Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men (2016)

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COMMENTS: A study on French-speaking males (below) found that problematic Internet porn use is associated with reduced erectile function and reduced overall sexual satisfaction. Yet problematic porn users experienced greater cravings. The study appears to report escalation, as 49% of the men viewed porn that "was not previously interesting to them or that they considered disgusting." Interestingly, 20.3% of participants said that one motive for their porn use was "to maintain arousal with my partner." (Rob Weiss does a good job of analyzing this study.)


Note: OSAs are 'online sexual activities', which meant porn for 99% of respondents. An excerpt:

"Results indicated that higher sexual desire, lower overall sexual satisfaction, and lower erectile function were associated with problematic OSAs. The present data suggest that men with problematic involvement in OSAs may have an intense sexual desire that can be related to the development of excessive sexual behaviors and may explain in part the difficulty of controlling this sexual urge. These results can be linked to those of previous studies reporting a high level of arousability in association with sexual addiction symptoms (Bancroft & Vukadinovic, 2004; Laier et al., 2013; Muise et al., 2013)."

These results perfectly match the experience of men with porn-induced ED: greater cravings or wanting, yet lower arousal and satisfaction coupled with erectile dysfunction with real partners. Not surprisingly, 20.3% of participants said that one motive for their porn use was "to maintain arousal with my partner."

In addition, we finally have a study that asks porn users about possible escalation to new or disturbing porn genres. Guess what it found?

"Forty-nine percent mentioned at least sometimes searching for sexual content or being involved in OSAs that were not previously interesting to them or that they considered disgusting, and 61.7% reported that at least sometimes OSAs were associated with shame or guilty feelings."

The participants also reported high rates of "unusual or deviant" porn use. An excerpt: 

"Of note is that although the results showed that most pornographic content searched for by men is essentially “traditional” (e.g., vaginal intercourse, oral and anal sex, amateur videos), with paraphilic and unusual content (e.g., fetishism, masochism/sadism) being less frequently searched, some pornographic content that is often considered “unusual” or “deviant” was frequently researched (teen, 67.7%; group sex/gang bang, 43.2%; spanking, 22.2%; bukkake, 18.2%; and bondage, 15.9%)."

The study also reported a very high rate for "problematic porn use" among participants. Note that the criteria for taking the survey were (1) using porn in the last 3 months, and (2) French-speaking male.

"Finally, 27.6% of the sample self-assessed their consumption of OSAs as problematic. Among them (n 118), 33.9% considered asking for professional help regarding their OSAs."

The researchers' conclusion urges study designs that parse out relationships between various aspects of porn use and sexual problems:

"Future research should further investigate the role of specific risk factors in the development and maintenance of men's problematic involvement in OSAs. In particular, the exploration of sexual dysfunctions seems to be an interesting avenue of research. Indeed, future studies are needed in order to better understand the complex interrelationships between offline and online sexual behaviors. To date, the problematic use of OSAs has been essentially conceptualized within the framework of addictive behaviors without considering the uniqueness and specificity of OSAs, or the heterogeneous manifestations of problematic use. For example, qualitative interviews would be a valuable method to understand the phenomenology of problematic OSA use. Future studies should also be conducted with clinical samples, focusing on the most recent types of OSAs such as 3D sexual games involving immersion and role-playing components."


Computers in Human Behavior

Volume 56, March 2016, Pages 257–266

LINK TO PDF OF FULL STUDY

Aline Wéry,, J. Billieux

Abstract

Involvement in online sexual activities (OSAs) is ubiquitous, especially in males, and can under certain circumstances become problematic. The risk factors associated with problematic OSAs remain, however, poorly explored. The current study aimed to investigate the characteristics, usage patterns, and motives for men to engage in OSAs and to disentangle the risk factors associated with problematic OSAs. To this end, 434 men completed an online survey measuring socio-demographic information, OSAs consumption habits, motives for engaging in OSAs, symptoms of problematic OSAs, and sexual dysfunctions.

Results showed that watching pornography is the most prevalent OSA, and sexual gratification is the most frequent motive for OSAs involvement. Additional multiple regression analyses indicated that the following characteristics are associated with problematic use of OSAs: (a) partnered-arousal activities (e.g., sex chat) and solitary-arousal activities (e.g., pornography); (b) anonymous fantasizing and mood regulation motives; and (c) higher sexual desire, lower overall sexual satisfaction, and lower erectile function.

