Peculiarities of Cyberspace

Hornification of the internet

I'm internettting ...
What does someone do who is 'internetting'? People visualize this in the most diverse ways. Many people immediately think of someone who is secretly watching porno sites in a dark attic room, but of course doesn't want to tell his wife and when she asks “what are you doing?” replies with “I'm internetting” and she still doesn't know anything ……”.

Sex is excessively exhibited in advertisements, video clips and fashion – creating the suggestion of a tolerant sexual climate. But there is a huge gap between the representation of sexuality in the media, and the practice and toleration of it by individuals and communities.

Pornography is one of the most controversial themes in internetuse in the last years. The availability of pornography on the internet has caused a 'moral panic' among authorities, judicial and police institutions, and among the traditional media. There is the notorious Communications Decency Act in the United States (June 1995) intended to protect children from access to “patently offensive 'indecent' sexual material”, easily accessible to them via online computerservices. The controversial law aimed at the restriction of access of minors to explicit pictures of sexual activities. The law is not focused on documents with an educational, political, medical, artistic, literary and social value with respect to themes such as sexuality, reproduction, human rights and civil literties. The Congress and Senate voted for the law which had to ban obscenities and immorality from the internet. Republican Dan Coats from Indiana called the internet “a wild frontier of degraded and degrading pornography ... available to every child with a computer and modem". In 1997 the Supreme Court rendered the law inoperative.

"It is no exaggeration to say that the most disgusting, repulsive pornography is only a few clicks away from any child with a computer. I am not talking just about Playboy and Penthouse magazines. ... I am talking about the most hardcore, perverse types of pornography, photos, and stories featuring torture, child abuse, and bestiality" [Senator James Exon, initiator of the Decency Act. Remarks made on 14 June 1995. Recorded in the letter of the Justice Department in reaction to the objections of the American Civil Liberties Union against the Communications Decency Act, February 1996].

In conservative circles the internet is often depicted as a digital version of Sodom and Gomorra, where pornography and perversity control the flow of data. Parents are incited to protect their children against damaging content (e.g. nudity) by installing internetfilters, such as Netnanny, Net Shepard and Cybersitter. Internetprovider Compuserve even tries to recommend their services with a 'free' protection against unwanted information. In their zealotic enthusiasm Compuserve even succeeds in introducing a man who looks a bit bewildered because his wife has just installed the Compuserve filter on the computer, stopping him from having access to 'sex'. Sex is made a taboo again. The Compuserve fanatics have put sexuality behind bars again, as a dirty and filthy thing. Again, there is a lot of work to be done for the Dutch Association for Sexual Reform.

Sex remains a controversial subject, no matter whether it is distributed via digital or analogous means. The representation and practice of sex is closely interrelated with cultural ideologies and fears. Sex is preferably the affair of a monogamous heterosexual couple in the privacy of the bedroom. Any aberration from this sexual norm is not considered a 'variation' but a 'deviation'.

Internet is a 'training field' for local social life. In the safe and anonymous setting of the internet people can experiment and explore their sexual limits and skills. People experiment with sexual preferences and – partial or global – identities. Some moral crusaders consent to this, as long as these experiments don't exceed the virtual boundaries and as long as it remains 'functional'.

The most important activity of legislators and parents in relation to internet-content is child pornography, and not so much other forms of pornography. Paedophiles have used the internet for the circulation of pornographic material related to children. Paedophiles make up a sexual minority-group, with their own forms of expression of fantasies and representation of sex with children. There is a general consensus that the line should be drawn at child pornography. In most cases child pornography is a permanent proof of the sexual use of child (except in the case of pseudo-pictures).

The internet is an enormous, international library. It goes without saying that some people don't like their children to drift around on the internet, with the risk of reading potentially dangerous material. But the remedy is not pulling books out of the bookcase and prosecuting librarians.

It is ironical that the new legislation is most profitable for commercial pornography distributors: when they can keep minors out of the door they will become practically immune for the law, and even more popular because they can offer the only uncensored areas of the internet.

In the discussion on the regulation of the internet two themes should be strictly distinguished. In the first place the regulation of potentially damaging content such as pornography and in the second place the regulation of illegal content such as child pornography. Regulation aimed at the protection of a specific group of people (for example children) should not take the shape of an absolute ban on the use of the internet to distribute specific material which is freely available for adults in other media. The production, distribution and possession of child pornography is illegal in The Netherlands and in many other countries. But this doesn't count for pornography as such. It is expressly not the intention of the Dutch legislator to keep adults from examining sexually stimulating visual material. In 1985 the provisions on the distribution of offensive material have been deleted from the Criminal Code of the Netherlands. Since then the general rule has been that adult, mature civilians can decide for themselves which information they want to receive. For the government there is no task in the field of 'good taste' or decency. Thus, the government is no 'moralist', but does have the task to penalize certain behaviours in order to protect a third party, for example children or certain communities. This principle, however, is not shared internationally.

