Research Paper: Cybersex Schneider A) Quotes

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[. . .] Internet addicts, whom Young compared to pathological gamblers, tend to seek sexual and relational fulfillment through fantasy-oriented Internet encounters." (p.136) This is important because it gets at the heart of the confusion -- that, to a certain degree, what is addictive in cybersex is the element of fantasy, and the potential of high-speed Internet to make such fantasies easily acted upon. For Schwartz and Southern (2000), the "fantasy world of cybersex is a dissociative experience in which a person escapes the demands of daily life, as well as the pain and shame of past trauma."(p.127). Obviously many normal activities can be seen as pathological when done compulsively; in terms of cybersex, Grov, Gillespie et al. (2011) suggest a time indicator of compulsivity, defining "compulsive cybersex use as that exceeding 11 h per week" (p. 430). Yet the addictive nature can be overstated in such a way that makes the researcher seem foolish; if what we are largely talking about is fantasy and masturbation, it is hard to take it seriously when Schneider (2003) claims that for some individuals "cybersex is the first expression of an addictive sexual disorder, one that lends itself to rapid progression, similar to the effect of crack cocaine on the previously occasional cocaine user" (p. 331).

The difficulty is that, unlike crack cocaine (which surely cannot be demonstrated to have any positive application in daily life), the cybersex phenomenon has a positive side. Grov, Gillespie et al. (2011) note that those elements which "turbocharge" sexuality on the Internet are also of particular use to certain populations, such as the gay men examined in their study: they note "the anonymous nature of the Internet, as well as the variety of sexual expression depicted online, provides an ideal atmosphere to explore sexuality (p. 429). Ferree (2003) notes virtually the same thing about female sexuality as expressed through cybersex means, noting that "the Internet also allows a woman to be in total control of her sexual activity and relationships. Without the element of physical dominance, the playing field is level online and women possess equal clout, which they lack in most real-world stadiums." (p.389). And Gauthier and Chaudoir (2004) examine the role that computer and internet usage plays in the lives of female-to-male transsexuals (FTMs). They note that without the mediation of the internet in sexuality, there would not even be a community to speak of: "the FTM individual perceives his existence as a relatively solitary one, and there appears to be a felt need for connection with others in similar circumstances. Prior to the Internet, these individuals would have likely con- tinued to live in isolation from others with comparable experiences. Today, they can enjoy feelings of solidarity with the virtual community of FTMs that were not available to transsexuals even in the recent past." (p.393). In all of these cases, the authors are quick to point out that cybersex can have a useful effect for certain groups. Indeed, Grov Gillespie et al. (2001) want to point out that for ordinary heterosexual couples, cybersex "yielded tangible relational benefits" in "both men and women who identified as light or moderate users," who "credited their online sexual activities with subsequent increases in the quality and frequency of sex with their real life partners" and believed that cybersex "improved their relationships because it enhanced their sense of intimacy with their partners." (p.435-6). The goal here is not to pathologize cybersex activity tout court, but to identify its potential for addictive abuse.

