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Sexed text and lust discussed: Another brief look at cybersex

The advent of the Internet has enabled people’s engagement in a wide variety of online sexual behaviors. The Internet can provide a “safe” space for sexual exploration that presents less physical and social danger than offline activities, and may also provide access to a social community and a support system for non-normative gender and sexual expression (e.g., sexual fetishes and paraphilias). Additionally, a small minority of people may use the Internet excessively to engage in cybersex. Rather than being complementary, their use of cybersex may become a substitute for their offline sexual lives. For a small minority, their behaviors may take on addictive qualities that can be indicative of an online sexual addiction.

I noted in a number of papers that I published in the early 2000s (e.g., Journal of Sex Research [2001] and CyberPsychology and Behavior [2000]; see ‘Further reading’ below) that the Internet can be – and has been – used for a number of diverse activities surrounding sexually motivated online behavior. These include the use of the Internet for (i) seeking out sexually related material for educational use, (ii) buying or selling sexually related goods for further use offline, (iii) visiting and/or purchasing goods in online virtual sex shops, (iv) seeking out material for entertainment/masturbatory purposes for use online, (v) seeking out sex therapists, and (vi) seeking out sexual partners for an enduring relationship.

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Other sexually motivated uses of the Internet include (i) seeking out sexual partners for a transitory relationship (i.e., escorts, prostitutes, swingers) via online personal advertisements/“lonely hearts” columns, escort agencies, and/or chat rooms, (ii) seeking out individuals who then become victims of sexually related Internet crime (online sexual harassment, cyberstalking, pedophilic “grooming” of children), (iii) engaging in and maintaining online relationships via email and/or chat rooms, (iv) exploring gender and identity roles by swapping gender or creating other personas and forming online relationships, and (v) digitally manipulating images on the Internet for entertainment and/or masturbatory purposes (e.g., celebrity fake photographs where heads of famous people are superimposed onto someone else’s naked body)

More recently, in a 2012 issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory, I noted that online sexual behaviors can be classified as either cybersexual consumption (i.e., downloading and watching sexual content online such as pornography or reading sexual content in forums/chat sites without actively participating), or cybersexual interaction with others (e.g., text-based chat and/or video-linked conversations). Either of these types of online behavior may be accompanied by concurrent masturbation. Furthermore, online activities with a sexual component can be problematic for some because (1) they manifest sexual desires that the person (or their offline sexual partner) disapprove of or feel guilty about; (2) they divert (or distort) sexual energy from offline sexual behavior; and (3) the search for the ideal online sexual material may take up a great deal of time. Therefore, it appears necessary to distinguish not only between consumptive and interactive cybersex, but also between “normal” and “deviant” online sexual behaviors.

The late 1990s and early 2000s experienced a proliferation of studies investigating how human sexual behavior is enacted on the Internet. Some scholars (such as James Quinn and Craig Forsyth in a 2005 issue of the journal Deviant Behavior) claimed that technology transformed vicarious sex into an increasingly viable and attractive substitute for interpersonal forms of sexual fulfilment. Such an assertion suggests that a minority of cybersex users may use the Internet as a substitute for offline behaviours. It also suggests that what happens online may be very fulfilling for some people.

Sex on the Internet is particularly viable because of the inherent qualities of the Internet that the late Dr. Al Cooper referred to as the ‘Triple A Engine’ (access, affordability and anonymity). The online world, including explicit sexual material as well as potential online and offline sexual partners, can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Most of the time, sexual activities can be pursued at virtually no cost online, a point that demarcates online sex from offline sex, considering the expenditures involved in buying sex tapes or paying for sex workers. In comparison, the costs for bandwidth access are relatively low.

As an adaptation to Dr. Cooper’s Triple A Engine, Dr. Kimberley Young and colleagues proposed the ACE model, incorporating anonymity, convenience, and escape as factors salient to the Internet. These factors facilitate the engagement in sex by decreasing the inhibition thresholds present in offline sexual relations. Not only is a person anonymous online, but the Internet is ubiquitous and it can be accessed conveniently from a safe base, such as the person’s home.

Compared to offline sex, the Internet appears to offer the possibility to engage in cybersex anytime and anywhere for little financial cost. Therefore, research studies have found individuals are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors on the Internet rather than offline. The lower threshold associated with perceived lower risks of engaging in online sex may therefore increase the chance of persons who are at risk for developing sex addiction offline to actually develop sex addiction on the Internet. Empirical studies have increased our understanding of specific online sexual activities (e.g., Internet sex addiction). Here, the distinction between people who use Internet sex to improve their offline sex life and those who use it as a substitution may play an important role. Furthermore, cross-cultural differences point to the fact that the sociocultural context plays an important role in influencing people’s attitudes toward sexual behaviors.

