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.
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.