What is pornography?

Pornography: arousing sexual stimulation 

"We can't spell, but we can scream..."

Pornography is a verbal or visual representation of sexual acts — it is a portrayal of people as sexual objects for the pleasure of others. Pornographic material is intended to arouse sexual stimulation. It can lead to masturbation, just like a novel or film can lead to crying or laughing. The regulation of masturbation is no task for the authorities.

Pornography knows no legal or consistent definition. The definition of each individual depends on their upbringing, sexual preferences and the context in which the pornographic material is being watched. What is 'exciting' for one may be 'filth' for the other, or 'boring' for a third person.

A lot of pornography is biased in a sexist way and therefore little attractive, or even repulsive and insulting for women. Yet, sexual images, which do not comply with the desires of women, should not be prohibited. The answer to bad pornography is good pornography and not no pornography.

There is no fixed or unquestioned definition of pornography, not in The Netherlands, nor in the multi-national context of the internet, where cultural, moral and legal variations over the whole world make it hard to define 'pornography' in such a way that it is acceptable for everyone. What is considered to be 'sexually explicit but not obscene' in one country is considered to be obscene in other countries. And what is considered to be pornographic but legal in another country can be considered as obscene and illegal under the law of still another country. In some countries there is hardly any legislation against child pornography and sexual abuse of children.

'Indecency' is a word that covers a wide range: from four-letter words to nudity and all sexual material that is considered to be 'insulting' according to certain standards.

The USA has laws, regulating pornography with a clear understanding of the First Amendment, which covers freedom of speech. There is a difference between 'obscenity', which is not protected by the First Amendment and 'indecency', which is. To decide what is and isn't obscene the threefold Miller test is used.

  1. would the average person, applying contemporary community standards, find that the work taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest?
  2. does the work depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law?
  3. does the work, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value?

It is fairly obvious that deciding what is and isn't obscene with the help of this test isn't simple. All three have to be positive to regard something as obscene.

Distribution and use of pornography

Almost Clean
Usenet is one of the most unique and popular parts of the internet. It is a system of public newsgroups not controlled by anybody and not subjected to any form of central authority. Although some newsgroups appoint a moderator, whose sole task it is to control all messages before they are posted, most newsgroups do not have moderators. In 1980 Usenet was invented by students of the Duke University and the University of North Carolina. It is often claimed that pornography on the internet is mainly distributed by the Usenet newsgroups. It is a fact that a number of Usenet newsgroups are completely devoted to sexually explicit discussions and images (predominantly located in the* en alt.binaries* hierarchies). But this is less than 1,5% of the many thousands existing newsgroups. The overwhelming majority of information in the newsgroups is extraordinarily clean.

Pornography is distributed via various media: books, magazines, post, videos, cable television, CD-ROMs, fax, telephone and computer networks. Currently pornography is brought on the internetmarket in an increasingly advanced manner. In the meantime cyberporno has attracted a broad and attentive public in various internet environments: newsgroups, discussion groups, mailing lists, chat boxes, peer-to-peer networks and the World Wide Web.

Pornography on the internet is available in different formats, ranging from pictures and short animation-films to sound files and stories. Most pornography is available via the pages of the World Wide Web. Sometimes it is also distributed via Usenet newsgroups or ftp-sites. Of course the internet also facilitates discussions on sex, watching live sex (PornoCams), and the simulation of sexual activities from computer screens. The history of pornography time and again closely follows the rhythm of development of the mediating technologies, and plays a hard-core role in this process. The webmasters of porno sites were the ones who made an important contribution to the development of shopping carts, the embedded pop-ups, payment per click, etc.

Originally the internet business mainly consisted of the sale of pictures and videos containing porno. At this moment approximately half the traffic on the internet concerns porno, and the majority of the sites which require payment concern porno shops. The Netherlands creates a substantial export surplus on the internet. The number of visitors of porno sites is roughly higher than of 'ordinary' sites. The most popular page in the 'adult site' top-10 is an index page with references. Advertisers with porno-offers have immediately adopted this site. The site Hun's Yellow Pages draws more than a million visitors each day [source: NedStatSexTracker].

