Journal: Sexual and Relationship Therapy , vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 329-354, 2003
In the treatment of sexual addiction and compulsivity, the family unit is often neglected. Yet this disorder has a major impact not only on the identified patient, but also on the spouse or partner (the coaddict) and on the family as a whole. This is as true of the consequences of compulsive cybersex activities as of other behaviours.
This paper describes the results of a brief survey completed by 91 women and three men, aged 24-57, who had experienced serious adverse consequences of their partner’s cybersex involvement. In 60.6% of cases the sexual activities were limited to online sex. The survey respondents felt hurt, betrayal, rejection, abandonment, devastation, loneliness, shame, isolation, humiliation, jealousy, and anger, as well as loss of self-esteem. Being lied to repeatedly was a major cause of distress.
Cybersex addiction was a major contributing factor to separation and divorce of couples in this survey: 22.3% of the respondents were separated or divorced, and several others were seriously contemplating leaving. Among 68% of the couples one or both had lost interest in relational sex: 52.1% of addicts had decreased interest in sex with their spouse, as did 34% of partners.
Partners compared themselves unfavourably with the online women (or men) and pictures, and felt hopeless about being able to compete with them. Partners overwhelmingly felt that cyber affairs were as emotionally painful to them as live or offline affairs.
Adverse effects on the children included (1) exposure to cyberporn and to objectification of women, (2) involvement in parental conflicts, (3) lack of attention because of one parent’s involvement with the computer and the other parent’s preoccupation with the cybersex addict, (4) breakup of the marriage. In response to their spouses’ cybersex addiction, partners went through a sequence of pre-recovery phases: (a) ignorance/denial, (b) shock/discovery of cybersex activities, and (c) problem-solving attempts. When their attempts failed and they realized how unmanageable their lives had become, they entered the crisis stage and began their own recovery.
- The research has described a number of indirect effects that pornography may have on children (Manning, 2006), such as parents’ compulsive use of the Internet for sexual arousal (Schneider, 2003) and the quality of family relationships (Perrin et al., 2008; Schneider, 2003). For example, online sexual activity has been linked to marital dissatisfaction, divorce, and other challenges and stresses on the family system (Reid, Carpenter, Draper, & Manning, 2010; Schneider, 2003).