Index by Subject

Cyberporn

The statistics are overwhelming. Sexual addiction is such a subtle epidemic that some writers are comparing it to the more prominent and palatable obesity problem among Americans, just to attract some satisfactory level of attention.

Pornography, nothing new in itself, is fueling this randy epidemic, driving the “Triple-A engine” on the Information Superhighway. Internet delivery of sexual titillation and amusement is affordable, anonymous and accessible at the speed of light. It is ubiquitous, gender-neutral, age-defying, and ugly. It is exploitative and lucrative for its purveyors, and it is only getting worse as technology continues to develop. “The Internet is an essentially gnostic, disembodied medium: You can dispense ideas through it, but not sacraments, community, or embodiment” (Byassee 2008, 15).

Defining Cybersex

Cybersex, the consumption of pornography or creation of virtual relationships on the Internet, is a constantly evolving category of sexual sin, or lust and immorality. Author and counselor Mark R. Laaser writes, “Internet porn is the crack cocaine of sexual addiction” (2010, 61). Cybersex is “any type of sexual behavior or commodity that can be made available through a computer and a modem” (Leiblum 1997, 21). Examples include the obvious pictures and videos, but extend further into fictional stories, live interaction through video and chat, and the development of adulterous affairs through various electronic outlets like email and instant messaging (Gonyea 2004, 376).

Purveyors of pornography will point out that their product has been available in some form for millennia, but the unparalleled accessibility, affordability and apparent anonymity of cybersex has dampened the stigma and spread the behavior like a virus. “Pornographers have always been the first to exploit new publishing technologies” (Griffiths 2001, 333).

Jennifer L. J. Gonyea suggests, “the sex industry has been one of the most significant influences on the proliferation of the Internet as well as almost every other technological advancement since the printing press” (2004, 377). The Internet, almost two decades since its popularization as a dial-up venture, remains a largely unregulated frontier, where frequent connectivity becomes addictive, especially as the imagery or forbidden relationships seem to heal slightly other wounds inflicted in life.

The Numbers

The cybersex statistics are mind-boggling. One wonders how much good could be done if the energy and wealth contributed to Internet pornography alone were redirected to charity, debt reduction, and evangelism.

There are 240,000,000 Internet users in the United States alone, three-quarters of the estimated 2010 population. Forty percent of them can be expected to visit Internet porn sites in any given month. “The number rises to more than 70 percent when the audience is men aged eighteen to thirty-four” (Byassee 2008, 15). “As many as 17 percent of users become addicted to online sexual activity” (“Online Infidelity,” n.d.).

Studies indicate that nine in ten children aged 8-16 have viewed pornography online at least once, and if they have email addresses, it would be nearly impossible to avoid it altogether, as spam continues to proliferate without qualm (Byassee 2008, 16).

The pornography industry, which emerged slowly from the shadows in the second half of the twentieth century, has profited the most from cybersex. Not only have production and distribution costs plummeted, but a steady stream of Girls Gone Wild, willing to participate in the fantasy world as sex objects, has heightened the novelty and fascination.

The pornography industry in the United States is indeed large. Adult Video News, an industry publication, estimates the industry’s 2006 revenues at $13.3 billion. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of pornographic material. Porn Web sites draw 72 million visitors every month; more than 13,000 pornographic video titles are produced yearly. (Frykholm 2007, 20)

Cybersex addiction numbers are expectedly strong among those in Generation Y, the first generation to be raised on ubiquitous connectivity from the start. A 2008 study indicated that two-thirds of college men and ten percent of college women viewed pornography more than once a month (Eberstadt 2010, 48). Another survey of adolescents indicated that sixty-five percent reported their friends downloaded pornography from the Internet, “and, given that pornography is something people lie ‘down’ about in surveys as well as in life, it seems safe to say those numbers underestimate today’s actual consumption, perhaps even significantly” (Eberstadt 2010, 48).

Just as troubling are the statistics involving ministers who, for various reasons – boredom, rebellion, professional dissatisfaction, loneliness, isolation – fall prey to cybersex (Frykholm 2007, 21). A 2000 Christianity Today survey showed that forty percent of ministers visited pornographic websites; other surveys since indicate that about one in five do so habitually and that fully half had viewed online pornography in the last twelve months (Byassee 2008, 16).

If the helpers are also addicted, who will be left to help anyone?