Because porno is sold to men (and sometimes also women) in all tastes and formats on the internet market, it has struck the market for erotic reading and salacious videos a hard blow. The surplus nude magazines are dumped in the former Eastern bloc on a large scale. According to the Dutch sexline-owner Buch many distributors of pornographic reading find it extremely difficult to survive. Expectations are that as soon as the bandwidth of the internet is big enough for the transfer of films, the market of porno videos will have to take a severe beating.

Marketing Cyberporno

The internet facilitates the distribution of gigantic quantities of pornographic material on a non-regulated market with a huge, international public. Intrinsically computerpornography doesn't differ essentially from pornographic magazines and videos. But the costs can be drastically reduced by distributing it via computernetworks. This lowers the barriers for both publication, distribution and opening up. The internet makes access easy.

Whenever users log in on a pornosite their clicking behaviour and possible transactions are filed in the databases of the pornographic entrepreneurs. This way the porno bosses are increasingly better informed about their buying behaviour and sexual preferences. The more sophisticated the computer pornographers are, the more they use these databases to develop mathematical models with which they can decide which picture is best suitable to put aggressively on the market. The marketing strategy of pornographic entrepreneurs is shifting. The strategy of market satiation was followed by a strategy of market segmentation. This specialization on certain segments of the market is at present more and more replaced by a strategy of individualized 'one-to-one' marketing. At any rate, the internet has become a more or less ordinary means of transport for the distribution of large quantities of 'hard' and 'soft' pornography.

Before the 'ordinary' e-commerce emerged the erotic sites ran the show on the net. The top-10 of search-terms existed for 90 percent of erotic terms. But also the commercial erotic sites have met with drawbacks the past years. The time of acquiring customers and generating growing income seems over. Several factors play a part in this process: the economic recession, the satiation of the internet with free pornography (of an increasing quality), the irritating and dubious practices of some pay-sites (free trial subscriptions which are automatically changed into a regular subscription), and lasting problems with regard to the safety of payment. In the meantime there is such an overkill of free 'adult content' that many people find it unnecessary to pay for pornographic pictures and video clips.

The pornographic industry on the internet has grown big through the system in which smaller, free sexsites generate traffic to the big pay-sites. The bigger commercial sites pay the small ones per click on a banner, or per arranged subscription. This has made the supply of digital porno overwhelming. Visitors of pornosites are flooded with an endless series of banners and pop-up windows, intended to keep them in the pornocircuit as long as possible. The consequence of all this is dat visitors of free pornosites are less and less inclined to subscribe to pornographic pay-sites. Moreover, the main search machines —like Yahoo!— have by now discovered that they too can conquer a piece of the pornocake by changing to a system in which porno-distributors have to pay for a place on the list. The smaller sites, who lived on the thousands of visitors per day through the searchmachines, cannot afford these investments and do not get as many visitors as they used to. For many webmasters these are not only indications of a forthcoming shakeout of paid pornosites, but also that in the wake of this many free sites leading to the big commercial sites will disappear.

Pornografic temptations

Sexually compulsive behaviour via the internet is not only the result of deviant individuals who use the internet to live up their already acquired obsessions. Also people without any psychiatric past increasingly yield to obsessive internet behaviour. So the question is if, and if so why the internet creates a cultural climate of tolerance, which encourages and appreciates sexually deviant behaviour. The ACE-model investigates the Anonymity of online interactions, which increase the chance of sexually compulsive behaviour, the Convenience of interactive online applications makes it easy for users to access temptating sexual material and online interactions, and finally the Escape from the mental tension that reinforces the behaviour leading to compulsion.

  1. Anonymity
    The anonymity of electronic transactions offers users a stronger sense of control over content, tone and kind of online sexual experiences. The anonymous character of social contacts realized via the internet put social control of 'irresponsible behaviour' out of action. Online interactions have an uninhibiting effect: people feel free to express themselves in an uninhibited way. In contrast to sexual experiences in local life, a woman can switch partners quickly when her cyberlover doesn't please her, and a man can log-off after his orgasm without a long goodbye. On the internet people don't feel inhibited by possible repercussions in local social life. A man can wonder in private what it would be like to have sex with another man, and explore this question without any of his local contacts noticing anything. A woman who has always wanted to try out bondage can live her fantasy to the full in virtual SM-games without her friends noticing anything. Within the anonymous context of cyberspace conventional notions about sex are eliminated, enabling users to indulge in hidden or suppressed sexual fantasies in a private laboratory, with no fear of being caught. For anyone who has ever been curious after bondage, groupsex, urination, homosexuality, cross-dressing, cybersex offers a private, safe and anonymous way to explore these fantasies. 
    In hypersocial relations one is free to choose the identity one prefers. The decision of how to present oneself is free. In online contexts others are judged without return-information of the normal sensory signals. This may lead to strongly distorted, emotionally charged projections [King 1995]. These projections —partial and selective self-representations— can be communicated without the normal restrictions which are imposed by the need to maintain the social order. Therefore people will sooner experiment sexually on the internet: internet-users feel encouraged to indulge in their adult fantasies and to appreciate them because of the acceptation of cyberspace culture. The significant difference between cyberspace relations and relations developing face-to-face or via other media are the new cultural values of virtual communities: virtual communities cherish social norms which facilitate and stimulate contact with relative strangers.