In line with this, two potential scenarios materialize. First, one might assume that as views of sex are relatively liberal in some cultures relative to other more conservative cultures, members of the former may be more likely to engage in sex on the Internet because they have more open attitudes toward sexuality in general. Alternatively, particularly because some cultures are relatively conservative when it comes to sex, their members could potentially be more likely to engage in cybersex in order to compensate for the lack of freedoms in expressing their sexuality offline.

Note: This article used material previously published in the following book chapter: Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Internet sex. In Naples, N.A. (Ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Chichester: Wiley. DOI: 10.1002/9781118663219.wbegss408

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Cooper, A. (1998). Sexuality and the internet: Surfing into the new millennium. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 1, 187–193.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A systematic review of online sex addiction and clinical treatments using CONSORT evaluation. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 163-174.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000).  Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 333–342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111–124.

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Compulsive sexual behaviour as a behavioural addiction: The impact of the Internet and other issues. Addiction, 111, 2107-2109.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dhuffar, M. (2014). Treatment of sexual addiction within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 561-571.

Quinn, J.F. & Forsyth, C.J. (2005). Describing sexual behavior in the era of the Internet: A typology for empirical research. Deviant Behavior, 26(3), 191–207.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of sex addiction: A case study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 363–372.

Young, K., Pistner, M., O’Mara, J. & and Buchanan, J. (1999). Cyber-disorders: A mental health concern for the new millennium. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3(5), 475 – 479.

 

Dosh spice: A brief look at ‘findoms’ and ‘wallet rape’

“How do y’all feel about [findom]? Weird I know. Those guys are creeps. But I use to do findom. I never dressed up or did crazy stuff like that but I used to use guys for their money. No lie (how do you think I got so many clothes) and NO I never had to send naked pics meet up with these guys or nothing, it was all simply over the internet and Paypal. They just want to splurge on you for being pretty. Well I haven’t done it in like a year and randomly one of the guys messaged me today and wanted to spend on me. I said okay why not…I was expecting like $50 tops. I haven’t talked to this guy in forever. And well let’s just say I made an extra $416 dollars today. In one minute. Literally” (Baelessboutique, vinted.com)

Earlier this week, I was contacted by Chris Summers, a journalist at the Daily Star. Summers was writing an article on exophilia (sexual arousal from aliens) and had come across my blog on the topic and was looking for some academic input into his story. He then sent me some of the tabloid tales he had published on sexual paraphilias including one published a week or so ago on ‘wallet rape’. Most definitions of ‘wallet rape’ (such as the one in the online Urban Dictionary) describe wallet rape as paying “way too much for something” resulting in “feelings of victimization, embarrassment, and guilt”. However, this was not the focus of the Daily Star article. According to Summers’ story, wallet rape refers to men who get a sexual kick out of giving money to women. More specifically:

“Hundreds of men in Britain and thousands more worldwide enjoy being under the control of a financial dominatrix or ‘findom’. These guys are not ‘sugar daddies’ who shower young lovers with expensive gifts in return for a sexual pay-off. In most cases they don’t even get to meet the ‘goddess’ they worship. They just enjoy being ‘paypigs’ or ‘slaves’…[most findoms] never [have] sex with [their] clients”.

Summers interviewed a number of individuals for his article including ‘Goddess Haven’ (a 21-year old female findom). ‘Bill’ (a 60-year old businessman who works up to 14 hours a day and is a lifelong ‘submissive’), and Dr. Jess O’Reilly (Canadian sexologist and author of The New Sex Bible). According to Goddess Haven:

“I’ve learned so much about my clientele in the three years that I’ve been on this journey. When I first started if you asked me these men were just completely weird and out of their mind, but why would I care? I was getting what I wanted out of it. As my journey progressed I realised that a lot of these people are just looking to escape their boring every day lives. A great deal of these men that serve me are ‘high powered’ businessmen who just want to come home and not be the centre of attention. Some of these men don’t even have time to spend the money they make for themselves and just want to see a beautiful woman enjoy it with no strings attached. I’ve realised that most of my clientele are turned on by losing their sense of control and being taken advantage of by a powerful woman. I’ll usually meet clients that pay well and can afford to session with me in reality. I have clients all over the world. I’ve had requests to kidnap people, tie them up and leave them in the woods. There are some findoms out there who give it a bad name, especially as it becomes more popular. There are a lot of women who are just hopping on the bandwagon and have no idea what they’re doing.”

According to the Daily Star article, Bill met Goddess Haven on the online forum Collarspace (one of a number of internet forums where findoms can meet submissives) and now “serves” her. As he said to Summers:

“I have served dozens of women in the past 40 years. I have probably spent about $200,000. [Haven] is truly one of a kind and I adore her as my goddess…She needs more than just me to complete her life. She may have lovers and she may not want me to have a lover. Whether she wants to cuckold me or put me in chastity that’s fine with me. I am just happy to serve her. I have an addiction but I really do budget. I spend about $5,000 a year on my goddess. I have a son and family obligations so they come first but I push it to the limit. I’m a normal person but I just have an addiction to serving women. [Haven is] confident and eager to explore my submissiveness”.

