Sex and the Internet: To Ignore It or To Explore It?

            Online Sexual Activity (OSA) is broader than you might imagine. According to Gallup® Economy nearly half of all Americans are frequent internet users—meaning that the internet is used for at least an hour a day. In addition up to one-third of internet users participate in some form of OSA (Cooper, Delmonico and Burg, 2000).

            Sex and the internet is not solely an equation for pornography and compulsive behavior. Internet users access OSA for a plethora of reasons including: education, entertainment, and exploration. The point to consider is that as aspiring clinicians we should consider that not all OSA is inherently evil and problematic.

            This past Spring, Loyola University’s Pastoral Counseling Program sponsored a continuing education (CE) course for students and professionals entitled: Pleasure & Peril:  Clinical Issues in Online Sexual Activity, presented by Dr. Elizabeth Maynard. In this seven-hour class we just began to scratch the tip of the iceberg regarding OSA and the professional counselor.

            I found that it is important to know that before jumping to conclusions or shutting the door on clients when we hear internet and sex, we should consider that there is a broad range of sexually-related activities that are available through the internet (Maynard, 2009). For an extensive list of online sexual behaviors see, Griffiths, 2001 also check out Dr. Mark Griffiths blog.

Consider these two tools in assessing an individual’s Online Sexual Activity:

            So, why is the internet booming for sexual activity? Cooper & Sportolari, suggest that it’s due to the Triple-A Engine: Accessibility, Anonymity, and Affordability. We need to remember that just because it’s booming doesn’t mean that everything that is coming out of the internet is problematic. Also, what’s a problem for one is not necessarily a problem to another.  

            What I see as the real challenge is for mental health professionals (and those of us aspiring to be that someday) is acquiring more training and resources in the context of Online Sexual Activity. If we first remember that most use of OSA is non-problematic we can avoid overreacting to reports of OSA (Maynard, 2009). Likewise, if we’re to be a wise counselor we won’t under-react to a client’s disclosure of OSA.

            What I found most pressing from a seven-hour class on OSA: 1) seven hours just isn’t enough time to learn all there is to know about sex and the internet. And, 2) As an aspiring clinician I should be exploring the ranges of online sexual activity and not ignoring them. The internet and use of the internet is expanding—it’s not going the way of eight-track and cassette tapes—it’s here to stay!

Some more websites to explore:

References Not Otherwise Linked

Cooper, A., Delmonico, D. L., & Burg, R. (2000).  Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives:  New findings and implications.  Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7, 5-29.

Cooper, A. & Sportolari, L. (1997).  Romance in cyberspace:  Understanding online attraction.  Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 22 (1), 7-14.

Griffiths, M. (2001).  Sex on the Internet:  Observations and implications for Internet sex addiction.  The Journal of Sex Research, 38 (4), 333-342.

2 thoughts on “Sex and the Internet: To Ignore It or To Explore It?

  1. As an MA student who is not studying to be a counselor, rather, to be in church ministry. I have a vastly different perspective on this issue. I believe that it is harmful to a person’s soul to engage in any type of pornography online or otherwise. I would never tell someone that it is okay and not problematic. I believe it damages relationships and destroys lives. It is a fact that porn objectifies women, and beyond that often women and children are victimized in the porn industry. I see nothing benign about it. I view it as one of the scourges of society and just because it may be here to stay does not mean that it is not inherently evil.

  2. As Chrystal has indicated, one of the things that is particularly important when one considers this topic is that online sexual activity involves many things, only one of which is pornography. Thus, when considering potential merits and dangers of online sexual activity, it is critical to make distinctions by what type of activity is being considered, as well as how much time is spent, who is being endangered by the activity (e.g. children, those in sexual slavery), and several other variables. For example, when spouses are deployed or assigned at a distance from one another, they may engage in internet-based erotic activity with each other (e.g. Skyping) as part of their marital sexual activity. This may be quite different in quality and consequences than an individual spending time viewing images of unknown persons who have been forced into working in the sex industry. Both fall under the umbrella of online sexual activity, though the nature of each activity seems to be quite different. Also, internet dating is considered by many to be a form of online sexual activity, as it falls into the general realm of courtship activities, whether or not the content of the contact online is explicitly sexual. Many people (including many religious people) engage in online dating without negative consequences.

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