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Cybersex and the Church

By Alan W. Aram

Approximately one-third of Web sites are sexually related, and sex is the number one topic searched for on the Internet.

When radio made its debut, some heralded it the "devil’s box" because of its potential for corrupting people. When television made its debut, it was also called the "devil’s box." But radio, television, telephone, movies, recorded music, and the Internet are technological inventions and are morally neutral. They are as good or evil as the people who use them. Tim Berners-Lee, one of the creators of the Internet, said, "Technology can’t make us good. At the end of the day, it’s up to us: how we actually react, how we teach our children and the values we instill."

HOW LARGE A PROBLEM ARE
CYBERSEX AND INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY?

Estimates vary, but the National Psychologist reported that one in five adults is on-line, and more important, two out of three teens are on-line.1 Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., an expert on sexual addictions, estimates that between 3 to 6 percent of adults are sexually addicted.2 That computes to about 14 million Americans, many of whom are secretly struggling with their addiction while trying to live Christian lives.

It is estimated that pornography is a $12-billion-a-year business, with cybersex making up about one-third, or $4 billion. And this figure is growing at an alarming 20 percent a year. Approximately one-third of Web sites are sexually related, and sex is the number one topic searched for on the Internet. Males are more susceptible to Internet problems with pornography and women are more likely to be hurt by E-mail romances (E-romances).


Males are more susceptible to Internet problems with pornography and women are more likely to be hurt by E-mail romances (E-romances).

WHY IS CYBERSEX SO POWERFUL?

God made us sexual beings, and He blesses sexuality in the intimacy of marriage. Our modern society has twisted that to the point where sex is the panacea for every ill mood, bad day, or feeling of boredom or loneliness. We are constantly taught that we are entitled to have "great sex," and if we don’t, we should be able to get it somewhere.

Alvin Cooper, Ph.D., noted researcher on cybersex, has described "the three As" of cybersex addiction: anonymity, accessibility, and affordability.3

Anonymity

There is a myth that when people go on-line they are anonymous and nobody can find out who they are (the sites they access or what they view or download). This is not true. Each time you access a site you leave technocrumbs that can be traced back to you. Many pictures or texts that have been downloaded and erased are still in the depths of your hard drive, waiting for your company’s computer whiz to accidentally discover them when he helps you with something as innocent as setting up a Web page.

The perception of anonymity lessens a person’s inhibitions. Cybersex is fast replacing phone sex. Cybersex allows the individual to type in specific instructions to a woman/man who then acts out the individual’s sexual fantasy in front of a camera, as the person views it on his/her computer. Cybersex is more than just viewing Playboy-type pictures. Sound complements the images—for a fee.

Cybersex feels safer than buying pornographic magazines, visiting your local adult movie store, or having your pornography delivered in a plain brown wrapper. It feels like you are alone and nobody sees what you are doing. Yet we know that our Heavenly Father sees everything and is grieved when He sees us secretly committing these sins.

Accessibility

Whether you are at home in the privacy of your study, at work in your cubicle, or at the public library doing research, you are just a click away from smut. You can get in and out quickly—when your spouse leaves the room for a minute while you are working on taxes—and receive a thrill that may stay in your consciousness for hours, days, or weeks. The power of the Web gives you access to any kind of sexual information or perversion you can think of, and some you haven’t.

Affordability

At first cybersex is cheaper than print pornography. Often the site will ask for a credit card number when you log on for a free peek and then ask you if you’d like to see more, "hotter, sexier… for just $3.95 a minute." That minute will only lead you to another and another.

WHY IS PORNOGRAPHY PSYCHOLOGICALLY ADDICTING?

Pornographic images that create sexual arousal, and the altered brain chemistry that accompany them, are deeply etched into a person’s memory. However, like most addictions, what is exciting and arousing today becomes boring tomorrow, so the person needs to look for sexier, hotter, and kinkier images and fantasies to maintain the same level of arousal.


One of the best ways to control cybersex is to have your personal computer in a room where people frequently walk through.


Sexual arousal and sexual climax can create a state of brain chemistry similar to that of addictive drugs, where there is an increase in dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. These powerful neurotransmitters make us feel good, and in our modern age of entitlement, we are taught by society that we should have these good feelings.

Initial and early sexual experiences tend to channelize or direct the sex drive in the future. Learning from the first exposure to pornography is more powerful than would be expected, based on traditional learning theory, and is similar to the imprinting described by Conrad Lorenz in his work with baby geese.

Can you recall your first sexual experience? If so, it probably has unusual clarity and detail and perhaps even some strong emotions. Do you remember your early contact with pornography (Playboy, the Sears catalog, or National Geographic)? Notice how strong those images still are.

