Sexual Addiction and the Internet: Implications for Gay Men

By Dew, Brian J.; Chaney, Michael P. | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Sexual Addiction and the Internet: Implications for Gay Men


Dew, Brian J., Chaney, Michael P., Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


The authors present an overview of sexual addiction and explore the relationship between Internet use and sexual compulsivity. The role of Internet use in gay men's sexual behavior is described. Implications for the counseling profession are discussed, and a clinical case study is presented.

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Given its broad accessibility and significant expansion, the Internet is altering human interaction and interpersonal relationships. In the United States alone, more than 54% of the population accesses the Internet during any 1-month period, resulting in approximately 150 million users (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2002). Sexuality, a significant emphasis of the Internet since its inception, continues to be a commonly searched topic (A. Cooper, McLoughlin, & Campbell, 2000; Putnam, 2000). Nearly 20% of all Internet users have engaged in some kind of online sexual activity, ranging from obtaining information on sexual health, online chatting, to viewing pornography, to arranging face-to-face encounters offline (A. Cooper, Delmonico, & Burg, 2000). Although the majority of individuals who access the Internet, even for sexual purposes, do not report negative consequences, 6% to 10% of Internet users do report concerns related to their online sexual activities (Carnes, 2001 ; Schneider, 2000). Furthermore, Carnes (2001) discovered that for 1% of users, their online sexual activity virtually "crippled" their capacity to function in their everyday lives.

Sexual addiction is presenting an increasing challenge to mental health professionals. Corley and Schneider (2002) found that therapists who work with sexually compulsive clients are often unfamiliar with sex addiction, thereby potentially prolonging the addict's denial about the seriousness of the problem. Although progress has been made in the areas of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, research on sexual addiction is limited. Even less attention has been focused on the problems and behaviors associated with sexual addiction among gay men.

When acquired immune deficiency (AIDS) became recognized in the early 1980s as a major health problem, the sexual activities of gay men became a focus of concern to public health and mental health professionals. Although the demographics have changed of individuals who have been diagnosed with AIDS in the United States, the majority of AIDS cases and new HIV infections continue to occur among men who have sex with other men (Benotsch, Kalichman, & Kelly, 1999). As a result, investigating the sexual behavior and changing modes of sexual interaction among gay men remains an important field of investigation. Although research has shown clearly that the Internet is being used more frequently to engage in sexual activities, there is limited empirical research that has examined the effects of Internet use on the sexual behavior of gay men. In this article, an overview of sexual addiction is provided, the relationship between Internet use and sexual addiction is discussed, and the Internet's increasing role in gay men's sexual behavior is explored. Implications for the counseling profession are included, and a clinical case study is provided.

Sexual Addiction

Sexual addiction, defined as a loss of control over sex and a persistence in sexual behaviors despite adverse social, psychological, and biological consequences, is rapidly becoming recognized as a major social problem (Ragan & Martin, 2000). Affecting approximately 3% of adult women and 8% of adult men, compulsive sexual behaviors occur in approximately 15 million individuals (Carnes, 1991; Coleman, 1992; Earle & Crowe, 1990). Sexual addictions, like addictions in general, are considered progressive, chronic, and potentially fatal disorders and are characterized by high tolerance, craving, compulsion, secrecy, dependence, withdrawal, obsession, and personality change (M. Cooper & Lebo, 2001; Crawford, 1990). …

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