Forms

Cybersex addiction is a process, much more so than alcoholism, and perhaps similar to the escalation of drug addiction, from tobacco to marijuana to harder and harder narcotics (Frykholm 2007, 20).

Something as innocuous as a Google search for pictures of or gossip about a celebrity can turn up unexpected nude pictures or Photoshopped fakes. Without filtering activated within the browser, almost any search can produce tempting results; even someone searching for help in beating a cybersex addiction will likely find that many of the prominent results are instead pure filth (Delmonico 2002, 248). Mary Eberstadt writes,

Even young people who don’t go looking for pornography are now routinely exposed—largely through incursions into popular media, including on phones (the ‘sexting’ phenomenon), in video games, in pop music, and on television. (2010, 48)

Young people are notoriously curious about sexuality, especially if they are not receiving accurate answers from their parents and moral guidance from their churches. The Internet makes it easier to get information that is sometimes clinical and even moral, but which is more likely to be lewd and prurient. The Internet search will point the seeker to unfiltered images and the only security is a weak requirement that the user certify adulthood by checking a box. Without even offering a credit card number, untold samples of filth are available on for-profit websites, but that does not even include the numbers of young people who offer amateur nude or semi-nude photos of themselves for free consumption across online social networks.

At this stage, cybersex can often be concealed from family members and others, as long as the computer and its cookies are secured. Cybersex addiction generally requires eleven hours per week spent on the activity (Byassee 2008, 17). “Many men minimize the sin because they believe they are overworked and underappreciated” (Kennedy 2008, 31).

Instant messaging through services like AOL and iChat, email exchanges, and bulletin board and social networking postings are where the isolation of cybersex begins to abate. Now, it is not just a lonely person satisfying lust by consuming porn, but someone reaching out for a personal connection, which tends to fornication or adultery, with always moral and sometimes criminal elements. These cybersex users may be seeking escape from boredom or distress, or they might simply be exploring their curiosities and passions, but they quickly find, “Behaviors that were once off limits in a face-to-face situation with strangers are suddenly available through the Internet” (“Online Infidelity,” n.d.). Absent imagery, they can present themselves as more attractive than they really are; regardless, they can adopt any identity they want, entering deeper into a fantasy world of their own and someone else’s. The reassurance that such behavior is not an act of marital infidelity or religious hypocrisy is both strong and false, but until there are serious, direct consequences, the behavior will likely only worsen.

Gonyea explains, “Internet sexuality offers an environment free from rejection where sexuality can be explored without having to reveal oneself through taking on another identity, maintaining anonymity, or selectively revealing only attractive parts of oneself” (2004, 380).

Addiction, Illness, or Sin?

Although cybersex addiction has not yet qualified for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, much of the relevant literature is providing impetus for discrete status in a future edition, as researchers increasingly position it as “illness” and overwhelming “neurochemical craving” (Kennedy 2008, 32).

The dividing line between sexual lust and addiction is often hard to draw. While not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), sexual addiction is widely recognized as a harmful behavior with a strong biochemical component. (Kennedy 2008, 30)

Delmonico, for instance, argues that, “the dynamics of sexual addiction are becoming clearer,” pointing to the similar dependency that marks substance abuse. “’As we become more sophisticated in our brain research,’ Delmonico says, ‘we are coming to understand that people don’t get addicted to a drug; they get addicted to a process” (Frykholm 2007, 20). For the brain researcher, internet pornography is the gateway drug to sexual addiction. Norman Doidge, a neurochemistry specialist and author explains how cybersex functions like an ultimately disappointing portal to a curious world:

Pornographers, he concludes, promise healthy pleasure and relief from sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction, tolerance, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. Paradoxically, the male patients I worked with often craved pornography but didn’t like it. (Eberstadt 2010, 50)

Researchers have added the complex neurotransmitter to the simple, moral explanation for cybersex addition, seeking scientific logic for the behavior, rooted in brain chemistry or genetic predispositions. Laaser writes, “Addiction assumes that the brain becomes neurochemically dependent (tolerant) and will therefore crave activities, such as looking at pornography, that elevate those neurochemicals” (2010, 61).

While addiction is clearly the preferred clinical term, sin is clearly the more biblical description of the problem. Cybersex and pornography are idolatries of the physical form and fantasy life of the modern day idolater. Edward T. Welch argues that, “idolatry helps us analyze the gradual descent from naive experimenter to addict,” and that this moral idolatry “is a slowly developing courtship” (2001, 65).

The New Testament asserts that addicts have the potential to overcome proclivities and self-developed vulnerabilities by accessing the power of redemption. The alternative to restoration is so awful, it must be contemplated:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13 ESV)

Framing cybersex addiction as the unavoidable effect of a cross-wired brain can falsely alleviate sinners of any obligation to fight carnal impulses, plunging them deeper into an abyss of self-destructive misery. James adds,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25 ESV)

At one time, the Freudian conception of pornography and cybersex would have fixed sexual abuse as the likely cause. Interestingly, some writers and researchers have lost interest in assigning blame for cybersex addiction to a history of child abuse; “now, the Internet has made practically anyone vulnerable, and it has nothing to do with abuse” (Kennedy 2008, 32).

Victory

The Internet’s intrusion into every corner of our lives, both private and public, can be expected to have both positive and negative results, as we become more connected in a virtual world where anything seems possible, but disconnected in reality.

Cybersex addiction thrives on anonymity, accessibility, and affordability, but such logical explanations should not be allowed to obscure the timeless truth that the lust of the flesh and eyes is a powerful impulse (First John 2:15-17). Truly, any thought or behavior can prove addictive, that is, desirable as a habit for its temporal pleasantness, but the Christian will resist becoming enslaved to any yearning. Prevention is wiser, but sometimes correction is necessary, and ascribing a lustful habit to amoral etiology is counterproductive to healing.

Internet filters, accountability networks, and prayer are all helpful facets of treatment (“Trapped” 2004, 59), but, “wholeness must begin with confessing the sin and stopping the behavior” (Kennedy 2008, 33). The sinner “must also be taught how to live in victory over sin” (Gallagher 2004, 57).

Because mental and physical idleness is also a proximate danger to cybersex, exercise and physically vigorous activity is also recommended (First Thessalonians 5:14, Second Timothy 3:6-7, Second Thessalonians 3:11-12, First Timothy 4:8). “Those who work with addicts know that ‘acting out’ is a symptom of a larger question of physical, mental and spiritual health” (Frykholm 2007, 22).

Conclusion

Cybersex will destroy marriages, exploit women, and trap addicts in a maze of guilt and shame. Detoxification through abstinence and accountability is a biblical response to sin (James 5:16), a better option than seeking moderation or tolerance.

Everyone seems to agree there is a problem, but is convinced that it only affects those at a distance and is no imminent threat to them. Statistics suggest, however, that the problem might be sitting next to them on the pew, even standing before them at the communion table or pulpit, but is certainly closer than they want to believe. “In this changed social landscape, discussing pom is both risky and urgent–perhaps especially so in the churches” (Pellauer 1987, 651).

Reference List

Byassee, Jason. 2008. “Not your father’s pornography.” First Things no. 179: 15-18. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2011).

Delmonico, David L. 2002. Clinical management of sex addiction. Eds. Patrick Carnes and Kenneth M. Adams. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Eberstadt, Mary. 2010. “The weight of smut: Mary Eberstadt warns that America is growing fat on pornograpy.” First Things no. 204: 47-52. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2011).

Frykholm, Amy. 2007. “Addictive behavior: pastors and pornography.” Christian Century 124, no. 18: 20-22. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2011).

Gallagher, Steve. 2004. A biblical guide to counseling the sexual addict. Dry Ridge, KY: Pure Life Ministries.

Gonyea, Jennifer L.J. 2004. “Internet Sexuality: Clinical Implications for Couples.” The American Journal of Family Therapy, 32:375–390.

Griffiths, Mark. 2001. “Sex on the Internet: Observations and Implications for Internet Sex Addiction.” The Journal of Sex Research 38 no. 4: 333-342. (accessed February 18, 2011).

Kennedy, John W. 2008. “Help for the sexually desperate: more and more, Christian men are admitting they’ve been caught in a vicious cycle.” Christianity Today 52, no. 3: 28-35. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2011).

Laaser, Mark R. 2010. “Wired for intimacy: how pornography hijacks the male brain.” Christianity Today 54, no. 3: 61-318. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2011).

Leiblum, S. R. (1997). Sex and the Net: Clinical Implications. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 22(1), 21–27.

Pellauer, Mary D. 1987. “Pornography : an agenda for the churches.” Christian Century 104, no. 22: 651-655. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2011).

Welch, Edward T. 2001. Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company.