  2. Convenience
    This leads to the second variable of the explanatory model: cyberporno and erotic chat sites are easily accessible. Their immediate availability makes it easy to lapse into compulsive patterns of internet use. The wide distribution of sexually oriented chat is a mechanism that stimulates people to have their first orientation. A curious husband or wife can secretly enter the 'S-M' Room, the 'Fetish Room' or the 'Bisexual Room'. Initially they are merely shocked by the candid erotic dialogue, but at the same this stimulates them sexually. The ease of accessibility makes sexual experiments easier for people who normally would not get mixed up in such practices.
    Most vulnerable are people who suffer from a low self-esteem, a seriously mutilated image of the body, untreated sexual malfunctions, or a former sexual addiction.

  3. Escape
    People automatically assume that the primary reinforcement of the online sexual act is the experienced sexual satisfaction. Studies show that sexual stimulation can be the initial reason to engage in cybersex. But in the long run some sort of drug, offering an emotional or mental flight from or a changed definition of reality, reinforces the experience. For example, a lonely woman suddenly feels desired by her many cyberpartners or a sexually insecure man changes into a hot cyberlover who is desired by all women in the chat room. This experience does not only offer sexual satisfaction, but enables a subjective mental escape through the development of an online fantasy-life in which someone can adopt a new personality and online identity.

In the defence of people who have been prosecuted for sexually deviant behaviour American law courts have recognized the role of online compulsion as a mental disease. Exemplary is the case 'the United States versus McBroom'. It was successfully proved that downloading, watching and transferring internetpornography are less a matter of erotic satisfaction than of an emotional escape-mechanism to work off mental tensions.

A leather goddess

Escape from the frustrating drag of everyday local life is possible in virtual role-plays in the cybertheatre. It is a role-play in which the participants can choose their own role. Each player adopts the identity of a self-selected, fictitious character and follows a number of rules that structure the adventure. The users give a description of themselves and manifest themselves as they would like to be. They live their fantasies to the full in a world that is simulated by the program. In these virtual surroundings the participants supervise to a certain extent how others see the surrounding.

Some participants in virtual roleplays succeed extremely well in drawing attention. In the LambdaMOO Lynn, —in real life a law student— gives a well-considered description of his fantasy character with the name Leather Goddess:

"Confident, brown eyes look out at you, covering you with a warm, soothing glow. She has long, straight hair that reaches down to her waist and outlines the form of her shapely, perfect figure. She wears bright red lipstick that makes the slight curl at the end of her lips all the more enticing. She sees your glance, and winks to you. She wears a skimpy leather bikini top, which does not adequately cover her figure. Her stomach is flat and tight, covered with light sun oil that makes her skin glisten slightly in the light. Her arms are toned, but slender. Leather Goddess has soft, delicate hands, with long, carefully manicured fingernails. Leather Goddess has on a leather miniskirt that tightly hugs her body, showing off her figure to its best advantage. Her legs are wrapped up in black silk stockings, which show you every line and curve. Leather Goddess wears a pair of black pumps, which arch her calves nicely."

Many fictitious characters resemble the Leather Goddess. In the virtual world anyone can be beautiful and sexy – and that is the temptation.

Gender significantly influences the way in which men and women experience cybersex. Women prefer cybersex because it hides their physique, removes the social stigma that women shouldn't enjoy sex, and enables them to concentrate with safe means on their sexuality in new, unrestricted ways. Men prefer cybersex because it takes away their fear of performance, of which underlying problems with premature ejaculation or impotence can be the cause. It also hides the physique of men who feel uncertain about loss of hair, size of penis or overweight.

Characteristics Effects
Anonymity Stronger sense of control over own online sexual experiences by the loss of local social control on deviant behaviour. Encouragement to live fantasies to the full and acceptance by cyberculture.
Convenience Direct universal availability of cyberporno. Facilitation of sexual exploration and experiments.
Escape Flight from or other definition of frustrations of local reality. Sexual satisfaction and emotional escape by development of online fantasy-life.