There was little in the article about why Bill was a submissive although Bill said he had issues with his mother who was a model, and appeared to adhere to Sigmund Freud’s theorising about the ‘Oedipus complex’ – the sexual desire shared between a son and his mother. The psychologist that Summers interviewed (Dr. Jess O’Reilly) made a number of speculations (although none of them relating to Freud’s psychodynamic theories). One of her speculations concerned the rise of the internet in relation to sexual behaviours:

“Everything predates the internet and the practice of dominating another’s finances has existed as long as currency’s history. However digital communities have created space for wider dissemination of information and virtual connections. You no longer have to leave your house to foster relationships of any kind.”

This line of thinking is similar to a number of papers I have written describing how the internet can facilitate sexual addictions among predisposed individuals (as I argued in a 2001 issue of the Journal of Sex Research) and bring together individuals with niche sexual paraphilias (as I wrote about in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions). In trying to explain why men would pay lots of money to be humiliated, Dr. O’Reilly speculated that:

“Sometimes those who are charged with a great deal of control at work, at home or in their community may see this as an exciting way to relinquish control of one area of their lives. Or it could be the thrill of humiliation and ridicule. Just as some people associate praise and adoration with sexual arousal, others have an erotic script that is dominated by emotions that are traditionally viewed as negative. Being humiliated can be a turn-on, as it forces you to be vulnerable…A sexual fetish need not entail sexual activity in the traditional sense. Sex gives us a high or a pleasure rush and so too can financial domination/submission. I would leave it up to each pay pig to determine whether or not s/he considers this fetish sexual in nature…Having a woman more powerful than you, seductive and manipulative enough to get into your mind to make you WANT to willingly hand over your money…Maybe their wives are boring and don’t offer much, maybe their wives are submissive and they just want the role switched. There’s a different reason for every client.”

Dr. O’Reilly went on to look at both the upsides and downsides of such findom/submissive relationships:

“Like any behaviour, financial domination/submission can be perfectly healthy or significantly problematic depending on how it makes the participants feel and how it impacts their lives (and their relationships). For example, if the pay pig is hiding his financial activity from his primary partner, I could see this taking a toll on their relationship. Honesty, consent and respect underlie healthy relationships – sexual and otherwise. I imagine many derive a thrill from the taboo of giving money to a stranger. However, if they derive pleasure from hiding their financial activity from a partner with whom they’ve agreed to share finances, this could be quite problematic. Most people crave a balance of security/predictability and excitement/the unknown. Blackmail plays into the latter need. In many cases, blackmail games are part of role-play and fantasy as opposed to lived reality.”

Although there is no academic research on the topic of findoms, other stories in the national press have appeared (and there’s even a short film called FinDom that has just been released – “a witty, sensitive exploration of loneliness and sexuality”). For instance, in the summer of 2015, The Journal featured a piece by Michelle Hennessey on ‘Findom in Dublin: The Irish men who are turned on by women spending their money’. As Hennessey noted:

“Readers may already be familiar with the concept of Femdom which involves a woman being dominant over a man usually through bondage, physical restraint or humiliation. Findom, as the name suggests, is all about financial domination”.

Like the article in the Daily Star, the story in The Journal also featured some similar case studies (although the men were referred to as ‘cash pigs’ and ‘money slaves’ rather than ‘pay pigs’). According to Hennessey’s journalistic research:

“The women who do this professionally are extremely active on social media and fetish websites. They post photos of themselves wearing the clothes and shoes they have been sent, pictures of them drinking cocktails that are being paid for by one of their slaves or snaps of their perfectly manicured feet. They also offer camera sessions with a variety of options, most of which involve humiliation like the domme laughing at the man. Many of their posts are extremely raunchy with some uploading photos of themselves nude or scantily clad and telling the men they could never have a woman that looks this way”.

As with any fetishistic or paraphilic behaviour, if it is carried out by two consenting adults and legal, there is nothing problematic about engaging in such activity. However, given that money is involved, this could – in a minority of cases – end up being a behaviour akin to problem gambling in that the person enjoys engaging in the behaviour but becomes problematic because the activity goes beyond the individual’s disposable income and causes problems elsewhere in their lives.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Hennessy, M. (2015). Findom in Dublin: The Irish men who are turned on by women spending their money. The Journal, August 30. Located at: http://www.thejournal.ie/findom-dublin-2296085-Aug2015/

O’Reilly, J. (2014). The New Sex Bible: The New Guide To Sensual Love. London: Quiver.

