(Note, 3/22/11: I had planned to post this blog last week, but when I woke up to the shocking news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, I delayed doing so out of respect, because the word tsunami is used as a metaphor
in the first paragraph. Today I post it as is, holding in my heart both deep compassion for the suffering and devastation in Japan, and also deep concern for the issues this blog addresses in our country.)
Cybersex addiction is the compulsive use of Internet pornography, adult chat rooms, or adult fantasy role-play sites, impacting negatively in real-life intimate activity. Experts are predicting that cybersex addiction is the next tsunami of mental health. My sense of it is that the cataclysm has arrived, its impact is far-reaching, and we are at only the beginning of its long-lasting effects. I began to feel its undertow in my practice about three years ago and an increasing number of men and women have entered my office since then, drowning in a sea of loneliness, grief, and shame. The pornography industry in the United States, with all of its technological avenues for indulging, generates revenue exceeding the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC. And if that doesn't grab your attention try this: it's also larger than the combined revenues of football, baseball, and basketball franchises (www.healthymind.com) . Imagine the good that could be achieved were all that money invested in healthcare for children, schools, teachers, humanitarian aid.
One-third of all downloads per month, and one-fourth of all searches per day are for pornography and the process through which it is delivered has evolved to a heightened pitch. Benjamin Wallace describes it well in his article, "The Greek Kings of Smut" in the February 7 issue of New York: "There you are, Porn Surfer, Googling your way to a little adult material--you know, a little plain-vanilla, middle-of-the-road grown-up content when wham, you've dropped acid and been astrally projected into a triple-X pachinko parlor...you're in free fall through this insane, cross-linking wilderness-of-mirrors, chaos of pop-ups and pop-unders, and portals and paysites."
The Internet supplies an immediate, private, and easily accessed "hit," thus changing the erotic template of the brain, and with 17% of women and 20% of men admitting to struggling with an addiction to internet porn, there are huge repercussions for adults and for children, particularly teens. Cyberporn has a drug-like effect on the body and mind. It stimulates reward and pleasure centers of the brain instantly and dramatically, increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with both sexual arousal and drug highs. Like compulsive gambling and shopping, porn can also lead to "process addiction" in which the person becomes addicted to a set of behaviors that in turn powerfully alter brain chemistry (example: sitting down at the computer may become a turn-on). Soon the user can't control his or her use, is aroused only by images and interactions on the screen, and natural sexual responsiveness is reduced (example:the husband who is no longer able to be turned on by looking at his real-life wife whom he loves). These factors make it capable of deeply harming the emotional, sexual, and relational well-being of millions of men, women, and children.
What children? Research indicates that 90% of eight to sixteen-year-olds have viewed porn, mostly during homework, and the average age for a child to first be exposed to pornography on the internet is 11-years-old. I'm not implying that every one of these children will become addicted, but I do want to accentuate just how vulnerable our children are, and how dangerous internet pornography is for them.
Perhaps you're one of the many who consider viewing pornography to be a normal part of adolescence, and you think I'm over-exaggerating. If so, take a look at an article entitled "Out of the Shadows," by noted sex therapist Wendy Malz, author of The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography. The article is featured in the November/December 2009 issue of the Psychotherapy Networker (http://healthysex.com/uploads/pdfs/Out_of_the_Shadoes-_Article_11-2009.pdf ). Through a description of her own personal and professional experiences, and an analysis of how things have changed over time, she does an excellent job of putting the current situation into perspective. She also notes Center for Disease Control research data indicating that the age of first sexual experience is now earlier, numbers of teen pregnancies have significantly increased (after 15 years of decreasing), and the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among the teen population has increased. Other research documents that youth who use pornography engage more often in oral and anal sex, and have more sexual partners.
Many teens are being groomed to believe that being sexually active is normal, because of their exposure to cybersex. Colleagues of mine who work extensively with teenagers confirm what you may have gleaned from watching the news on TV over the past year, and even just this morning in a report on Good Morning America: it's now common for oral sex to be seen as the new goodnight kiss and for girls to send sexual photos of themselves via cell phones to boys as special gifts. Furthermore, a recent review of the top selling pornography videos discovered that the majority had violent themes with verbal or physical aggression. However, a small fraction of the females in those videos demostrated a negative or neutral reaction, with the majority demonstrating a positive or neutral reaction to the violence. This translates to teens that sex and violence go together, which is nothing less than a tragedy.
Adult cybersex addiction has many other effects on children and families as well, such as: exposure to cyberporn ; exposure to objectification of women; involvement in parental conflicts; lack of attention/ extremes of parental preoccupation;an atmosphere of emotional trauma;marital sepration and/or divorce. Don't let the brevity of this list fool you. Each item is packed with layers of turmoil, anguish, psycholgical stress, and financial impact.
As if that isn't enough, 100,000 websites are child pornography, and an organization dedicated to protecting children on line, http://enough.org reports that child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses on line, and the content is becoming worse. The Internet Watch Foundation found 1,536 individual child abuse domains, and the fastest growing demand in commercial websites for child abuse is for images depicting the worst type of abuse, including penetrative sexual activity with children and adults, and sadism or penetration by an animal. I recoil at the thought of it, but continue to write, hoping you'll continue to read, because we're raising children in this village together, and they need us to know what's going on so that we can protect them and teach them how to take care of themselves.
What can you do?
* If you're addicted to cybersex, get into treatment. A good place to start is at www.sexhelp.com. This website was created by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., national expert. You will find access to certified sexual addiction therapists (CSAT's) on it, as well as questionnaires to be used for your personal assessment process.
* Keep informed about the issues. The following are several excellent websites that will help: www.sexhelp.com, www.sexualrecovery.com,http://enough.org, www.healthymind.com, www.healthysex.com.
* Keep appropriate child-proof security controls on your computer. These websites may help: www.familysafemedia.com, www.lwf.org.uk, www.protectkids.com, www.spectorsoft.com, www.microsoft.com
* Supervise your kids when they're on the computer.
* Talk to your children about the issues.
* If one of your teens has become dependent on internet porn, get him or her professional help.
* Urge your children's schools and your family's house of worship to bring in speakers who are qualified to teach adults about these important issues.
The Internet has dramatically changed the world of childhood and sexual development. It has also intensified the challenges of parenting. Let's protect our children from drowning in a sea of exploitation. Let's work together to build a wall of solid values-in-action to protect them.
References: In addition to those specifically stated above are:"Understanding Cybersex in 2010, by Stefanie Carnes, Ph.D., and Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. and "The Tsunami: Adolescents, Technology, and Pornography," by Ralph H. Earle, Ph.D. and Mark E. Bell, M.S. in Family Therapy Magazine, Jan./Feb., 2010; and lecture notes from Module 1, CSAT Training, Jan., 2011, International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals