The Signs and Symptoms of a Cybersex Addiction

An internet sex addiction can harm your mental, social, and financial health. But there are resources to help.

Updated November 28, 2022
Woman with red hair looking on screen of her mobile phone

If you have internet access, you can easily find explicit content online. In some cases, the availability of this type of content becomes a problem. One search leads to another, which can lead to another, and so on. You may find yourself trapped in a cycle of damaging behavior that may lead to addiction.

Cybersex addiction is similar to other types of behavioral addictions. It happens when you experience intense urges or cravings that ultimately lead you to engage repetitious actions that can have a negative personal, social, or financial impact on your life. It's a pattern that can be difficult to recognize, stop, and control. The more you know about cybersex addiction, the better you can support yourself or others that may be struggling with this condition.

What Is Cybersex?

Cybersex describes the act of engaging in online sexual activity of any kind. Cybersex may include watching pornography, sending or receiving intimate pictures, or engaging in explicit conversations through text or online chatrooms. It can also include paying for access to private, explicit social media accounts or webcam groups.

Cybersex activity may involve acts of self-pleasure, such as masturbation. However, it's important to note that during cybersex there are no physical interactions between the people engaging in the activity. Everything happens through screens in a virtual space. For this reason, it's important to note that cybersex addiction is not the same as hypersexuality or sex addiction.

Signs of Cybersex Addiction

According to a study from the Journal of Frontiers in Psychology, researchers have not yet come to a consensus over an exact definition and diagnostic criteria for cybersex addiction. In fact, many people believe that cybersex addiction is actually a specific category of internet addiction. For this reason, many researchers use characteristics of both internet and general addiction to identify whether a person is experiencing this type of addiction.

The journal notes that cybersex addiction may include a variety of symptoms. For example, loss of control, preoccupation, and withdrawal from other activities or people. In addition, the study mentions that many people will continue to engage in cybersex activity even after they have experienced negative consequences in their life as a result.

Some additional symptoms and signs of cybersex addiction include:

  • A rise in other compulsive behaviors
  • Craving the activity
  • Impairment
  • Inability or failed attempts to reduce the behavior
  • Increase in problematic behaviors, such as excessive masturbation
  • Loss of control over one's behaviors
  • Narrowing interests around the activity and related elements
  • Neglecting other areas of their life
  • Risky usage

In addition to the behaviors listed above, a person experiencing cybersex addiction might also struggle to stop thinking about the activity when they aren't engaging in it. They might also experience behavior changes, such as becoming irritable or restless when they attempt to reduce their usage or take great care to try and conceal their online activity.

Risk Factors for Sex Addiction

According to research, there are some factors that are associated with developing a cybersex addiction. In addition, studies show that these risk factors are also linked to predicting a person's ability to form intimate relationships with others.

One 2015 study analyzed the responses of 267 men and women in their mid to late 20s who were recruited for pornography and cybersex websites. Participants were given a cybersex addiction test, a questionnaire on intimacy, and a craving for pornography questionnaire, and their answers were collected.

The study found that increased rates of pornography and cybersex usage predicted a greater difficulty in forming intimate relationships in the future. In addition, increased cravings for pornography and experiencing difficulties forming intimate relationships in the present predicted higher rates of cybersex usage. The results also showed that:

  • Men have higher rates of cybersex usage than women
  • Men also have increased cravings for pornography than women
  • There were no differences between males and females in regard to the difficulty in forming intimate relationships

It's important to remember that these results reflect the findings of just one research study. In addition, the participants were people who already recognized that they may have an unhealthy relationship with cybersex.

Resources to Help Overcome Cybersex Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with cybersex addiction, know that there are ways to find help and support. Behavior change isn't easy. However, it is possible. Explore the list below to find organizations and resources that may be able to help.

Lean on Loved Ones

If you are experiencing any type of addiction or life challenge, it can be helpful to find a sense of emotional support. Do your best to be honest with your friends and family about what you are going through. They may be able to validate your struggles and provide a safe space for you to talk about your feelings and experience. In addition, turning to loved ones can also help you feel like you're not alone.

Explore Therapy Options

Another way to find support is to talk to a mental health professional. Counselors, therapists, and licensed clinical social workers can assess your experiences and create a treatment plan to help you reach your goals. Mental health professionals are highly-trained individuals, many of which specialize in treating a wide variety of addictions.

There are several different types of therapy to choose from, as well as different types of providers. It's important to find a therapist that's a good fit for you in order to make sure you experience the best treatment possible.

Join a Support Group

If you don't feel like one-on-one treatment is right for you, that's okay. You can also explore group therapy options, as well as both in-person and online support groups.

Support groups create a safe environment for people to share whatever they are struggling with. They can create a sense of community and remind people that they are not alone in their struggles. In addition, they allow members to build rapport with one another as they heal and work towards their goals.

You can search for cybersex addiction support groups online to find one that fits your schedule. Or, call 211 to learn more about resources that are available in your area.

Reach Out to Organizations

There are several organizations dedicated to helping people who are struggling with behavioral addictions. Many of these groups provide educational information about different forms of addiction, as well as treatment options and other available forms of support. Some organizations you might want to check out include:

  • American Addiction Centers - Check out this educational resource to learn more about rehabilitation options, treatments, and risk factors.
  • Cleveland Clinic - Find educational resources about different forms of sex addiction and how they may impact your mental health.
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous - Learn about this program dedicated to people experiencing any type of sex addiction or dependency. Sign up to attend a meeting near you and explore their site to learn more about what the program has to offer.
  • Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) - Explore this free program dedicated to helping people practice sexual sobriety. Learn about SA's mission and find a meeting near you.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Explore treatment referral services and call their national helpline at 1-800-662-4357. They provide services to both individuals and family members that are struggling with any kind of mental health disorder.

It can be difficult to reach out to loved ones and be vulnerable. Especially if you are experiencing an intimate struggle, such as cybersex addiction. It's okay to take whatever time you need to feel comfortable talking about what you're going through. At the end of the day, choose whatever type of support is best for you and make a plan to move forward and regain control over this aspect of your life.

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The Signs and Symptoms of a Cybersex Addiction