Summers, C. (2015). ‘Wallet rape’: Meet the men who get a kick out of giving away money. Daily Star, December 27. Located at: http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/480000/Wallet-rape-financial-dominatrix

Net losses: Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace

The following article is a much extended version of an article that was originally published by The Conversation under the title ‘Tweets and cybersex: Workplace web use is a minefield’

A number of market research reports have indicated that many office employees in the UK spend at least one hour of their day at work on various non-work activities (e.g., booking holidays, shopping online, posting messages on social networking sites, playing online games, etc.) and costs businesses millions of pounds a year. These findings highlight that internet abuse is a serious cause for concern – particularly to employers. Furthermore, the long-term effects of internet abuse may have more far-reaching effects for the company that internet abusers work for than the individuals themselves. Abuse also suggests that there may not necessarily be any negative effects for the user other than a decrease in work productivity.

Back in the early 2000s (and using some of Kimberley Young’s work on types of internet addiction) I developed a typology of internet abusers. This included cybersexual Internet abuse, online friendship/relationship abuse, internet activity abuse, online information abuse, criminal internet abuse, and miscellaneous Internet abuse:

  • Cybersexual Internet abuse: This involves the abuse of adult websites for cybersex and cyberporn during work hours. Such behaviours include the reading of online pornographic magazines, the watching of pornographic videos and/or webcams, or the participating in online sexual discussion groups, forums or instant chat facilities
  • Online friendship/relationship abuse: This involves the conducting of an online friendship and/or relationship during work hours. Such a category could also include the use of e-mailing friends, posting messages to friends on social networking sites (e.g., on Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and/or engaging in discussion groups, as well as maintenance of online emotional relationships. Such people may also abuse the Internet by using it to explore gender and identity roles by swapping gender or creating other personas and forming online relationships or engaging in cybersex.
  • Internet activity abuse: This involves the use of the internet during work hours in which other non-work related activities are done (e.g., online gambling, online shopping, online travel booking, online video gaming in massively multiplier games, online day-trading, online casual gaming via social network sites, etc.). This appears to be one of the most common forms of Internet abuse in the workplace.
  • Online information abuse: This involves the abuse of internet search engines and databases (e.g., Googling online for hours, constantly checking Twitter account, etc.). Typically, this involves individuals who search for work-related information on databases etc. but who end up wasting hours of time with little relevant information gathered. This may be deliberate work-avoidance but may also be accidental and/or non-intentional. It may also involve people who seek out general educational information, information for self-help/diagnosis (including online therapy) and/or scientific research for non-work purposes.
  • Criminal Internet abuse: This involves the seeking out individuals who then become victims of sexually-related Internet crime (e.g., online sexual harassment, online trolling, cyberstalking, paedophilic “grooming” of children). The fact that these types of abuse involve criminal acts may have severe implications for employers.
  • Miscellaneous Internet abuse: This involves any activity not found in the above categories such as the digital manipulation of images on the Internet for entertainment and/or masturbatory purposes (e.g., creating celebrity fake photographs where heads of famous people are superimposed onto someone else’s naked body).

There are many factors that make Internet abuse in the workplace seductive. It is clear from research in the area of computer-mediated communication that virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement, and/or distraction. These provide compelling reasons as to why employees may engage in non-work related internet use. There are also other reasons (opportunity, access, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, disinhibition, social acceptance, and longer working hours):