Cybersexual Obsessions

Internet doesn't create sexual addicts, but offers opportunities for sexual expressions which may lead to sexually addictive behaviour. Sexual addicts are responsible for their own behaviour and for the consequences of their sexual expressions and practices. Although the internet offers easy access to sexualised information it cannot be held responsible for the addiction. Sexual addicts should learn to draw the line for their consumption of cyberporno. Fortunately the internet is not only a strong seducer, but also a potential educator. The internet plays a role of growing importance in the information on healthy and lustful aspects of sexuality. Moreover, many sources are available on the internet which can be used to 'kick off' from a cybersexual addiction.

Cybersexual addictions —leading to obsessive internetuse— occur to people who watch online pornography, download and trade it, or who are involved in a role-play for adults in chatrooms. A cybersexual addiction is one of the specific forms of internetaddiction (next to cyber-relational addiction, netgaming and gambling addiction). At a rough estimate 1 out of 5 internetaddicts is glued to some sort of online sexual activity. Men watch more cyberporno, while women usually lose themselves in erotic chat.

A cybersexual addiction usually comprises a wide range of practices. Sometimes an addict only has trouble with one undesired form of behaviour, sometimes with more. Unhealthy use of sex is not an innate condition, but the result of a (failing) conditioning, learning and socialization process. It usually begins with an addiction to masturbation, pornography or a relationship, but it can gradually grow into morally reprehensible or dangerous forms of behaviour.

Beyond your bounds
"When you're engaging in cybersex, you're sexually aroused and get caught up in the moment. You're less likely to think about your actions and might make a decision that you would otherwise not make, to cross a boundary that you wouldn't otherwise cross" [Robert Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles].

The essence of all addictions is that the addict feels powerless over his or her compulsive behaviour, which makes their life uncontrollable. Sexaddicts lose their freedom of choice — they are no longer free to choose whether they are sexually active or not. The addict loses control and feels great shame, pain and self-pity. The addict wants to quit, but fails repeatedly. The uncontrollability of an addict's life exposes itself in the consequences from which they suffer: loss of relationships, problems at work, arrest, financial problems, loss of interest in non-sexual things, a low self-esteem and despair.

Sexual preoccupations take up an enormous amount of energy. As this energy increases, a behavioural pattern (or ritual) follows, which usually leads to 'acting out' (for one person this means flirting, looking for pornography on the net, for the other this means walking in the park).

Indications: warning signs of cybersexual addiction

  1. The routineus spending of huge quantities of time in chatrooms and on personal messages with as the only goal finding cybersex..

  2. The feeling of being preoccupied with the use of internet to find online sexual partners.

  3. Frequent use of anonymous communication to absorb in sexual fantasies that are explicitly not lived to the full in 'real life'.

  4. Anticipating your next online session, expecting to find sexual excitement or satisfaction.

  5. Finding out that you regularly move between cybersex and telephonesex (or even local meetings).

  6. Hiding your online interactions for significant others.

  7. Experiencing a feeling of shame or guilt because of your online use.

  8. At first getting accidentally excited by cybersex, and then finding out that you are actively looking for it when you're online.

  9. Masturbating during an erotic chat while you're online.

  10. Investing less in you local sexual partner because you prefer cybersex as a primary form of sexual satisfaction.

You might like nswer the following questions to judge whether you have a problem with a sexual addiction.

  1. Am I sexually addicted or do I run the risk of becoming an addict??
  2. Do you keep your sexual or romantic activities a secret to people who are important to you? Do you lead a double life?
  3. Have your needs driven you to have sex in places or situations or with people you wouldn't normally choose?
  4. Are you actively looking for sexually stimulating articles or scenes in newspapers, magazines or other media?
  5. Do you think romantic or sexual fantasies interfere with your relationship or prevent you from facing problems?
  6. Do you frequently feel the urge to run away from a sexpartner after having had sex? Do you often feel guilty, ashamed or remorseful after a sexual encounter?
  7. Are you so ashamed of your body or sexuality that you avoid touching your body or having sexual relationships? Are you afraid you don't have sexual feelings, of being asexual?
  8. Does every new relationship have the same destructive pattern that was the reason for breaking up your last relationship?
  9. Do you need more variation and frequency of sexual or romantic activities than before to reach the same level of excitement and satisfaction?
  10. Have you ever been arrested or do you run the risk of being arrested due to your practices of voyeurism, exhibitionism, prostitution, sex with minors, indecent telephone calls, etc.?
  11. Is your strive for sexual or romantic relations at odds with your spiritual belief or development?
  12. Do your sexual activities entail the risk, the threat, or reality of illness, pregnancy, force or violence?
  13. Has your sexual or romantic behaviour ever given you a feeling of despair, alienation of others, or has it made you suicidal?

