My experience with sex addiction is inextricably intertwined with the Internet. While it’s possible that I might have learned to act out in the same ways I learned to act out on the Internet even if the Internet never existed, I doubt it. Were it not for online chat rooms, webcam sites, social media sites and online dating sites, I truly believe that my underlying issues with sex, love and relationship addiction would have remained buried beneath the other addiction problems I’d been dealing with for more than two decades.
For this reason, I suppose I can thank the Internet for foregrounding my issues, because I’ve learned more about myself in the few years I’ve been in recovery from sex and love addiction than I did in years and years of recovery from alcohol and substance addiction.
Sex And Love Addiction Affects Both Men & Women
As a writer in the field of addiction and recovery, I read a lot of journal articles about addictions of all sorts. Some people say sex addiction is a myth; some say love addiction is a myth.
Some say Internet sex is not addictive; some say it is. Some say men are more prone to some types of addiction, and others say women are more prone to other types of addiction.
As an individual in recovery, I attend meetings and listen to people share their stories, day in and day out. I hear things that contradict what I read in the journals, and I also hear things that support what I read in the journals. It’s an interesting position to be in. I’ve heard both men and women speak openly and honestly about both sex and love addiction, and I’ve also heard both men and women speak of the need to carefully regulate their Internet behavior in order to manage their sex and love addictions.
Speaking for myself, I can say this: there is a particular type of Internet behavior that for me is undeniably related to my sex and love addiction. I call it self-destructive surfing.
How The Internet Affected Sexual & Love Addiction For Those In Recovery
The members of my recovery group Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) often speak candidly about their Internet behavior. I do not necessarily recommend SLAA over other sexual recovery groups, of which there are many; SLAA just happens to work for me.
While I know how to define self-destructive surfing for myself, it might be helpful for others in recovery to read about the various ways that people in active recovery discuss the interplay between their sex or love addiction and the Internet.
Here’s a partial list of what I hear:
- Individuals who self-identify as sexual compulsives make frequent use of social media sites to actively seek acting-out partners.
- Individuals who self-identify as sex addicts make frequent use of both dating websites and social media sites to seek acting-out partners.
- Individuals who self-identify as sexual intrigue addicts make frequent use of both dating websites and social media sites to engage in sexual conversation, innuendo and interpersonal intrigue.
- Individuals who self-identify as love and/or approval addicts make frequent use of email and instant messaging to gain approval or find new love/relationship interests.
- Individuals who self-identify as pornography addicts make frequent use of pornography sites and live webcam sites to fulfill their addictive urges.
Methods To Handle The Internet For Those In Sexual Addiction Recovery
The Internet comes up in some way in just about every meeting I attend, and since a major reason to attend meetings is to “live in the solution,” here’s a partial list of the positive methods both myself and my recovery partners use to handle the Internet:
- Complete Abstinence: For some people, total Internet abstinence is the only answer. They’ve taken the Internet out of their homes, gotten rid of their smartphones and don’t log on to the Internet, ever.
- Temporary Abstinence: For many people in recovery from sex addiction, taking a period of abstinence from sexual activity is an important part of their initial recovery program. In the same way and for the same reasons, many people find it helpful to abstain from the Internet for a specified period of time.
- Targeted Abstinence: Some people need to use the Internet for work, which makes total Internet abstinence impossible. For these people, avoiding the websites and/or Internet services that served their addictions is essential. In the case of social media sites, some people choose to abstain from them temporarily and only return when they’re sure they can do so in a clean, healthy and non-destructive manner. Other sites, such as pornography sites, are off-limits.
- Total Accountability: Some people enable Internet tracking services to be installed on their home Internet modems or routers and their smartphones, and give access to the tracking services to a recovery partner, a mentor, a therapist or their spouse. This creates immediate consequences for any Internet activity that can be construed as related to their sex/love addiction.
- Bottom Line Behaviors: Many people make the first three rules listed above hard bottom lines: recovery is contingent on sticking to their personal rules regarding the Internet.
The Internet: Use It Wisely
The Internet is a powerful tool that allows people to connect and share information instantly over vast distances. Its influence is felt in all areas of life. It’s used in science, medicine and education. It’s used in politics, commerce and industry. People use it to communicate with their families, friends and loved ones. People use it for work.
Unfortunately, it’s also easy for people struggling with sex and love addiction to use it for self-destructive purposes. On the other hand, people struggling with sex and love addiction can use it as a resource to help find their way out of their self-destructive patterns. Speaking for myself, I’ve done both. Using the Internet, I found my way into sex addiction—but it was not the Internet itself that did anything, because it can’t do anything: it’s just a tool.
Now, using the Internet as a tool, I can search for and find recovery groups and meetings in my area. I can find tips for working through the steps. I can also write articles that will be published on the Internet—articles like this one, which I hope might help people who are facing some of the same issues I’ve faced.
By Angus Whyte