Sex and Love Addiction on the Internet: Employers and EA Professionals Need to See Minor Sexual and Relationship Problems as Probably Indicative of Larger Issues and Provide a Healthy and Supportive Environment for Assessment, Referral and Treatment

By Griffin-Shelley, Eric | The Journal of Employee Assistance, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Sex and Love Addiction on the Internet: Employers and EA Professionals Need to See Minor Sexual and Relationship Problems as Probably Indicative of Larger Issues and Provide a Healthy and Supportive Environment for Assessment, Referral and Treatment


Griffin-Shelley, Eric, The Journal of Employee Assistance


A 27-year-old married woman, an inside sales agent, is discovered sending sexually intriguing e-mails and texts to male co-workers. A 45-year-old single man, a highly skilled technician who will be hard to replace, is caught viewing pornography at work after receiving both verbal and written warnings in the past.

These and other scenarios involving online sexual and relationship behaviors are increasingly common in the modern workplace. Both examples involve workers whose productivity is compromised by their sexual and romantic preoccupations, obsessions, and compulsivity.

How can EAPs be of value to employees, managers and companies with regard to sexual and relationship behaviors, some of which are inappropriate and others actually dangerous, but all of which are facilitated by the Internet?

RESEARCH FINDINGS

For more than a decade, professionals who work with sex and love addicts have referred to online sexual activity as the "crack cocaine" of sex and love addiction. This is because people are getting into trouble and becoming addicted much faster than before the advent of the Internet. The late A1 Cooper explained that the "Triple-A Engine" of accessiblity, affordability and anonymity has fueled the speed of, and increased the risk of people developing, problematic sexual and relationship behaviors online (Cooper and Griffin-Shelley 2002).

Little research has been conducted in this area, in part because funding sources are reluctant to pay for the study of a political "hot button." In a study of online sexual activity, Cooper et al. (2001) found that 80 percent of those who use the Internet at least look at pornography Of that group, about 15 percent reported having engaged in problematic online sexual activity and 5 percent may have progressed to pornography addiction. In another study, as many as 15 percent of people who did not have a history of sexual acting out were deemed "at risk" for developing a problem with online sexual activity (Cooper, Delmonico and Burg 2000).

In an unpublished and non-scientific examination of 22 men and 3 women (average age: 43.8) referred recently for possible sex and love addiction, more than half (14) indicated that their primary problem involved using the Internet. Three of the men had been arrested for possession of child pornography (which seems to be an increasing problem), and two of those were involved with distributing or trading child pornography.

These statistics suggest what most EA professionals already know--that Internet sexual activity is having a major impact on men and women in the workplace. Unfortunately, due to fears of complaints about sexual harassment, most employers prefer to discipline or remove employees with these difficulties. As Mike Cipressi (2006) suggested in his "Back to the Future" presentations at EAPA and EASNA (Employee Assistance Society of North America) conferences, EAPs should support sexual and relationship addiction treatment in the same ways they supported chemical dependency treatment in the early years of the EA profession.

Indeed, problematic and addictive online sexual and relational activity has an impact on work performance that is similar to that of chemical dependency Online sexual and relationship activity can lead to decreases in productivity, more absences, and even disability (as in the case of a highly skilled professional whose arrest for possession of child pornography resulted in hospitalization and a disability claim).

Employees with online sexual addictions also can exhibit poor concentration, leading to errors and omissions that can be quite costly Such workers can be preoccupied, irritable, and isolative. They may exhibit inappropriate sexual humor or engage in sexually intriguing conversation.

Certain types of work environments can foster sexual and relationship acting out. Work that involves travel can be risky due to television and Internet access in hotel rooms. …

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