If you have answered more than one of these questions positively, it might be useful to take a closer look at yourself.

The unique and tempting interactive qualities of the internet are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the origin of obsessed internetuse. A cybersexual obsession only occurs to people who are predisposed. We could use some more research is into the extent to which frustrations in local social life contribute to a tendency towards cybersexual obsessions.

We have learned that in virtual communities status and power are acquired in a different way than in local social life. The lack of visual signals and the relative anonymity of the participants stimulate a sense of equality. In virtual communities people are primarily judged by the strength of their ideas, regardless of the status they have in their local community. This levelling of status enlarges the accessibility of virtual communities for new people (mostly the communities are very 'hospitable'). Internet communities provide access to information, relations and communications that one cannot expect when operating within the boundaries of the interactional, organizational en community structures of local social life [Garton 1995].

Inclination to addication
Students used to belong to the first privileged groups who received easy and unrestricted internet access. They soon discovered that this was a very appropriate medium to start new relationships. Their restless online search behaviour towards new exciting relations in some cases doesn't take an obsessive shape until the student is pressured to perform by his parents [Sanches 1996]. Students who don't dispose of free access to the internet anymore often experience this as loss of social support. 

Addiction is a form of trained helplessness, leading to negative feelings. The immediate reward of gambling, gaming or lusting after someone offers temporary satisfaction of the unsatisfyable desire for self-assurance [Taber 1987]. People suffering from cybersexual addiction often take up a defensive position and magnify the positive aspects of their lives to compensate for this lack of self-assurance. We notice the same mechanism in other forms of addiction, of which alcohol addiction in our cultures takes up the first place, leaving all other addictions far behind. Therefore it is not surprising that half of the internet addicts were already addicted to something else [Young 1996; Brenner].

Internet offers an incredible variety of open communities: “invite yourself” + “everyone is welcome”. 

This offers unprecedented new possibilities for people who are motivated to participate in a social network and want to be seen as a respected member. In the internet communities which are established by means of digital text-exchange people feel that they have really reached status when others quote their message or recognize their contribution. The extent to which this acts as a reinforcement for the continuation of this behaviour depends on the extent to which someone lacks other traditional sources of social status. People who have problems with interacting with other people in local social life run the biggest risk of becoming dependent on the communication opportunities that computernetworks offer.

The basic pattern always seems to be the same. People who become frustrated in their attempts to satisfy their specific needs in local social life, will regard the internet as the first interpersonal medium that satisfies these needs. This can be so much reinforced that people neglect their interactions in local social life for some time. When this tendency is preserved, the temporary cybersexual passion becomes a permanent obsession, with as the result an unliveable balance between virtual and local social life. Potential victims are most probably chiefly people with a large, uncontrolled fantasy.

A large number of new internetusers for some time explore with great passion the possibilities of cybersexual relationships and enjoy themselves with cyberpornographic material. In the diagnostic criteria for internet addiction the time-perspective is very important. In a cyberpornographic addiction it only involves the lasting tendencies towards online porno, over a significant period of time at the expense of the quality of local social life. This makes addiction to cyberporno a pathological condition (in contrast with a freely chosen passion). As with all addictions the difficulty remains to draw a clear borderline between 'normal enthusiasm' for and 'abnormal preoccupation' with cyber-eroticism and – pornography.

A world of sexaddicts?

  • It is Saturday evening and the scene is an internetcafé somewhere in Amsterdam. It is a quiet evening until a visibly agitated young woman approaches the bar. She cannot speak a word and grabs a piece of paper and a pen. She writes a few words down and hands it over to the barman in charge: “There's a man masturbating behind the computer!” The barman rushes to the rear of the café, where the internetcomputers are. And there he is: redheaded, fly open, rod in hand, staring at his screen showing 'silicon women', displaying unearthly shapes and unnatural proportions. The barman taps on the man's shoulder and brings to his attention that he is in a public place where this kind of behaviour is not appreciated. With a start the man looks up from his screen. He has simply forgotten that he is in a café, is deeply ashamed and rapidly leaves the place.

  • It is Monday morning and the scene is now a medium transport company. The head of department wants to look something up and goes to the filing room. There he finds the bookkeeper, fly open, and watching a pornosite. Caught in the act of masturbating behind the computerscreen, in the boss's time. The horny bookkeeper is lucky if he can keep his job.