This study sheds new light on the characteristics, motives, and sexual function of men involved in OSAs, emphasizing that problematic OSAs are heterogeneous and depend on interrelated factors. The findings support tailoring of preventive actions and clinical interventions to both OSA type and individual risk factors.

Keywords: Online sexual activities; Cybersexual addiction; Problematic online sexual activities; Motives; Sexual dysfunction


Excerpts from the study

The psychosocial factors that may be related to problematic use of OSAs have also received little attention. In particular, two factors that could play an important role in the development and maintenance of problematic usage have rarely been investigated: (a) the individual motives that drive involvement in OSAs and (b) the presence of sexual dysfunctions (i.e., the inability of a person to experience sexual desire, excitement, and/or orgasm, or to achieve sexual satisfaction under appropriate circumstances).

To date, studies are lacking that have explored the role of sexual dysfunction (e.g., erectile or orgasmic disorders) in the onset of problematic OSAs. Nevertheless, some inferences can be drawn from the few studies that pointed out the importance of sexual gratification or sexual excitation in problematic OSAs. Indeed, Brand et al. (2011) reported an association between sexual arousal ratings during the viewing of Internet pornographic cues and self reported tendencies towards problematic OSAs. In another study, Laier, Pawlikowski, Pekal, Schulte, and Brand (2013) emphasized that OSA-related addiction symptoms are associated with greater sexual arousal, craving, and compulsive masturbation resulting from pornographic cue presentation. These findings support the gratification hypothesis of problematic OSAs, in which positive reinforcement associated with OSAs leads to the development of heightened cue reactivity and craving (i.e., arousability) in relation to proneness to problematic OSAs. Bancroft and Vukadinovic (2004) found, in a sample of 31 selfdefined “sex addicts” a higher level of general sexual excitation (i.e., arousability) than in matched control participants, whereas the two groups did not differ in terms of sexual inhibition scores (i.e., inhibition due to threat of performance failure and inhibition due to threat of performance consequences). A recent study by Muise, Milhausen, Cole, and Graham (2013) investigated the role of sexual inhibition and sexual excitation, reporting a correlation between inhibitory cognitions (indicating greater anxiety during sex) and a high level of sexual compulsivity in men, but not in women. This study also showed that independent of gender, a higher level of arousability (ease of becoming aroused from a variety of sexual stimuli) was associated with a higher level of sexual compulsivity.

Despite the exploratory nature of the current study, we could formulate several hypotheses on the basis of previous research. First, as the sample comprises male participants, we expected that solitary-arousal activities would be favored in comparison to partnered-arousal activities. Second, we expected that the main motives to engage in OSAs would be related to sexual curiosity, sexual arousal, distraction/ relaxation, mood regulation, and education/support. Among these motivations, we predicted that mood regulation and interest in OSAs that were only available online would be associated with problematic OSAs. Third, we expected that problematic use would be associated with a higher level of arousability/desire and more sexual dysfunctions (e.g., erectile and/or orgasmic disorder).

  • Inclusion criteria were being a French-speaking man, aged 18 years or older, who used OSAs during the previous 3 months.
  • The mean age of the sample was 29.5 years (SD ¼ 9.5; range 18e72). 59% reported being in a stable relationship, and 89.2% reported being heterosexual.
  • The most ubiquitous OSA was “viewing pornography” (99%), followed by “searching information” (67.7%) and “reading sexual advice” (66.2%).
  • In the current study, most participants were young heterosexual adult men involved in a stable relationship who had a high level of education. Results indicated that a large majority of respondents used pornography, which is consistent with the results of previous studies
  • The principal types of content reported (i.e., for participants who answered being at least “rather interested” or “very interested”; n 396 due to missing data) were vaginal intercourse (87.9%), oral sex (77.8%), amateur videos (72%), teen (67.7%), and anal sex (56.3%)

