01.09.2010 Internet pornography: a catalyst of sex addiction

Behavioural addictions. Online sex addiction is regarded as the m ost common form of Internet overuse. Its consequences for users, their partners and families, young people and society as a whole are hard to estimate. It poses new challenges in many specialist areas. The Fachverband Sucht, an association of addiction experts and organisations, hosted an interdisciplinary conference to discuss the topic on 16 June 2010 in Zurich.

Pictures Internet pornography: a catalyst of sex addiction

TODO CHRISTIAN

The spread of the Internet means that audiovisual representations of erotic material, sexuality and pornography have become accessible to the general public to a hitherto unknown extent. Pornography can be accessed online at any time, in unlimited quantity and in relative privacy. A very large proportion of men – but also some women – view sexual images in the form of photos, videos and live webcams. Some of them do so excessively, in a way that can be classified as dependent. Factors such as social taboos, grey areas in the law and fear of exposure also play a part. Experts from the fields of social work, psychology, medicine, spiritual welfare, education and the law attended the interdisciplinary conference on «Online, Sex and Addiction» in Zurich to discuss and present papers on the facts, causes and scope for interventions.

Opportunities and risks
Ease of access from home, anonymity, low cost, variety, fast long-distance communication across national boundaries, the possibility of taking on virtual identities, limited scope for control and censorship: these factors, according to physician and psychotherapist Dr. Andreas Hill, make the Internet particularly important for sexuality. They create many opportunities such as enrichment of sexual fantasies and experimentation in a safe setting. Hill also considers that, particularly for shy people with little self-confidence or with disabilities, the Internet provides new opportunities for social and sexual contact. Prof. Nicola Döring, Professor of Media Design and Media Psychology at Illmenau University of Technology, is also convinced that there are positive aspects to (legal) online pornography. In particular, the Internet makes it possible for people to act out their sexual inclinations and preferences, which they would not do outside the net for fear of rejection. This, she states, often has a liberating effect and enhances self-acceptance. In addition, she went on, the Internet enables sexual minorities to connect with like-minded people and enjoy mutual support.

But the point at which the effects become adverse is soon reached. The main problem with online pornography is its unlimited availability, which makes it a powerful catalyst of addictive sexual behaviour. According to Andreas Hill, it offers vulnerable individuals a very simple escape from real relationships, whether sexual or non-sexual. The consequences are growing isolation and loneliness. Moreover, real-life sexuality and relationships may not be able to keep up with the virtual sex world, resulting in hurt feelings and serious pressures on couples’ relationships. The consumption of hardcore pornography in particular can aggravate aggressive and deviant sexual impulses and lower the threshold of inhibition about en­gaging in real life in fantasies that involve self-harm or harm to others.

Consequences for young people
As sex educationist Bruno Wermuth showed, pornography is virtually taken for granted among young people. In a study conducted by the University of Fribourg, 48% of 12-year-old boys and 30% of girls of the same age claimed that they had seen pornographic material. Among 15-year-olds, the figures were 88% of boys and 38% of girls. Wermuth went on to say that frequent and regular viewing of online pornography can have an adverse impact on young people’s ideas of sexual realities. Among the boys the most common effect is for them to feel pressure to perform sexually, while girls feel that they must have a perfect body. In addition, Dr. Andreas Hill cited a study showing that the deliberate search by young people for online pornography was associated with poor emotional ties with a parent figure, delinquent behaviour, problematic use of substances and depressive symptoms.

At what point can preventive measures be applied?
According to a number of speakers, the ability to handle online sex constructively is key to the prevention of online sex addiction. For Nicola Döring, media literacy in the form of competence in dealing with pornography, and sex education are the best means of prevention. Daniel Süss, Professor of Media Psychology at Zurich’s University of Applied Sciences, emphasised the growing need for an approach to media education that directly addresses issues such as pornography, sexuality and stereotyping. Media would, in fact, have the greatest impact in areas in which people have no experience of their own, no discussion of problems with others and no clear attitudes of their own. So what we have to do is promote the ability to judge media, and what they offer us, critically and the ability to enjoy what does us good.

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Contact

Sandra Wuethrich, Drugs Section, Sandra.wuethrich@bag.admin.ch

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