  • Opportunity and access: Obvious pre-cursors to potential Internet abuse includes both opportunity and access to the Internet. Clearly, the internet is now commonplace and widespread, and is almost integral to almost all office workplace environments. Given that prevalence of undesirable behaviours is strongly correlated with increased access to the activity, it is not surprising that the development of internet abuse appears to be increasing across the population. Research into other socially acceptable but potentially problematic behaviours (drinking alcohol, gambling etc.) has demonstrated that increased accessibility leads to increased uptake (i.e., regular use) and that this eventually leads to an increase in problems – although the increase may not be proportional.
  • Affordability: Given the wide accessibility of the internet, it is now becoming cheaper and cheaper to use the online services on offer. Furthermore, for almost all employees, Internet access is totally free of charge and the only costs will be time and the financial costs of some particular activities (e.g., online sexual services, online gambling etc.).
  • Anonymity: The anonymity of the Internet allows users to privately engage in their behaviours of choice in the belief that the fear of being caught by their employer is minimal. This anonymity may also provide the user with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of their online experiences. The anonymity of the Internet often facilitates more honest and open communication with other users and can be an important factor in the development of online relationships that may begin in the workplace. Anonymity may also increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions.
  • Convenience: Interactive online applications such as e-mail, social media, chat rooms, online forums, or role-playing games provide convenient mediums to meet others without having to leave one’s work desk. Online abuse will usually occur in the familiar and comfortable environment of home or workplace thus reducing the feeling of risk and allowing even more adventurous behaviours.
  • Escape: For some, the primary reinforcement of particular kinds of internet abuse (e.g., to engage in an online affair and/or cybersex) is the sexual gratification they experience online. In the case of behaviours like cybersex and online gambling, the experiences online may be reinforced through a subjectively and/or objectively experienced ‘high’. The pursuit of mood-modifying experiences is characteristic of addictions. The mood-modifying experience has the potential to provide an emotional or mental escape and further serves to reinforce the behaviour. Abusive and/or excessive involvement in this escapist activity may lead to problems (e.g., online addictions). Online behaviour can provide a potent escape from the stresses and strains of real life. These activities fall on the continuum from life enhancing to pathological and addictive.
  • Disinhibition: Disinhibition is clearly one of the internet’s key appeals as there is little doubt that the Internet makes people less inhibited. Online users appear to open up more quickly online and reveal themselves emotionally much faster than in the offline world. What might take months or years in an offline relationship may only takes days or weeks online. As a number of researchers have pointed out, the perception of trust, intimacy and acceptance has the potential to encourage online users to use these relationships as a primary source of companionship and comfort.
  • Social acceptability:The social acceptability of online interaction is another factor to consider in this context. What is really interesting is how the perception of online activity has changed over the last 15 years (e.g., the ‘nerdish’ image of the Internet is almost obsolete). It may also be a sign of increased acceptance as young children and adolescents are exposed to technology earlier and so become used to socializing using computers as tools. For instance, laying the foundations for an online relationship in this way has become far more socially acceptable and will continue to be so. Most of these people are not societal misfits as is often claimed – they are simply using the technology as another tool in their social armory.
  • Longer working hours: All over the world, people are working longer hours and it is perhaps unsurprising that many of life’s activities can be performed from the workplace Internet. Take, for example, the case of a single individual looking for a relationship. For these people, the Internet at work may be ideal. Dating via the desktop may be a sensible option for workaholic professionals. It is effectively a whole new electronic “singles bar” which because of its text-based nature breaks down physical prejudices. For others, internet interaction takes away the social isolation that we can all sometimes feel. There are no boundaries of geography, class or nationality. It opens up a whole new sphere of relationship-forming.

Being able to spot someone who is an Internet abuser can be very difficult. However, there are some practical steps that employers can be taken to help minimize the potential problem.

  • Take the issue of internet abuse seriously. Internet abuse and addiction in all their varieties are only just being considered as potentially serious occupational issues. Managers, in conjunction with Personnel Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issues involved and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organization. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, some forms of Internet abuse (e.g., Internet gambling), the consequences for the company can be very great.
  • Raise awareness of internet abuse issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Some countries will have national and/or local agencies (e.g., technology councils, health and safety organizations etc.) that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organizations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
  • Ask employees to be vigilant. Internet abuse at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend Internet abusers, and the organization itself. Fellow staff members need to know the basic signs and symptoms of Internet abuse. Employee behaviours such as continual use the Internet for non-work purposes might be indicative of an Internet abuse problem.
  • Monitor internet use of staff that may be having problems. Those staff members with an internet-related problem are likely to spend great amounts of time engaged in non-work activities on the Internet. Should an employer suspect such a person, they should get the company’s I.T. specialists to look at their Internet surfing history as the computer’s hard disc will have information about everything they have ever accessed.
  • Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and Internet content of their employees. One of the simplest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are spending a lot of employment time engaged in non-work activities, many bookmarks will be completely non-work related (e.g., online dating agencies, gambling sites).
  • Develop an “Internet Abuse At Work” policy. Many organizations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol. Employers should develop their own internet abuse policies via liaison between Personnel Services and local technology councils and/or health and safety executives.
  • Give support to identified problem users. Most large organizations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. In some (but not all) situations, problems associated with internet use need to be treated sympathetically (and like other more bona fide problems such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of internet abuse in the workplace.

Internet abuse can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet facilities in the workplace is making it easier for abuse to occur in lots of different forms. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people internet abuse is not a serious individual problem although for large companies, small levels of internet abuse multiplied across the workforce raises serious issues about work productivity. For those whose internet abuse starts to become more of a problem, it can affect many levels including the individual, their work colleagues, and the organization itself.

Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Furthermore, employers need to let employees know exactly which behaviours on the Internet are reasonable (e.g., the occasional e-mail to a friend) and those that are unacceptable (e.g., online gaming, cybersex etc.). Internet abuse has the potential to be a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue and needs to be taken seriously by all those employers who utilize the Internet in their day-to-day business.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Internet gambling in the workplace. In M. Anandarajan & C. Simmers (Eds.). Managing Web Usage in the Workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective (pp. 148-167). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet abuse in the workplace – Issues and concerns for employers and employment counselors. Journal of Employment Counseling, 40, 87-96.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace – Issues and concerns for employers. In M. Anandarajan (Eds.). Personal Web Usage in the Workplace: A Guide to Effective Human Resource Management (pp. 230-245).Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The hidden addiction: Gambling in the workplace. Counselling at Work, 70, 20-23.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, in press.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? (Revisited). In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (2nd Edition), (pp.141-163). New York: Academic Press.