Forty-nine percent mentioned at least sometimes searching for sexual content or being involved in OSAs that were not previously interesting to them or that they considered disgusting, and 61.7% reported that at least sometimes OSAs were associated with shame or guilty feelings. Finally, 27.6% of the sample self-assessed their consumption of OSAs as problematic. Among them (n 118), 33.9% considered asking for professional help regarding their OSAs

We decided to remove “contacting sex workers” from the analysis, as this behavior was reported by only a small proportion of participants (5.6%) and is thus not representative in the current sample in comparison to other types of identified OSAs

Three distinct regression analyses were computed to predict addictive use (based on the s-IAT-sex1) with respect to three types of risk factors: (a) the types of OSA (three variables), (b) the motives to use OSAs (six variables), and (c) sexual dysfunctions (five variables).

The third regression analysis revealed that higher sexual desire, lower overall sexual satisfaction, and lower erectile function predict problematic use of OSAs.

Problematic OSA use was associated with the preferred type of activity (partnered-arousal activities and solitary-arousal activities), specific motives (mood regulation and anonymous fantasizing), and sexual dysfunction (high sexual desire, low sexual satisfaction, and low erectile function).Multiple regression analyses showed that among these risk factors, motives to engage in OSAs were most related to proneness to addiction symptoms.

Of note is that although the results showed that most pornographic content searched for by men is essentially “traditional” (e.g., vaginal intercourse, oral and anal sex, amateur videos), with paraphilic and unusual content (e.g., fetishism, masochism/sadism) being less frequently searched, some pornographic content that is often considered “unusual” or “deviant” was frequently researched (teen, 67.7%; group sex/gang bang, 43.2%; spanking, 22.2%; bukkake, 18.2%; and bondage, 15.9%).

The study showed that both solitary- and partner-based OSAs are associated with problematic involvement.

Among the factors considered, we found that motives to engage in OSAs explain the largest proportion of addictive use and that mood regulation and anonymous fantasizing are most associated with problematic use.

Regarding anonymous fantasizing, our findings are consistent with those of Ross et al. (2012), who showed that specific pornographic interests are associated with problematic use of OSAs.

Results of the current study also emphasized that men displaying problematic OSAs are characterized by lower overall satisfaction and lower erectile function.

They may therefore use OSAs to satisfy their sexual needs while avoiding erection-related problems that they experience during offline sexual intercourse. However, this might result in a vicious circle that has a negative impact on overall sexual satisfaction. Our findings are also in accordance with those of Muise et al. (2013) showing that men reporting higher scores of inhibitory cognition (indicating greater worries and concerns during sex) present high sexual compulsivity, as well as with the results of a recent study emphasizing that higher frequency of pornography use is associated with lower pleasure with sexual intimacy, along with concerns about sexual performance and body image (Sun, Bridges, Johnason & Ezzell, 2014). These findings thus prompt the design of new studies to disentangle the role of sexual factors in the development and perpetuation of problematic OSA use

This study is the first to directly investigate the relationships between sexual dysfunctions and problematic involvement in OSAs. Results indicated that higher sexual desire, lower overall sexual satisfaction, and lower erectile function were associated with problematic OSAs. The present data suggest that men with problematic involvement in OSAs may have an intense sexual desire that can be related to the development of excessive sexual behaviors and may explain in part the difficulty of controlling this sexual urge. These results can be linked to those of previous studies reporting a high level of arousability in association with sexual addiction symptoms (Bancroft & Vukadinovic, 2004; Laier et al., 2013; Muise et al., 2013).

Future research should further investigate the role of specific risk factors in the development and maintenance of men's problematic involvement in OSAs. In particular, the exploration of sexual dysfunctions seems to be an interesting avenue of research Indeed, future studies are needed in order to better understand the complex interrelationships between offline and online sexual behaviors. To date, the problematic use of OSAs has been essentially conceptualized within the framework of addictive behaviors without considering the uniqueness and specificity of OSAs, or the heterogeneous manifestations of problematic use. For example, qualitative interviews would be a valuable method to understand the phenomenology of problematic OSA use. Future studies should also be conducted with clinical samples, focusing on the most recent types of OSAs such as 3D sexual games involving immersion and role-playing components.


New Study Links Compulsive Porn Abuse and Sexual Dysfunction [Article about the study by Rob Weiss]