But in terms of compulsive activity, what is most fascinating is that gender barriers break down. As Cooper et al. (2000) report in their study, comparing cybersex compulsives with other sexual compulsives, "a significant gender shift was noted in the cybersex compulsive group in that women were more likely to be included in this group." (p. 11). Why should this be the case? First it must be understood in terms of the standard psychological terminology. As Schwartz and Southern (2000) define it, "compulsive cybersex represents a courtship disorder in which the 'high' of being wanted by someone for sex regulates affect and bolsters a fragile self." (p. 127). For Ferree, this particular designation is the key to the gender difference: "the concept of courtship is still useful in providing a foundation for understanding why women disproportionately turn to the Internet as a relationship vehicle. Courtship is a process of creating and building relationships, and the Internet profoundly changes the way we relate to others." (p.388). Yet for Ferree the pathology steps in not because of the personal psychology, but because of the technology itself: "because of their lack of authenticity and genuine intimacy, online relationships are deficient in the true commitment necessary for meaningful human bonding. In sum, the Internet short- circuits most components of human courtship, such as noticing, attraction, touching, creating intimacy, and commitment." (p.389). In other words, the very means that permit a greater level of fantasy involvement are also a limitation to the formation of actual relationships. But it is surely the fantasy element which erases a gender divide, and makes compulsive cybersex an equal-opportunity disorder. The only real difference, as Schwartz and Southern (2000) note, is that "female cybersex addicts may be referred for treatment earlier than the middle-aged male cybersex addicts, possibly because the sexual conduct is so far outside the limits of stereotypical feminine behavior." (p.137). But at the same time, this contradiction of stereotypical feminine behavior is potentially viewed as a liberation potential inherent in non-pathological cybersex experience: Doring (2000) notes a conflict between the "victimization" and "liberalization" models for thinking about female cybersex experience, stating that "while the victimization model conceives of female Net users as victims of men's dominance and sexual wishes, the liberalization model conceives of them as actors with their own sexual desires" (p.870). This is why Doring (2000) ultimately concludes that "cybersex does not supply an all-purpose recipe for understanding self-determined, gratifying and socially compatible sexualities. It can, however, support empowerment on an intellectual and experiential level through the negotiation of boundaries and the critical exploration of desires." (p.874).

Here, however, the feminist desire not to stigmatize female sexuality comes into conflict with the nature of the technology involved. For Ferree (2003), "the anonymity of online behaviour has a disinhibiting and normalizing effect. For some women, the result is positive as they explore aspects of sexuality and interaction that they would never dare investigate in real life. Cybersex veers away from healthy sexuality when it interferes with normal responsibilities, causes distress, or becomes out of control." (p.390 ) Yet Doring (2000) believes that the distancing nature of the technology can also have its risks, suggesting that "physical distance and the computer-mediatedness of the exchange do not make cybersex safe sex; on the contrary, computer-mediated communication increases the opportunity to take advantage of women and to market them." (p.870). Such concern for vulnerable populations is the chief subject of Buschman et al. (2010) in their study of actual criminal sexual offenders who employ cybersex means: they argue that "cybersex offenders use computers to view, store, produce, send, receive and/or distribute child, and other forms of, pornography. They communicate with, groom and entice children and others into sexual victimization as well as using this mechanism to validate their views and communicate with other offenders" (p.197). In their conclusion, they note that even "first offence' downloader's…covered the whole spectrum of sex offending behaviours that are associated with high-risk recidivism," and that "downloading of child abuse images may indeed be a marker or predictor" for future behavior. (p.208). This raises the question of addictive or compulsive behavior that crosses the line into criminality. But in terms of pathology, it also seems to correlate with the findings of Ross et al. (2004), who note that among the population they studied -- that of Latino men who have cybersex with other men, but who do not necessarily identify themselves as gay -- "differing beliefs about Internet-mediated sexuality…may be associated with different levels of HIV/STD risk behaviors or different safer sex negotiation paths" (p.1010). But these are issues in which cybersex actually does correlate with pathological or criminal real-world activity. Grov Bamonte et al. (2008) offer perhaps the most useful insight as to whether cybersex invariably correlates to any form of action: they note that "using the internet for cyber-sex/fantasy can reduce one's need for 'real' sex (and thus reduce HIV transmission risks) but the use of the internet (whether for cyber-sex or 'real' sex) introduces the opportunity to trigger and/or exacerbate sexual compulsivity. Again, this represents a real opportunity for clinicians to more fully assess the role of the internet among their clients who experience sexual compulsivity or uncontrollable sexual thoughts or behaviours, and providers should be cautioned against making assumptions, due to the wide opportunity for individual differences." (p.121). This is a warning against overall generalization about the potential for cybersex to translate automatically into real-world sexual compulsivity, since overall every individual uses the Internet… [END OF PREVIEW]

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