Some people are more vulnerable to sexual compulsions and/or addictions than others. Those who are isolated socially are vulnerable. This may be due to a lack of social skills, physical isolation, or being placed on a pedestal by a congregation that demands its pastor show no human frailties. People who have unfulfilling marriages are vulnerable. Media images influence our expectations of marriage and the reality of our marriages cannot compete with these images. Religious hang-ups against sexual expression in marriage can limit the quality of the sexual relationship. Some people have been sexually abused or have had inappropriate sexual experiences at critical life stages that interfere with their ability to relate with the opposite sex.

At the root of many sexual compulsions or addictions is an Intimacy Disorder, where the individual does not have the skills, time, energy, or spouse that allows him or her to develop true intimacy—emotional, spiritual, and sexual. Some people try to fill the vacuum of an Intimacy Disorder with raw sexual arousal, but it is never enough to satisfy.

Many people who suffer from dysthymia, a chronic, low-grade depression, find that sexual arousal can temporarily lift their mood. But when the sex act is over, the depression comes back with accompanying shame. What do people do with these bad feelings? They act out sexually again, just like having another drink, and another, and another.

HOW DO PEOPLE KNOW IF THEY HAVE A PROBLEM
WITH SEXUAL COMPULSIONS OR ADDICTIONS?

People have sexual compulsion or addiction if their sexual activity interferes with the rest of their life, rather than their life (work, children, spouse) interfering with their sexual activity. As a sexual compulsion increases, energy, time, and money are withdrawn from family, work, and one’s relationship with God and diverted toward the compulsion or addiction.

The terms sexual compulsion and sexual addiction are not accepted as psychological diagnoses at this time. Sexual compulsion is used when a person has a strong drive or feeling that he/she must do some sexual act. Sexual addiction takes that drive to a higher level where the individual believes he/she cannot control it and has to engage in the sexual act. In either case, the sexual act interferes with daily functioning.

There is no clear dividing line between sexual compulsion and sexual addiction. Rather there is often a slippery slope where the person gradually and often unconsciously increases his/her use until life is out of control.

Here are some questions to help a person know if or to what extent he/she has a sexual compulsion or addiction:

HOW CAN WE COPE WITH CYBERSEX PROBLEMS?

The recent White House Internet Summit reported that 42 percent of parents supervise their children’s Internet usage a little, and 52 percent provided no supervision at all.4 Parents are often too intimidated by their own ignorance to ask their children what they are surfing for on the Internet. We try to hide our ignorance behind "trusting our children." One of the best ways to control cybersex is to have your personal computer in a room where people frequently walk through. Don’t let your children have their own passwords; and if they do, tell them you expect to know their passwords. Allow Internet use only when you are home and before you go to bed at night.

Be proactive. Tell your children they may accidentally find pornography on the Internet and (especially for boys) they will be tempted to look at it. Remind them that while Jesus encouraged us to stand up and resist temptation, He tells us to "flee" sexual temptation, knowing how strong it can be on us.

Many software programs help block out pornography or other adult material. Some Internet service providers sell a filtering service along with their regular on-line services. An excellent and updated list is available through Focus on the Family. However, none of these blocking programs or filtering services are foolproof; and with hundreds of sites being established daily, it is impossible to keep all the smut out of your home.

Resisting the temptation for cybersex at work is more challenging, but crucial. People caught with child pornography on their computers can be cited for a federal offense, even if they have repented and tried to delete it. Many employers will automatically fire employees for theft of services if they use their company computers and company time for noncompany activities. While inroads have been made in corporate America where alcoholism is considered a disease deserving treatment rather than automatic firing, sexual compulsions and addictions are not usually considered a disease that employers want to help their employees overcome, particularly in a Christian business or ministry.

If your problem with cybersex is severe, and you realize you cannot control it by yourself, consider the following suggestions, similar to those from Alcoholics Anonymous:

CONCLUSIONS

Technology is morally neutral, and Christians need to learn to use the cyberworld to bring glory to God rather than be tempted by cybersex.

If these insights alone are insufficient to control your use of the Internet, then unplug your computer from the Internet. If this doesn’t help, then seek professional help. Some communities have Christian psychologists who are trained to deal with sexual compulsions and addictions. They will build on your Christian faith as they help you learn to control these problems. There are also 12-step programs for sexual addictions in many cities. There is no temptation we cannot overcome if we seek God’s help.

ENDNOTES

1. National Psychologist. March/April 1999.

2. Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., Don’t Call It Love: Recovery from Sexual Addictions. Bantam, 1991.

3. Alvin Cooper, Ph.D., "Cybersex—Getting Tangled in the Web," a presentation at the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity National Conference, April 1999.

4. National Psychologist. March/April 1999.

Alan W. Aram, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in Springfield, Missouri.

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