The most common definition of cybersex is a virtual sexual encounter between two or more people using the Internet. It can involve people viewing each other over a webcam or communicating via text based messages, instant messaging, webcam, voice, Skype, either in a chat room, on a message board, using a video service, through instant messaging or through an email system.
Some have expanded the term to include online pornography, but for us, the definition given above will be our frame of reference. Since the people involved are often miles or even continents apart, of course no actual sex occurs and what happens is technically considered masturbation.
There is nothing inherently wrong with cybersex itself, and can be a way for long-distance couples to connect on a more intimate level than previous technology would allow. But it rises to the level of sex addiction when a person is doing it compulsively, using it to suppress negative emotions and perhaps replace them with false feelings of intimacy and love. A healthy adult can cut back on online sexual behavior if it threatens relationships, causes them problems or takes over large portions of their life. A person suffering from an addiction may use the Internet to fill his or her needs and cannot reign in the behavior.
People, either with an addiction or without, exhibit all manner of sexual preferences and needs. A person with sex addiction seeking physical gratification may be content to masturbate to online pornography, and one seeking physical contact along with that gratification may go to prostitutes or visit a number of consensual partners.
In terms of the level of intimacy and social interaction required, cybersex is one step above masturbating to pornography and one below visiting a prostitute. Even within the behavior itself are a range of intimacy levels. A chat room that uses only text is the least intimate of a person’s online options. The sex addict knows there is a real person on the other keyboard interacting with them in real time, but they may not know each others’ names, physical appearance, gender or anything else except for what they write on a screen. A certain level of detachment is preserved, and there is room for fantasy still. A chat room or text message board is usually where a cybersex-based sex addiction will start.
In the chat room, pictures may be exchanged between the parties and can then segue into the use of voice chats, phone sex and or webcams. This does not mean the people involved have kept the same partners during the transition. Cybersex has the added lure of providing multiple sex partners with whom the addict can have casual, sexual encounters to fuel his fantasies.
A more problematic aspect of this particular addiction is the heightened level of intimacy it provides for an addict, something beyond traditional pornography viewing. With sex addiction, rational thought can be overridden by the desire to fill the need, which in these cases can be something beyond physical sex. Perhaps two people engage in behavior with each other more often than they do others. One or both may feel a bond forming, however this bond will be based on filling sexual needs and not involve other aspects of a healthy relationship. To a person with a sex addiction, this bond will feel real, and just as real feeling does, it will cause pain when it inevitably comes apart. This leaves the sex addict with more negative emotions which he will then suppress with yet more addictive behavior.
Other issues that can crop up with a cybersex-based sex addiction are the same ones that can be seen in anyone with any kind of sex addiction problem. Spending large portions of time, more than 10 hours per week online participating in sexual behavior, is a sign there could be a problem. The person putting off work or other activities in order to engage in online sex act is also an indicator. Of course a spouse or romantic partner may not see much of a difference between cybersex and real sex and consider it an infidelity.
Cybersex can expose a sex addict to more concerning problems as well. While it is important to remember not all sex addicts are sex offenders, the nature of it lends itself to those who are disposed to experimentation. An addict can pretend to be whoever he wants to be online or find someone pretending to be, or who actually is, a minor. A person in control of his or herself can avoid legal problems, but a person with sex addiction may not.