Yukari is a 48-year-old mother and wife with everything to lose. She needs to be present for her daughter’s graduation and her son’s autism therapy appointments. She needs to be a partner to her husband. But she can’t seem to manage any of it. In the past, she worked really hard; she was a perfect wife and mom. Then her father passed—they had a difficult relationship—and Yukari started drinking. Five years in, after a lot of messy mistakes, she put the bottle down. Recovery felt good. But now she finds herself hooked on something new. Each night she goes to bed promising herself she won’t do it anymore, but each morning arrives and Yukari can’t resist the urge to check her throwaway email account. To post Craigslist ads. She’s already met five men and done things a younger Yukari never would have. In the moment, these dalliances make her feel alive and desired, young again and sexy. But afterward, she feels incredibly ashamed.
Cybersex Is Increasing
By now, we’ve all become aware that Internet pornography is accessible anytime, anywhere—provided you have a machine to capture it, however tiny, and Internet access, however reliable. Porn is no longer that hidden stack of magazines in the back of your dad’s closet, or those couple of VHS tapes your brother and his friends pass around. Now everyone can view pornography anytime they like, and virtually anybody does: men, women, even kids. It is believed, in fact, that with the rise of Internet porn, the average age youngsters are exposed to it is 11. With the burgeoning availability of a once underground commodity, porn has become practically passé. That isn’t to say it’s something we should try to ignore. Beyond the issue of younger and younger children exposed to pornographic images is a new problem even the pornographers may not have predicted—that of the growing number of women presenting with cybersex addiction. Cybersex refers to any kind of sexual arousal that occurs through the use of Internet technology—the viewing of images, the exchange of sexual messages, sexual video chat, etc.
Women and Cybersex Statistics
As with nearly every other medical or psychological concern, women are vastly understudied compared to men. The subject of sex addiction and cybersex addiction in women, in particular, has a long way to go, but there are reports that:
- 1 out of 3 people who clicks on an adult website is female
- 4 million women access adult websites every month
- 17 percent of women say they struggle with pornography addiction
- Women are more likely to engage in sexual online chats than men, and are more likely to act out their fantasies in real life: multiple sexual partners, casual sex, affairs, etc.
Compulsive Cybersex Stimulates Dopamine
The brain’s reward center produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation. Regular cybersex users begin to seek a high from their habit much in the same way substance users do. The problem is not the high itself, or even the use of cybersex—except when individuals’ values and beliefs cause them to feel deep shame in the process—but when the use of cybersex becomes compulsive, something users must do to escapes pain or boredom, or in order to feel relaxed and “normal.” When the need to view graphic material or sext with others disrupts one’s ability to live a happy, healthy life, it may be time to get help. Cybersex addiction often comes with shame, regardless of age or gender. Women who have a problem with compulsive cybersex or pornography addiction may feel even greater shame due to cultural messages about women and how they “should” behave. But sex is a natural human phenomenon, as is seeking pleasure, and nothing on the surface is inherently wrong with either. If your pleasure-seeking behaviors are causing you pain, dysfunction or shame, don’t wait to get help. Recovery is possible, and through the process, you may be surprised to find many others just like you.