  • It is Wednesday evening and the scene is the private house of Celine and Harry. Celine is an attractive housewife and is four months pregnant with her third child. Harry is a hard-working websitebuilder, and is, just like his wife, deeply religious. Harry says he has to go upstairs for a little while to finish some work. This has been going on for months and Celine feels lonelier all the time. By eleven thirty she's fed up with it and goes upstairs with a glass of wine to tempt her husband to go to bed together with her. She opens the door of his study and sees him masturbating with the help of a pornofilm, which he has downloaded from the internet. No wonder he hasn't felt like making love to her lately. She can never compete with those moulded breasts and bottoms. Celine and Harry have a difficult time after that, but by talking and praying a lot they finally succeed in keeping their marriage going.

These true to internetlife horny scenes are not unique. It started at the time with the 06-lines. The partylines and chatboxes enabled people to make sexually charged contacts quickly. Much quicker than in the normal, local world, where so many people trip over corny opening sentences. The disadvantage of 06-lines is that contact takes place via verbal exchanges and that it is very expensive. The internet has added images to the communication and is much cheaper nowadays.

Does the internet contribute to the hornification of society? More and more reports are published which conclude that the internet creates a world of sexaddicts. The porno consumption of frustrated and lonely men increasingly shifts from dark sexcinemas, pornovideos and 06-lines to the internet. In itself that's not so surprising or alarming. The pornobosses were the first entrepreneurs to understand they had to transfer their sexploitation to the internet. The only thing the cyberpornobosses worry about is the huge number of internetplaces where people have free access to pornographic material (they share this worry with conservative moral censors and moralists, even though their motives differ immensely).

The hornification of society via the internet may just as well arise from a completely different source. After all, people who go on a spree online belong to the groups that are sexually most restrained in local social life: women, homosexuals, sado- and masochists, fetishists, paedophiles. They try to regain their lack of excitement, advances, intimacy and satisfaction in local life via the internet. In an obsessed manner they immerse in a cesspit of horny fantasy.

Therapy: Sexaholics Anonymous

Just like other forms of addictions cybersexual addictions know multiple causes and several phases. The treatment of a cybersexual addiction is most likely to succeed when the specific peculiarities of the individuals involved are taken into account.

Pornographic representations have an important function in the self-gratification behaviour of people (predominantly men). Masturbating is something most people sometimes do. This doesn't mean —and certainly not necessarily— that someone who masturbates has a problem. However, masturbation can be compulsive and cause great problems. When masturbation is compulsive and leads to problems for a person, it is a good idea to change this behaviour. To change this the first thing to do is to understand the function of this behaviour. Regulation of masturbation is not a task for the government, lawyers or policemen, but for the people involved, their counsellors and therapists.

We have seen before why it is really necessary to pay special attention to the use of and addiction to cyberpornography and interpersonal cybersex. Something that can safely, quickly and completely satisfy basic human desires ('instant satisfaction') is predestined to become an addiction for some. The problem here, of course, is the secrecy with which pornography-consumption and cybersex are surrounded. The question is how people can be induced to report on such internet-activities themselves. Fortunately the same technology with which someone got into trouble can also be used to discourage cybersexual obsessions. The internet offers several possibilities for online sexaddicts to talk about their problems with fellow-sufferers and experts and to search for solutions.

A lot of good information on online sexaddicts can be found on the site: Online Sexual Addiction. People who have a need for it can follow an online course to conquer their compulsive sexual behaviour or their cyberpornographic addiction. They can also make use of several links to sites where sexaddicts can get advice and support: recovery links. In Struggling with Porn one can read how Christians struggle with their sexaddiction.


  1. CyberSex & CyberPorn (SocioSite)
    Online resources on cybersex and cyberpornography.

  2. Social-psychology resources on the internet(SocioSite)

  3. Akdeniz, Y. [1996]
    Computer Pornography: A Comparative Study of the US and UK Obscenity Laws and Child Pornography Laws in Relation to the Internet.
    International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 10

  4. Akdeniz, Y. [1996-2001]
    Regulation of Child Pornography on the Internet: Cases and Materials related tot Child Pornography on the Internet
    Journal of Information, Law and Technology(JILT) 1997:1.

  5. Akdeniz, Y. [1997]
    The Regulation of Pornography and Child Pornography on the Internet

  6. Barak, Azy / Fischer, Wililam A. / Belfy, Sandra / Lashambe, Darryl R. [1999]
    Sex, guys, and cyberspace. Effects of Internet pornography and individual differences on men's attitude toward women.
    Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality 11: 63-92. Abstract 
    Research on the effects of exposure to internet pornography on university men's attitudes toward women. The amount of exposure to internet pornography per se has no detectable relationships with misogynist attitudes.

