Is online sex addictive?

Finding sex online is harmless fun, right? Not if you start to get addicted. The Mix helps you work out if you should be worried about your webcam wanking habits.

typing on red computer

Are you worried about your online sex life?

Back in the olden days before the humanity-changing internet, a person had to actually LEAVE THE HOUSE to find someone to do it with. Craziness! Now you just need a broadband connection or smartphone and you can surf online for a fuck buddy. No dating, no preamble, no ties, no fuss.

Sounds great in theory, but this impersonal, unemotional world of online hook-ups can leave a person feeling a bit like they’ve just had sex with little more than their desktop device.

Finding sex online

There are now countless technologically aided ways to find and have sex, from webcams to mobile apps that allow you to locate your perfect shag to within a metre. Russ, 24, is a fan. “Webcams allow you to be more experimental without any comeback,” he says. “If you get knocked back you can move on and leave your sexual activity behind.”

Internet sex is great, right?

For the average horny Joe or Josephine, these titillating technological advances simply make life and sex easier. But the problem with online lovin’ is it removes the normal social procedures we go through to get sex. While real-world one-night stands are well known for causing confusion (did they just want me for sex? Why didn’t we remember to use a condom? Etc) online interactions have other potential problems we’re only just beginning to understand.

“The immediacy of these online sexual experiences takes inhibition out of the equation,” says Robert Weiss, who runs a sex addiction centre and is author of Untangling The Web: Breaking free from sex, porn and fantasy in the internet age. “There’s no time to think ‘maybe this isn’t a good idea.'”

“In the past, if you wanted sex, you had to get dressed, go out to a bar, practice social skills, practice getting rejected. All of these steps gave you time to think and perhaps back out. But with online hook-ups, these preventative steps aren’t there and that can make impulsive people vulnerable,” he says.

So what’s healthy online sex and what isn’t?

For most internet sex lovers, the thrill is relatively short-lived. We’re often loath to admit it, but humans crave a deeper emotional connection with one another. Therefore the thrill of dallying with an online stranger often loses its appeal eventually, because the sticky-keyboard fun tends to be a short-term phase. We’re programmed to shack up and snuggle together in caves, after all.

What’s unhealthy is when people get dependant on these 2D, fast-paced unemotional encounters. And with technology making such activities so easy, some psychologists believe this behaviour can result in a form of addiction.

What is online sex addiction?

“Online sex addiction isn’t really anything to do with sex,” says Robert. “People get addicted to the high they get pursuing the sex. It’s all in the anticipation of cruising for pictures and arranging the meet-up. The arousal begins long before the actual sex.”

Once the goal – i.e. orgasm – has been reached, the high disappears and addicts start seeking another encounter to regain it. This cycle repeats itself until real intimacy becomes impossible and users start feeling empty, guilty and alone.

Don’t panic you’re an addict just because you’re into online encounters at the moment. But if you feel your habit is doing you harm, Robert says there are signs to look out for to see if your online shenanigans are bordering on addiction:

  • Loss of self-control: You say to yourself over and over that you’re not going to do it anymore. But you keep breaking the promise, to yourself and to others.
  • Leading a double life: There’s a massive part of your life dedicated to chasing sex that you keep separate and hidden from others.
  • Ignoring the consequences: Your actions have hurt people, i.e. you’ve been cheating repeatedly on your partner, but you continue your behaviour and blank out how it might affect others.
  • Constant preoccupation: Any spare moment is dedicated to the pursuit of further sex and it’s always on your mind in some way.

I think I’m a sex addict, what should I do?

The biggest and hardest step is accepting you have a problem. This can be especially confusing when it seems like everyone around you is trying to get as much sex as they can. In reality, it’s not the amount of internet sex you’re having that’s the problem, but the effect it’s having on your life. If your behaviour isn’t making you happy, you’re entitled to seek help. It’s worth visiting your GP, who can refer you to counselling sessions or local support groups.

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching your GP, there are national organisations you can contact. Sex Addicts Anonymous is similar to AA and offers meetings all over the country. They also have video meetings if there isn’t anywhere near you.

Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Bourne

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of red computer by Shutterstock