Cybersex addiction is the compulsive use of internet pornography, sexually-oriented chat rooms, sexual- fantasy role-play sites, use of social media, smart phones and other handheld devices for sexual pleasure which in turn, negatively impact an individual’s functioning. As much as we would like to conclude that these issues only impact adults in our society, we must begin to accept the fact that children and teens develop cybersex addition as well—and more often than many realize. Unfortunately most don’t seek help until later in life after the addiction has resulted in significant disruption to their lives.
Experts are predicting that cybersex addiction is the next tsunami of mental health, and yes, this includes among teens. The impact is far-reaching and its effects are yet to be fully realized as cyber-sexual activities is such a new issue and we have yet to see the outcomes on the current generation. Consider just a few of the statistics regarding teens and porn:
93 % of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to internet pornography before the age of 18.
70% of boys have spent at least 30 consecutive minutes looking at on-line porn on at least one occasion.
35% of boys have done this on at least ten occasions.
83% of boys have seen group sex on the internet.
67% of children admit to clearing their internet history to hide their online activity.
0% of pornography users report being addicted.
The average age a child first sees internet pornography is 11.
70% of young men ages 18-24 visit pornographic websites on at least a monthly basis.
Internet porn and cyber-sexual activities supplies an immediate, private, and easily accessed “hit,” thus changing the erotic template of the brain. Its use has a drug-like effect on the body and mind. It stimulates reward and pleasure centers of the brain instantly and dramatically, increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with both sexual arousal and drug highs. Pornography and cybersex can also lead to “process addiction” in which the person becomes addicted to a set of behaviors that in turn powerfully alter brain chemistry. In time, the user can’t control his or her use, is aroused only by images and interactions on the screen, and natural sexual responsiveness is reduced. Cyber-sexual addiction has the potential of harming the emotional, psychological neurological sexual, and relational well-being of an entire generation of youth.
Additionally, chronic exposure to cyber-sexual activities has led many teens to believe that being sexually active is normal. It is now common for oral sex to be seen as the new kissing and for girls to send nude/partially nude photos of themselves via smart phones to boys as a way to communicate their interest.
These new issues create some major challenges for parents which leads many to ask, “What can we do to protect our kids?” We offer three important ideas for parents:
1. Supervise your kids when they’re on the internet. Use internet filters, but do not assume that filters will eliminate exposure to sexually explicit material. Just as important–Be wise in the decisions you make about allowing your kids to have smart phones. Be willing to take a strong stance if your child is not ready. Some kids simply are not ready to have possession of a smartphone. Allow them to have a phone, but do not provide a data package or internet access. Your child must prove to you they are capable of using it responsibly. When you do provide a child with a smart phone, you as the parent must retain ultimate control over the device which means you can take it and look through it at any time and without warning. It also means if you suspect misuse in any way, that you have the ability to take away the privilege.
2. Talk to your children about sexual issues—not just once or twice, but make it a regular on-going communication. Too many parents “have the talk” once and then assume their child(ren) will be fine. An open line of communication with parents about sexual issues throughout the adolescent years is vital to help teens navigate these challenges.
3. If one of your teen has become dependent on internet porn, get him or her professional help. Most individuals who become addicted to pornography can’t break the addiction on their own. Don’t trivialize or minimize the problems and somehow hope that the problem with go away on its own. Helping your child to manage the addiction now, rather than later in life will save them having to deal with the negative consequences as an adult.
Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.