Young K. (1999). Internet addiction: Evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.

Google surf: What does the search for sex online say about someone?

I recently read a transcript of a radio interview where Shankar Vedantam (the Science Correspondent of US National Public Radio) was talking about how analyzing Google searches could tell us things of national importance about what is happening before they reached the relevant public authorities. He gave a lovely example:

“A year or so ago, the folks at Google realized that as the flu was spreading from state to state, people’s search terms were changing. So people would search for things like ‘What do I do if I have a sore throat?’ or ‘What do I do if my child is running a high temperature?’. And by tracking these searches, Google discovered, long before public health authorities discovered, how the flu was spreading from state to state”.

Such observations tend to suggest that what people use online search engines for and what they type into them can be a useful indicant of human behaviour. But is the same true for sexual behaviour? A recent report in the Indian Times revealed that the people of Pakistan had the most searches for ‘sex’ on Google in 2011 (followed by India in second place) using Google Trends software. More interestingly, in an article by Alan Dunn for Business Insider (Top Google Searches – What do People Search for?) reported that:

The keywords sex, porn, free porn and porno pretty much blow any other keywords out of the water. The amount of exact match volume for these 4 terms alone is 22,820,000 searches a month. Individually they are ‘porn’ (11,100,000), free porn’ (7,480,000), sex’ (2,740,000), [and] porno’ (1,500,000). Sex is obviously not bad. It’s more popular than ever”.

Last year, Dr. Ogi Ogas and Dr. Sai Gaddam published their book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships. Their book was an academic study of what people worldwide looked for sexually when they went online. As the title of their book suggests, they analysed millions of anonymous Web searches, pornographic websites, erotic videos, etc. The authors used the Dogpile search engine to analyse data from the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). Ogas and Gaddam’s book provided us with what the New York Post (NYP) claimed was “the most complete survey yet of our collective sexual id”. Maureen Callahan (who wrote the piece for the NYP) noted that there were many surprising findings. For instance:

“Straight men enjoy a wider variety of erotica than imagined, including sites devoted to elderly women and transsexuals. Foot fetishes aren’t a deviance; men are evolutionarily wired to look for small feet, which are a sign of high estrogen production, which itself is a sign of fertility. Gay men and straight men have nearly identical brains, and their favorite body parts, in order of preference, line up exactly: chests, buttocks, feet. Straight men prefer heavy women to thin ones. Straight women enjoy reading about and watching romances between two men – it’s not about the sex, which is downplayed, but the emotion, which is the focus. (The largest audience for ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ says the book, was straight women.) Straight men have a fascination with other men’s penises, which may be conscious or unconscious”.

In an interview with the NYP, Dr. Ogas said that “sex therapists haven’t known which interests are common and which are rare. We probably now know more than ever before.” He and Gaddam ranked the most popular terms types into the world’s leading search engines and compiled a ‘Top 10 sex terms list. The leading search terms related to sex were: youth (13.5%), gay (4.7%), MILFs (4.3%), breasts (4%), cheating wives (3.4%), vaginas (2.8%), penises (2.4%), amateurs (approx. 1%), mature (approx. 1%), and animation (1%). The data was analysed in great detail. The NYP article by Callahan reported that based on Ogas and Gaddam’s study:

Men fantasize about group sex far more than women and picture more men than women in the action. Straight men prefer to watch amateur porn online, and the authors theorize it’s because of perceived authenticity – a fake orgasm, it turns out, may be as disappointing as one in real life. One of the most popular and diverse areas of interest in sexuality is domination and submission, with straight women and gay men most interested in the latter role. Gay men enjoy straight porn in large numbers….Straight males enjoy a wide variety of erotica, including sites featuring transsexuals and elderly women. The study also found that both gay and straight men favor chests, buttocks and feet (in that order)”.

US academic Professor Donald Symons, one of the world’s leading evolutionary psychologists, was quick to point out some of the book’s flaws and did not seem to be persuaded that what people searched for online necessarily was directly related to what people found sexually desirable. For example, does the fact that someone watches ‘granny porn’ or transsexual sex indicate that they find it sexually alluring? Symons argues they may just be viewing such material out of curiosity. Symons was quoted as saying:

“One of the first things I asked Ogi about was curiosity versus arousal. Ogi is convinced that when people are searching for things, it’s primarily for sexual arousal. I’m not so sure about that. If there was a porn star with three breasts — I bet there would be a zillion hits. Would that be a sign men were suddenly aroused by that? I think not…If it had been the case that women were just like men, but society had been repressing women and once they’re online, they seek the exact mirror-image of porn – that could’ve happened. But it didn’t…The research shows that men, as evolutionary science has long held, are stimulated visually, while women require a host of stimuli – context, emotion, verbal expression…What would be really shocking would be fetish sites devoted to acne suffers, or people with no teeth – signifiers of poor health and high reproductive risk. I don’t necessarily think that all men are searching for women with clear skin, one head and two breasts. But when you’re doing a search, you’re usually looking for things that are uncommon”.

