Friday, July 27, 2007

Ireland: From saints and scholars to cybersex

Up to ten or fifteen years ago, Ireland was an almost pornography free zone. Books, magazines and films which were in any way questionable were kept out by censorship systems, says my That’s Men for You column in The Irish Times, published on 10th July.

That changed with the arrival of the internet. Today, cybersex in the form of pornography or chatrooms is a common Irish experience unless we are still an island of saints and scholars – and whatever about the scholars, the saints are definitely in short supply.

Users of cybersex can be divided into a few categories. First are those who spend relatively little time on this activity, who can take it or leave it and who become bored by it fairly quickly. A second category could be described as compulsive. Cybersex helps them to bypass real-life sexual problems – such as the effort of looking for a sexual partner – or to block out other concerns. This group may seek to control their use of Internet pornography but often fail in the attempt.

The third group is what some researchers call the at-risk category. Cybersex helps these people to block out uncomfortable emotions and becomes their principal means of doing so. It provides them with an attractive alternative to the often uncomfortable vicissitudes of real-life relationships. Indeed, for them cybersex may be the only type of interaction which can arouse the sort of emotions that would normally form part of social relationships. Members of this group can, at an extreme, spend the equivalent of a working week online to pornographic websites or sex chatrooms.

A key feature of cybersex is the absence of a sense of time passing. Psychologists call this a state of “flow” in which a person becomes utterly absorbed in a task. You may have experienced this state in relation to work, sports or other absorbing activities.

This hijacking of time is one of the primary means through which cybersex interferes with real-life social interactions. And that state of ‘flow’ increases the attractiveness of a return to the experience.

Giving up a dependence on cybersex the process can be as difficult as dropping any other compulsive behaviour. Psychologists say that users need to find a substitute activity which provides alternative enjoyment and satisfaction – easy to say but not necessarily so easy to do. They also need to develop the ability, each time the desire for cybersex arises, to wait for it to die away.....

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