Is Cyberporn Coming Between You?
Not all contacts with cyberporn are pathological, psychologists say. The man who calls up photos of naked women a few times a month may be partaking in normal fantasy activity -- the online equivalent to self-gratification while reading Playboy once or twice a month. "Everyone has a certain amount of fantasy," says New York City psychologist Alan Hack. "Many people imagine being with other partners; that's not infidelity. That's just the way the mind works, in terms of humans as sexual beings."
So where does one draw the line? If you're able to talk comfortably about your involvement in cyberporn with your spouse or partner, that's a good sign. If you, as partners, share the same view about its importance in your life, that's even better. And if you're engaging in cybersexual fantasies to avoid an outright infidelity with another lover, that, too, can be acceptable psychologically, though not always, experts say. "It could be a kind of safety valve that keeps you from being disloyal," says Hack. But therein lies the slippery slope. "If you're hiding your involvement, sneaking around, that's the issue. Trust with your real-life partner is the key."
Psychologists also caution that just because you're not in a committed partnership doesn't give you more "license" to turn to cyberporn. Doing so, they note, can be a way to prevent you from finding healthier human interactions. If you're constantly online looking at nude photos, your chances of meeting a partner are greatly lessened. "It's a problem when it becomes a way of avoiding psychological issues or of avoiding the development of stronger bonds with people who can be a safe and healthy part of your daily life," says psychologist Richard Shadick in New York City.
Adds Moore: "If it's a way to cover up an emotional emptiness in your life, that's cause for concern. If it keeps you from engaging in one of life's greatest pleasures -- a real-life partnership -- that's also something to measure."
These psychologists say there are six surefire warning signs that your own participation in cyberporn is abnormal or out of control.
- You can't wait for the next fix. Whether you log on to look at naked photos in the privacy of your home or hook up with an online porn chat mate, you are more excited about the cyber-contact than about almost any other part of your life.
- You love the titillation and crave the high. "If you organize your life around trying to get online, that's a sign of a problem," says Hack.
- You have trouble concentrating on work when you're at work and family when you're at home.
- You feel you can't stop, that the cyberporn is controlling you. "If you feel yourself looking for more and more thrills, getting more deeply involved with it, that can spell trouble," says Shadick.
- You organize your life around trying to get online to find porn. Perhaps, says Moore, you reorganize your sleep patterns or your weekend routines. "If you're trying to get porn rather than going out to a movie with your spouse, that's a sign of trouble," says Moore.
- You look to cyberporn to quell most of your sexual passions. You'd prefer to masturbate to cyberporn than be with a live sexual partner whom you love or are getting to know. "The one thing that couples have, that makes that bond unique as opposed to friendship or mentoring relationships or buddies or work associates, is that they share sexual contact. Once you are going outside the partnership for sexual gratification, it is, on some level, an infidelity. It's a break in the special bond between a couple," Tamalonis says.
A more nuanced reaction or warning sign is depression. People engaged in addictive behaviors frequently enter a vicious cycle, notes Tamalonis. The cycle might start with a man or woman's first visit to a porn site. Before long, involvement deepens, with visits to porn sites two or three times a day. If you then notice your social life shrinking or closing in on you, you could be headed for depression. Then, the depression or anxiety sets in -- with the depression often caused by the self-hating feelings you have for engaging in the behavior in the first place. To alleviate the depression, you turn to more cyberporn. "That's the vicious cycle," Tamalonis says. "That's what you have to break."