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.

Hiking Shoes and Water Required

This is the perfect time of the year for getting up early and going for a hike. The other day, I grabbed my water pack and my puppy—a five-year-old black lab/beagle mix named Princess and headed to the park.

Princess on our hike

                We arrived at the trailhead and began our trek through the woods following the trails that are already shaped out for hikers; at some point our curiosities led us off the trail and into the woods with little to guide us. We traversed some water obstacles—well I traversed, Princess just sat in the water. We climbed steep hills, over dead trees, and I slid down a muddy hill on my butt. It was an exciting six-mile hike through the woods.

Chrystal in Iraq 2004

Chrystal in Iraq 2004

                Trekking through the woods reminds me of my life’s journeys. There are ups and downs; sometimes the path looks impossible with tall hills, rocks, water, and obstacles—all to be overcome. Risks need to be taken when faced with obstacles and when deciding to stay on a path laid out for you or to leave it and travel the unknown.     

                Most people who know me would tell you that I’ve done a lot for a thirty something. Life is a journey—and I love it. I served in the U. S. Army for over five years—even going to Iraq; I worked as a government contractor—boring; I packed everything I own and moved 500 miles south to go to a small private Christian college—because I wanted to live in a small town; I spent a summer in China teaching English to teachers—awesome!; I went through a period of depression in college—I had teachers and counselors that cared and helped me through it; I went to South Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Mozambique for a semester to complete my undergrad internship; I graduated from college—it took me 12 years to complete and I was the first in my family to do it!

                I thought I was on the wrong trail when I found myself back in Maryland. I wanted to find a different trail, but I wasn’t even sure which direction it was in. I found a path that led me to Loyola University. Everything about my journey has led me here—all my defeats and victories, trials and triumphs!

                My journey is still just beginning—I anticipate that I’ll find some other trails along the way, some I’ll stick to for a while and some I won’t. Along my journey I hope to help others discover their life story and overcome the obstacles to find the path that is meant for them.