Five Types of Cybersex User

Not All Internet Sex Users Are Addicted

Woman undresses in front of computer
The internet can lead people to engage in sexual activities they would not do in the real world. Paolo Martinez Photography / Getty Images

So many questions come up about cybersex. What is cyber sex? What are the risks of cybersex? How can we protect children from cyberstalkers? While you might think of certain stereotypes associated with cybersex addiction, the reality is that cybersex addiction spans many demographic groups, including people of all genders and ages. While more research is needed to identify groups more accurately, there are some specific types of cybersex user we do know about.

Cybersex users vary in how much they engage in internet sexual behavior, and in their reasons for seeking sexual gratification online. As outlined in the book, "In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior" by Patrick Carnes et al, one way to categorize types of cybersex users is according to these five major groups.

Group 1: Recreational Users - Appropriate

This group of cybersex users are able to occasionally explore sex on the internet without problems. They might use cybersex to enhance their sexual experiences. They are able to enjoy intimate sexual relationships in the real world, and have a healthy attitude to sexuality. So although they are seeking sexual gratification online, it is considered appropriate, and is not pathological. As online dating is increasingly common, they may use websites to meet potential sexual partners, but other than meeting and communicating with partners online, they are as appropriate and respectful in these relationships as people who enjoy meeting potential dates in person.

Group 2: Recreational Users - Inappropriate

Like appropriate recreational users, this group of cybersex users can also access internet sex without compulsive use, but may use this material inappropriately. This could include sexting or showing sexual images to other people for amusement or shock value, causing unintentional embarrassment. Such users do not keep their activities secret, and may otherwise have a healthy attitude towards sexuality and relationships.

Group 3: Problematic Users -- Discovery Group

This group has not had any past problems with online or other sexual behavior. They may be using the internet as a way to explore sexuality in a way that normal life has not offered them. Examples of problematic users in the discovery group are people who compulsively visit adult dating sites in the hope of meeting a partner, while avoiding real-life opportunities to meet people; or people who use the internet in an attempt to meet an underage partner for sex, despite no prior history of doing so. They may also be using dating sites to meet multiple partners in a manipulative or dishonest way.

Group 4: Problematic Users -- Predisposed Group

This group includes people who may have a history of fantasizing about sexual acting out, but who have never done it until accessing internet-based sexual material. They might have thought about going to strip clubs or seeing prostitutes for sex, but not taken any action to do so, perhaps for fear of recognition or other consequences. Their use may be regular but not excessive, although attention is taken away from real relationships, work life may suffer, or infidelity can occur.

Group 5: Problematic Users -- Lifelong Sexually Compulsive Group

People in this group are at the extreme end of the continuum of sexual problems. Their sexual acting out occurs with or without access to the internet -- the online world simply adds another avenue to explore sexually inappropriate material. These cybersex users may access pornography frequently, as part of an ongoing pattern of excessive sexual behavior. They may also engage in predatory behavior in seeking out and exploiting vulnerable partners.

Although not all cybersex users engage in problematic internet use, all take the risk that their use may become problematic. One difficulty with the online world of sex is that while users are detached from their surroundings, sexually aroused, and surfing the net, they may be exposed to images they would never seek out normally. This can lead to exploring illicit sexual material in a way that was never intended, sometimes with dire legal and relationship consequences.

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Article Sources
  • Carnes, Ph.D., Patrick, Delmonico, Ph.D., David, Griffin, M.A., Elizabeth, with Moriarty, Joseph. In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior. Center City, MN: Hazelden. 2001.