This is why Symons thinks there is lots of online searching for transsexual pornography. I also agree with Symons that the data that Ogas and Gaddam collected wasn’t based on a representative sample of online users (only those who typed in sexual words to search engines), and no-one knows what motivated the search. If anyone checked out my online surfing habits, there is no way anyone could infer what I liked sexually because almost all of what I type into search engines is for research purposes. Given the amount of coverage I devote to paraphilic behaviour in my blog, it’s not surprising that the sites I look at say little about my own sexual desires and sexuality.One of the arguments that Ogas and Gaddam have put forward is their assertion that sexual deviance is to all intents and purposes a myth. In his NYP interview, Ogas claimed:

“People who are attracted to mirrors, or to beards, or get turned on by ants in their pants – these are cases that, until now, have been diagnosed by clinicians who’ve seen patients. The Internet gives us a far better sense – rough, but still – of what is a likely anomaly and what is a far more common predilection. We discovered things even Kinsey didn’t know. Foot fetishes, for example, are common across all cultures. The discovery may lead to a re-classification; perhaps someday, the male interest in feet will be considered as normal an interest as breast size or facial attractiveness”.

Ogas is adamant that people who look at unusual sexual behaviour online are attracted to it. In response to Professor Symons’ view that most of the unusual viewing online may be curiosity-based, Ogas (again in his NYP interview) believes that his research:

“Proves that men who look at elderly women are actually turned on by elderly women. There are forums where men talk about picking up grannies, the kinds that they like. We studied AOL search histories over a period of months – if someone’s just curious, they’re not going to spend money for a subscription to a site, or search for something over and over again”.

I thought I’d end today’s blog with a little local analysis of my own. As my regular readers will aware, my own blog has its fair share of articles on sexual behaviour, and I always take an interest in what people are searching for to click onto my blog. Well here is a little insight for you. On October 15 (2012), I looked at all the search terms that people had used to locate my blog (which on that day I had a total number of page hits of around 115,000). I excluded all searches where people had typed in my name or ‘Mark Griffiths’ Blog’. Here are the top search terms that managed at least 50 hits:

My initial observations are that most people that stumble upon my blog are people interested in paraphilias (as the highest non-paraphilic term was ‘nose picking’ at 14, and 34 of the top 40 search terms are paraphilia-based). It certainly looks as though ‘sex sells’ even at a local level like my blog.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Callahan, M. (2012). You’re not as kinky as you think: Massive Internet study finds that we’re all sexual deviants, New York Post, January 22: Located at: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/books/you_re_not_as_kinky_as_you_think_PLXiPzN4aUnTjKK1asmWMK/0

Dunn, A. (2011). Top Google Searches – What do People Search for? Business Insider, December 21. Located at: http://www.businessinsider.com/top-google-searches-what-do-people-search-for-2011-12

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, in press.

Indian Times (2011). Pak tops Google search for sex, December 30. Located at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-12-30/internet/30572457_1_google-trends-fox-news-report-searches

Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2011). A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships. Syracuse, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co Inc.

Smith, C. (2011). Top 10 Internet Search Terms About Sex: Study (Update). Huffington Post, April 26. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/sex-study-internet-search-terms_n_854034.html

Werheimer, L. & Vedantam, S. (2012). Google searches are a window into our culture. Located at: http://www.npr.org/2012/01/02/144572891/google-searches-are-a-window-into-our-culture

To what extent can cybersex be addictive?

For many years I have been writing about sexual addictions – particularly those online. Online sexual behaviours can be classified as either cybersexual consumption (i.e., downloading and watching sexual content online such as pornography or reading sexual content in forums/chat sites without actively participating), or cybersexual interaction with others in real-time (e.g., synchronous participation in the form of text-based chat and/or video-linked conversations) or delayed (e.g., asynchronous interaction in the form of exchanging sexual content via email text, pictures and/or video). Either of these behaviours may be accompanied by concurrent masturbation. Furthermore, Internet activities with a sexual component can be problematic because (a) they manifest sexual desires that the person (or their corporeal sexual partner) disapprove of or feel guilty about, (b) they divert sexual energy from corporeal sex, or greatly distort it, and (c) because the search for the ideal online sexual material takes a great deal of time.

