(404) 874-8536 johnballew@gmail.com

Sex and the Internet

“Leave it to gay men to invent the ‘Home Cruising Network,’” a friend of mine said a few years ago.  Like many men, he had found that the Internet opened up an amazing variety of sexual options.  Some folks have always found quick, anonymous sex to fill an erotic need, but the internet has created an overwhelming variety of options.  Instant gratification is really is instant – especially with phone apps that not only tell you who is also looking, but how far away they are from your phone.

Online sexuality more or less falls into one of three categories:  1) finding someone online for a real-time encounter via profiles or chat; 2) online porn, erotica, etc., to use for a sexual fantasy; 3) connecting with someone via chat, instant messages, email or webcam for mutual sex play.  Of course, the internet is also a major source of information and education around sexuality.  And it’s also a place to shop for sex-related goods and services without the embarrassment of face-to-face human interaction.

Men have cruised one another via personal ads, phone lines, etc., for years.  And men have always been interested in porn, sexy images and stories – just look at the success of porn magazines and videos.  What the Internet has added is immediacy and variety.  Stimulation is available all the time and in catering to every conceivable fetish and fantasy.  Got a thing for blond Russians into watersports?  Ivan and Igor are waiting for you right now!  Balloon fetishes or a thing for feet?  Click and you’re there.  No wonder a song from Avenue Q says “the internet is for porn.”

So what difference does all this make?  Is the effect of the internet on sexuality positive or negative?  Perhaps we should start by noting that cyber sex gives a whole new meaning to the term “safer sex.”  No body fluids are exchanged when the sex is more or less electronic, and that’s worth a thought.

Ever notice how people feel freer to express what they want online?  They can get in touch with their desires – especially, it seems, the kinkier ones – and that can even be the kind of self-discovery that leads to more mature enjoyment of sex.

When cruising online, it’s important to distinguish fantasy from reality. Creating the perfect fantasy is easy when you’re not going to meet face to face.  But how many men have invited someone over only to find that their chat buddy had stretched the truth a little – subtracting 10 years and 25 pounds from that self description?  In most cases, chatting and exchanging messages isn’t the same thing as really getting to know someone.

Cyber sex is a little like the advice you might have heard in high school health class about masturbation:  normal and healthy as long as you don’t do it “to excess.”  (“Excessive” usually meant “more often than the person leading the conversation.”)  There is no need to get puritanical about computer-generated sex, but there are good reasons to think about what you’re doing.

The impersonal nature of online sex can be both a blessing and a curse. It certainly makes it easy to find something to turn yourself on.  But can it become too easy?  Sexual material is everywhere, and that means we can find ourselves in sexual situations without remembering exactly how we got there.  Cruising for sex can become a way of avoiding reality.  Maybe we cruise because we’re bored or stressed or just have nothing better to do.  We can find ourselves wasting more and more time – or becoming dependent on the Internet as a sexual outlet.  That’s especially true for men who are anxious about sex for one reason or another.  When that happens, cyber sex becomes compulsive, not recreation.

How much is too much? Most men who enjoy sex have worried about whether or not they may be “sex addicts.”  The same thing can be true of online erotic stuff.  You’re entitled to private fantasies without having someone make you feel guilty about having a little fun.  At the same time, though, compulsive sexuality can lead to real problems:  wasting time that should be spent more productively (working, for instance), messing with dating or committed relationships, spending too much time alone in front of the computer instead of with friends.

Men who are compulsive about cyber sex tend to promise themselves they will cut back…and then find they can’t.  They become secretive about their computer use.  They find themselves spending more and more time and energy around erotic fantasies; they may even begin to think of their computer as an alternative sex partner.  Or they take stupid risks – engaging in illegal activities like collecting child porn or putting themselves at risk in other ways.

How do you keep a problem from developing?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Have sex when you’re horny – not when you’re bored, anxious or distracting yourself from problems.
  2. Monitor your use (pun intended).  Spending too much time doing any one thing is going to get out of hand.  Get away from your keyboard and do something else.
  3. Don’t lie about what you’re doing.  Keeping secrets can make cyber sex more powerfully attractive than it needs to be.
  4. Take stock of your relationships.  Is there enough intimacy in your life?  Are you happy with the quality of your interactions with others?  Or does spending time online serve as a substitute for taking the risks of actually meeting someone face-to-face?
  5. Take a long look at your sex life.  A little fantasy is a good thing, but if most of your sex is masturbating at a keyboard, you are sexually anorexic.
  6. If you decide you need professional help, find a psychotherapist with a positive attitude towards sexuality and gay life.  You need someone who will help you make your life fulfilling on your own terms, not try to fit you into someone else’s definition of healthy sexuality.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.