Monday, September 9, 2013
Cybersex Addiction Treatment for Teens
CHRISTOPHER MULLIGAN LCSW
The combination of a LGTBQ teen’s emerging curiosity and confusion about sex, their increasing sex drive, together with the accessibility and aggressive marketing of sex on the internet, has resulted in online sex or “cybersex” becoming a regular part of their sexual development. Unfortunately, research suggests between 10 and 15 percent of teens (straight and LGTBQ) cannot manage moderate behavior when they engage in sexual activity online and quickly develop compulsive behaviors that can result in addiction.
The term cybersex is a catchall phrase used to describe a wide variety of computer and cell phone based sexual behaviors. These behaviors include accessing online pornography (audio, video, text), engaging in sexual chats, creating an avatar to engage in sexual acts or chats, using WebCams to engage in “live” interactive sexual behavior, using social media sites or email to arrange offline sexual encounters, using sex toys designed for the online world, or a combination of all of the above.
For the majority of teens - straight and LGTBQ - the preferred form of cybersex is “sexting.” The term “sexting” refers to communication with content that includes sexually explicit pictures and/or text messages sent using cell phones or other electronic devices.
Although sexting may be the preferred form of cybersex, increasing numbers of LGBTQ and straight teens are engaging in sexual interaction in chat rooms (with friends, acquaintances, and strangers), using WebCams to engage in interactive sexual behavior with a “live” partner (friends, acquaintances, and strangers), and using the Internet to locate and “hook up” with anonymous sexual partners .
LGBTQ and straight teens are also growing increasingly focused on online pornography and are developing significant problems controlling their behavior. Material with explicit sexual content exists in cyberspace at a total of 400 million pages and counting! Some pornography is found on professional sites, but much of it is found on amateur sites. Parents are generally unaware chat rooms and popular websites that allow instant messaging can easily lead to images from WebCams that are sexual in nature.
Research shows that when sexual arousal occurs after viewing a sexual image, the neurotransmitter epinephrine is released. Epinephrine makes its way to the brain which serves to “lock” the image in to the brain’s capacity for recall. The teen can then recall the image at any time, triggering the same feelings of excitement and arousal. Other neurotransmitters are also released such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and adrenaline which create euphoric states, causing the teen to search for images that will create the same experience. For many teens, the accessibility and anonymity of cyberspace make it very difficult to resist pornographic sites, which can lead to addiction.
Getting Help for Compulsive Cybersex
If you believe your LGBTQ teen has developed compulsive online sexual behaviors, it is crucial to confront this problem directly in order provide appropriate help.
The focus of our treatment program is to assist the sexually compulsive LGBTQ teen in decreasing destructive online sexual behaviors while simultaneously increasing healthy offline sexual behaviors.
As would follow, our treatment program has two primary goals:
1) Reduce the teen's immediate short-term destructive behaviors. Achieving this goal includes 1) helping the teen understand sexual compulsivity by learning to differentiate high risk behaviors from healthy sexual behaviors 2) learning to identify emotional triggers and thinking errors that lead to compulsive sexual behaviors, and 3) learning how to reduce high risk sexual behaviors by developing social and therapeutic support.
2) Develop healthy sexual behaviors. Achieving this goal includes 1) understanding the function/purpose of sexual compulsivity 2) understanding the cost/risks of maintaining sexually compulsive behaviors 3) learning what constitutes healthy sexuality, and 4) learning how to cope with relapse/desire to re-engage in sexually compulsive behaviors.
Our program is designed to help LGTBQ teens understand the function of their sexually compulsive behavior while simultaneously providing information that encourages healthy sexual choices. Additionally, our program helps LGTBQ teens learn to negotiate barriers to achieving long-term sexual well-being.
Our treatment program progresses through three stages:
1) Stage I: Problem identification (taking an off-line and online sexual history, defining problematic sexual behavior, defining different types of online sexual behaviors, tracking behavior through an Internet activity log, identifying emotional and cognitive triggers, identifying high-risk situations, understanding how compulsive sexual behavior is maintained despite negative consequences, defining the process of change, and creating an immediate short-term harm reduction plan).
2) Stage II: Primary treatment (defining sexual identity and sexual orientation, defining the role of body image in healthy sexuality, defining the role of fantasy in healthy sexuality, defining intimacy in the context of sexual relationships, defining spirituality/values in the context of healthy sexuality, defining sexual functioning, defining health sexuality, and defining barriers to sexual health,).
3) Stage III: Continuing care plan (creating a long-term sexual health plan, reviewing the role of healthy sexuality in psychological well-being, reviewing social and emotional triggers, understanding the role of relapse in developing sexual health, and creating an ongoing support system).
Our treatment program is tailored to the unique strengths and challenges of each teen and his/her family and focuses on helping the LGBTQ teen understand and develop a lifelong healthy sexuality.
In the context of helping the sexually compulsive LGBTQ teen understand how to create a life-long pattern of healthy sexuality, our program incorporates the following material:
1) Understanding the biology/science of LGTBQ sexuality.
2) Myths, generalizations and distortions about sex within the LGTBQ community.
3) Confronting homophobia in society and school.
4) Deciding to “come out” (with family, community, and school).
5) Making social connections within LGTBQ community.
6) Dating and relationships within the LGTBQ community (LGTBQ dating basics).
7) Sex and sexuality (making sound decisions about sex, avoiding abusive relationships, identifying myths and truths about LGTBQ sex).
8) Transgender teens (what it means to be transgender and dating and sexual options for transgender teens).