My research on this topic in the early 2000s also highlighted other potential usages the Internet can be put to with regards to engaging in sexual activities. These include sexual behaviours related to criminal activities, namely displaying, downloading or distributing illegal material such as paedophilic images and movies, and sexual menace online, that includes harassment and cyberstalking. Therefore, it appears necessary not only to distinguish between consumptive and interactive cybersex, but also between “normal” and deviant online sexual behaviours. Here, “deviant” refers to any behaviour that can potentially result in criminal prosecution. Therefore, it would appear that there is a wide variety of sexual activities that the Internet can be used for – some of which may take on addictive qualities as individuals begin to compulsively engage in them.

Sex on the Internet is particularly viable because of the inherent qualities of the Internet that the late Al Cooper has referred to as the Triple A Engine (Access, Affordability and Anonymity). The online world including explicit sexual material as well as potential online and offline sexual partners can be accessed anytime and anywhere, as long as there is an Internet connection in place. Most of the time, sexual activities can be pursued at virtually no cost online, clearly demarcating online sex from offline sex, considering the expenditures involved in buying sex tapes or paying for sex workers. In comparison, the costs for bandwidth access are relatively low. The internet liberates individuals from the imminent fear of engaging in something that is charged with a variety of taboos in offline life and provides the option to freely explore their (sexual) selves.

Other things that might make online activities more (or less) dangerous might be perceived safety and a lack of consequences for the behaviour.  Perhaps some individuals are more inclined to think of their activities as relatively harmless (and in some ways, they might be), until they (or their partner) see themselves as “out of control”.  Perhaps the perceived physical or social danger attached to offline sexual compulsivity encourages avoidance of behaviours that would contribute to these compulsions.  Accordingly, the Internet could be used by those who already see themselves as “sex addicts” as a way to avoid the perceived consequences of offline behaviour.

As an adaptation to Al Cooper’s initial concept, Dr Kimberley Young and colleagues developed their own ACE model, incorporating Anonymity, Convenience and Escape as factors salient to the Internet. These factors facilitate the engagement in sex by decreasing the inhibition thresholds present in offline sexual relations. Not only is a person anonymous online, but the Internet is ubiquitous and it can be accessed conveniently from a safe base, such as the person’s home. Furthermore, the Internet can serve as a space of refuge, somewhere to escape to when faced with daily hassles.

This clearly resonates with the idea of any addiction, including technological addictions, originating in a need to cope with everyday stressors via escaping into alternative mood states induced by substances, activities, or alternative worlds provided by virtual environments. With regards to pornography use, Al Cooper’s and Kimberley Young’s salient factors can be extended even further by integrating sophistication and monitoring, factors that may further limit actual usage. Both sophistication, operationalized as occupational prestige and education, and external monitoring, for instance by the spouse, contribute to a reduction of the probability to use pornography and/or engage in other types of online sexual behaviour.

To date, only a relatively small number of studies have empirically assessed Internet sex addiction. My colleague (Daria Kuss) and I have an upcoming review to be published in the next issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory. The purpose of our review was to present and critically evaluate the current scientific knowledge about online sex addiction. Upon careful review of the current scientific literature, only fourteen scientific studies of online sex addiction in adults were identified. Overall, the studies we reviewed highlighted that the essential feature that distinguishes people who engage in cybersex in a healthy and complementary way to their offline sexuality was not excessive use per se, but the presence of a variety of negative consequences.

From a diagnostic viewpoint, the excessive engagement in sex may be viewed as genuinely pathological once it causes significant impairment in a person’s life. Such impairment may relate to different areas of the affected person’s life, including their professional, social/romantic, and/or leisure life. Similarly, if cybersex users experience clinically significant distress and/or impairment because of their engagement in online sexual behaviours, it appears relatively safe to claim that they suffer from Internet sex addiction.

We also concluded that the gender dissimilarities found in most of the studies to date, indicate that the prevalence of online sex addiction (as well as the preference for particular Internet applications) differs between men and women. This is related to the finding that the Internet seems to be a particularly fertile ground for marginalized groups, such as homosexuals and bisexuals, as well as females, who may feel liberated from real life constraints with regards to exploring their sexuality and finding offline sex partners online.

The reasons that females may compulsively seek sex online appear to be similar to those of bisexuals and homosexuals, namely the liberating potential of the Internet that enables the almost infinite exploration of sexuality without the latent taboos imposed by societal and cultural environments. Pathological use of Internet sex not only requires future research, but the current studies indicate specific areas that may be further explored empirically.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

My sincere thanks to Daria Kuss (Nottingham Trent University) for providing her expertise and input into this blog

Further reading

Griffiths, M. (2000). Excessive Internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 3(4), 536-552.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Addicted to love: The psychology of sex addiction. Psychology Review, 8, 20-23.

Griffiths, M. (2001). Sex on the Internet: Observations and implications for Internet sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Addicted to sex? Psychology Review, 16(1), 27-29.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Theory and Research, DOI: 10.3109/16066359.2011.588351.

Young, K.  & Nabuco de Abreu, C. (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment. New York: Wiley.