Online Sex and Fetish Addictions, from a Psychological and Neurological Perspective
My presentation was inspired by the Ellis Hanson reading (The History of Digital Desire).
Hanson talks about “A commercialization of sexual variation” (594), and this idea that the internet allows us to experience a new level of “erotic connectivity” (595).
How exactly does the internet create or encourage compulsive sexual behavior?
Psychologists turn to the “triple A engine” – referring to accessibility, anonymity and affordability as the reason for why people develop online sex or porn addictions.
Patrick Carnes, author of “In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior” studies sex addiction as a field of psychological dysfunction, and says cyber sex didn’t fit the classic profile of sex addicts.
John Bancroft, the former director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, says sex addiction is not recognized as a legitimate psychiatric disorder. But the Internet’s potential for escalation and variety that has created such an increase in compulsive sexual behavior.
“In the past, someone could buy videos or magazines, each with a clear beginning, middle and end. “But now you can sit in the den and it never ends,” he says. “There is a much better opportunity for someone with addictive tendencies to just get lost.”
Sex researchers at Kinsay divided the human sexual response into four distinct phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution.
These behavioral phases, neuroscientists have learned, are generated by an exquisite interplay between two competing systems in the brain: the excitatory system and the inhibitory system. Former Kinsey Institute director John Bancroft, says “we can only speculate and conceptualize how the brain functions in an inhibitory way.”
Nonetheless, when someone is uninterested in sex — called a sexual anorexic by some clinicians — or obsessively masturbating, it is safe to say that either the inhibitory system or the excitatory system is out of whack.
The final ingredient in the inner workings of our sexual responses is what sex researchers call an arousal template. It is as individual as a fingerprint, and it includes “the total constellation of thoughts, images, behaviors, sounds, smells, sights fantasies and objects that arouse us sexually.” The template can be as elaborate as an opera or as innocent as a particular perfume. The internet allows us to express, and create representations for these unique templates, so other people who have similar templates can interact with them online.
“People build up a tolerance, it doesn’t give them the same high that it did before,” Bancroft says. So the process from excitement to resolution is thwarted. They need more to get excited and, for those who are compulsively hooked on cyber sex, the gratification of resolution never occurs.
Some other interesting (and perhaps slightly unrelated) finds:
- A man speaks about his Balloon Fetish:
- To read more about the Kinsey Reports: