
Can cognitive behavioral therapy treat cybersex addiction?
Yes, cognitive behavioral therapy can treat cybersex addiction by helping patients identify negative or irrational thoughts that contribute to their emotions and behaviors. The basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy is the notion that thoughts dictate how people feel and behave. Negative or irrational thinking patterns lead to negative emotions and contribute to risky behaviors such as cybersex addiction.
The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy for cybersex addiction is to encourage a patient to recognize triggers that lead to their negative sexual behaviors and contribute to the compulsive need to engage in internet sex. Once a person identifies these triggers and negative thoughts, they can replace them with more rational alternatives. For instance, a person may realize they excessively indulge in cybersex as a form of compensation for being faithful to their partner in the “real world”. Or maybe the trigger for internet sex-seeking behavior stems from boredom or a need for instant gratification. Perhaps an underlying mental health problem contributes to the urge to seek cyber sex and paves the way to addiction. When a person understands their triggers and impulses, they can manage them more effectively with the therapist’s assistance. During CBT sessions, people learn the skills necessary for successful recovery.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment approach for people with cybersex addiction. A paper by I.G.N. Agastya et al. in the June 2020 issue of the Medical Journal of Indonesia reported that CBT was more effective in reducing symptoms and decreasing negative consequences of cybersex addiction than medications.
CBT was found to be effective in the treatment of internet addiction, sex addiction, and even compulsive shopping and it was even more beneficial when combined with medications, according to the abovementioned review by M. Goslar et al.
O. Lopez-Fernandez et al. reported in their paper from the January 2022 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that CBT is a “gold standard” treatment approach for addictive disorders associated with the excessive use of technology. Their primary focus was on addictive behaviors associated with internet use. The results of the review showed that CBT could be beneficial for internet-use-related addictions and with acceptance commitment therapy, it may increase psychological flexibility.
People usually need six to 20 sessions. Each session lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
When should we seek treatment for cybersex addiction?
We should seek treatment for cybersex addiction when the symptoms of this behavioral addiction occur. People who engage in internet sex may want to seek professional help when this activity starts negatively affecting their lives. The negative effect of cybersex on day-to-day life is a clear indicator of the presence of a problem that should be treated.
An important sign to seek help for cybersex addiction is when a person starts spending more money on their urges and impulses online. For example, they may keep getting more subscriptions to websites and content that add to their cyber sex-seeking behavior.
How long does cybersex addiction recovery typically take?
Cybersex addiction recovery typically takes weeks or months up to several years, although there is no specific timeframe that works for everyone. The duration of recovery depends on the severity of the addiction and treatment approaches. Inpatient treatment may last 30, 60, or 90 days. At this point, there is no information regarding recovery from cybersex addiction specifically. According to Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction specialist, recovery from sex addiction may last three to five years, Oprah.com reported. Since cybersex addiction is a type of sex addiction, this is a good indicator of how long it takes to fully recover.
How is cybersex addiction prevented?
Cybersex addiction is prevented by raising awareness of this type of addictive behavior. Internet sex is often regarded as a safer alternative to sexual intercourse, which gives people a false sense of security. Cybersex holds risks and dangers that end up in the development of addiction or ruined relationships.
Parents may want to monitor their children or adolescents and their activity online. Change settings to make sure a minor cannot access certain websites or platforms. Filtering or monitoring software on devices limits accessibility by blocking specific websites. Parents can do this to prevent cybersex addiction among adolescents, and it’s useful for adults who are starting to spend more time on this activity.
People with urges for cybersex may want to share them with their friends or loved ones so they can get emotional support. This is useful for people whose internet sex exposure has become problematic.
Make sure to cancel subscription or stop following any kind of material (e.g. explicit profiles on social media) that may contribute to cybersex addiction.
Seek professional help for underlying mental health issues or problems with which a person is unable to cope on their own. Cybersex addiction may stem from deeper issues. Resolving those problems, or managing them adequately, can help prevent cybersex addiction.
How do cybersex addiction and internet addiction relate to each other?
Cybersex addiction and internet addiction relate to each other because both forms of addiction involve excessive use of the internet via computer, phone, or devices such as tablets. Internet addiction is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled urges and behaviors associated with internet access leading to distress or impairment, explained M. Shaw and D.W. Black in their review from the May 2008 issue of CNS Drugs.
The same paper adds that internet addiction is associated with depression and social isolation. People with cybersex addiction may exhibit symptoms of depression and social isolation too.
Instant gratification, the desire for immediate pleasure, plays an important role in both addictions; i.e. they involve seeking immediate pleasure with easy access to specific content online.
What is the difference between cybersex addiction and sex addiction?
The difference between cybersex addiction and sex addiction is that cybersex addiction is just one form of sex addiction. Sex addiction encompasses both online and offline activities, and may manifest in many ways, such as a compulsive need for sexual activity or behaviors, masturbation, pornography, fetishes and sex acts on oneself and others, phone sex, including internet sex.
Cybersex addiction is not included in DSM-5, just like the umbrella term sex addiction. Although both types of addiction include a compulsive need to engage in sexual activities and experience sexual satisfaction, they are not the same. Sex addiction is a broad term and cybersex addiction is just one form of it.