  7. Benschop, Albert [1997-2003]
    NetLove and CyberSex: The (im)possibilities of bodiless intimacy

  8. Bilstand, Blake T.
    Obscenity and Indecency on the Usenet: The Legal and Political Future of Alt.Sex.Stories

  9. Childnet International
    An international organization dedicated to making the internet a safe place for children.

  10. Dwyer, Susan [1995]
    The Problem with Pornography.
    Belmont, CA: Wadsworth

  11. Fournier de Saint Mauer, Agnès [1999]
    Sexual Abuse of Children on the Internet: A New Challenge for INTERPOL.
    Paper for the Expert Meeting at UNESCO on 18-19 January 1999. Specialized Crime Unit, Interpol General Secretariat.

  12. Greenfield, David N. [1999]
    Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them
    New Harbinge Publications.
    Greenfield is an expert in the field of internetaddiction. He started his study on obsessive online behaviour when he noticed that an increasing number of couples looking for marriage counselling struggled with problems connected with cyberspace. Greenfield shows how to cope with cyberaffairs and cybersex, and how to protect children from the dangers of cyberspace. The book ends with a number of warning signs for misuse of the internet, a step by step plan for addicts to change their behaviour, and advice for compulsive buyers.

  13. Hunt, A, / Wickham, G. [1994]
    Foucault and Law: Towards a Sociology of Law as Governance.
    Pluto Press.

  14. Hunt, Lynn [1996]
    The Invention of Pornography. Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity 1500-1800.
    Zone Books

  15. King, Storm A. [1999]
    Internet gambling and pornography: illustrative examples of the psychological consequences of communication anarchy.
    CyberPsychology and Behavior, Vol 2, 3. Dit artikel is op aanvraag verkrijgbaar op King's site: Stormsite.
    This article is available on request on King's site: Stormsite. Two areas of internet behaviour - gambling and distribution of pornography - are studied, starting from the question what they reveal about the deeper social and psychological changes caused by the recent progression in communication-technology. Kings expects that the number of people who need treatment for internet-related problems will increase. He shows how the internet brings about a shift of paradigm in the relation between individual people and local, regional and national authorities. People – and even minors – cannot be fully protected anymore by their authorities against material that is seen as harmful by the community in which they live. We don't know very well yet what the psychological consequences are of the increasing need of individual responsibility for the access to potentially dangerous domains. In this article King sketches the outlines of a study into the extent of pathological involvement in online gambling and pornography. He sees this as a small step forward in the discovery of the potentially negative psychological consequences of the impotence to regulate the contents of the internet.

  16. Landis, David [1994]
    Sex, Laws & Cyberspace; Regulating Porn: Does it Compute?
    USA TODAY, Aug. 9, 1994.

  17. Levine, Deb [1998]
    The Joy of Cybersex: A Guide for Creative Lovers.
    Ballantine Books.
    See the very critical reviewof Nat Muller.

  18. NRC
    Dossier Kinderporno

  19. O'Connell, Rachel [1999] 
    Paedophile Networking and the Internet Newsgroups

  20. Putman, Dana E.
    Online Sexual Addiction Homepage (OSA)
    A site meant to help people who are compulsive in their sexual behaviour on the internet. The site of Friends of OnlineSexAddictis a forum for users of OSA who support each other by exchanging sources which help sexaddicts (and their partners) to recover from sexaddiction.

  21. Reidenberg, Joel R. [1996]
    Governing Networks and Cyberspace Rule-Making.
    Emory Law Journal 45.

  22. Seksverslaving
    The Foundation National Prevention and Information Bureau Sexaddiction informs on the approximate 5% of the population using sex as an addiction.

  23. Society for the Advancement of Sexual Healt (SASH)

  24. Sex Addiction and Treatment

  25. Travis, Alan [2000]
    Bound and Gagged: A Secret History of Obscenity in Britain.
    Profile Books. Via Amazon 
    Travis shows how obsessed the established order is by sex and perversities. With the Obscene Publications Act from the Victorian era, books by important authors (James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller) were banned because they were supposed to be “filthy and disgusting”. At present there is a new debate on censorship going on in England, but this time centering around the question how the contents of the internet should be regulated. Extracts

  26. UNESCO [1999]
    Children and Violence on the Screen
    Report from the Expert Meeting at UNESCO on Sexual Abuse of Children, Child Pornography and Paedophilia on the Internet. 18-19 January, 1999.

  27. Wallace, J. / Mangan, M. [1996]
    Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace.
    New York: Henry, Holt, and Company.

  28. Williams, Linda [1999]
    Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and "Frenzy of the Visible". 
    California: Univ. of California Press.

  29. Young, Kimberley S. [1998]
    Caught in the Net. How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction and A Winning Strategy for Recovery.
    New York: John Wiley & Sons. The table of contents, introduction and a few reviews are available online.