Is my girlfriend’s compulsive cybersex an addiction?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on October 28th, 2008 - Last updated: September 19th, 2019
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Having stayed up late to read thoroughly your writings about addiction, I can see and agree with your point that it is not a disease, but a behavioral choice that we make. It is most likely a learned choice and thus can be unlearned.

My situation is probably not all that unique, but it is still troubling for me to deal with. I will summarize as best as possible, leaving out details I feel are irrelevant to the point, and the question, I have.

I met my girlfriend online 7 months ago. She was just in the process of leaving her husband of 17 years. All indications from what she said were that she had a poor relationship, no intimacy, and sexual contact was infrequent. Her actions, and enthusiasm and expertise told me otherwise. I became suspicious and snooped. I found the following.

For at least the last year of her marriage, she engaged in dangerous sex (no protection and lots of focus on anal sex) with multiple partners (I believe the number to be over a dozen). The partners were both male and female and sometimes both. After we met, and after she indicated we were a couple, she continued to maintain contact, either by phone-sex, cyber-sex, and in one instance I am certain of, physical intimacy.

If you were to meet her, you would be convinced she is dedicated to me. Yet just last week, she had cyber-sex and/or phone sex with others. All the while, she attends bible study and goes to church and prays regularly. No apparent manifestations of this secret life can be seen. And she still convinces me.

I have confronted her about all this, she has no explanation, feels ashamed and dumb for her mistakes and promises it will not happen again. Unfortunately, this is the second time I have uncovered current situations like these in a period of two months.

I read about your conversations with Elizabeth and saw a lot of my girlfriend in that. She also wants to get the problem fixed, but I also saw a lot of what you and Fromm talk about in a healthy relationship. A common phrase my girlfriend uses is she can’t imagine life without me after 7 months.

After writing this down, I am not sure what the right question is to ask. I guess I should not ask for lovelorn advice. But is there something I can do to support her in attempting to change this behavior? She says she will do anything to save the relationship and I gotta tell you that scares me.

In some ways I should walk away. But I do care for her enough to want to see her get out of this destructive behavior. Honestly, if it doesn’t work out for us I will be disappointed, if it does I will be happy, but either way will not make or break me. I know from experience that I will get over it.

I appreciate you valuable time to read this message. If you can comment directly, great. If not, direct me to an appropriate resource, if you know of one. Thanks again.

Dear D:

Your letter is impressive and responsible in indicating you have examined related FAQs and that you are sure you have the strength that will enable you to get through this situation one way or the other.

On the other hand, let me describe two biases in my thinking:

  1. doing therapy on people you are courting doesn’t work—it indicates that they have to overcome a barrier in order to get to relate to you;
  2. meeting people through the internet (you don’t indicate whether your contact with your lover began like her contacts with others, through cybersex and other internet come-ons) seems an inherently risky business.

Other than that, your question is really one about how to deal with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful and dishonest in a relationship. I guess my rule of thumb is that it is not necessary to throw a strong relationship away because one partner or the other succumbs to temptation. But when you are trying to secure a relationship and your partner refuses to commit to the monogamy you seek, that’s a different story. The fact that she seems unconscious of this behavior and its discrepancy with her religious practices makes one wary. I don’t fully understand your statement, —”She says she will do anything to save the relationship and I gotta tell you that scares me”—But her irrational behavior seems to scare you as well. Are your motivations that different from the cybersex relationships she has been involved in?

Finally, as in all such cases, you need to examine your life and times. Why are you susceptible to forming uncertain relationships through dubious means? Are you fully involved? Are you developing your skills and life? Are you proud of your activities? Are you meeting people who reflect your values and are engaged in positive activities themselves? The issue is, at heart, how you are connected to life and how you are expressing your values.

Best wishes,


Thanks for your comments. They certainly give me food for thought. The reason we are even trying to struggle with these issues is because my feelings for her, and her stated feelings for me, are deep. I have seen her evolving and emerging these last 7 months from a cocoon wherein she felt obligated to serve others and accept everything as it is with no complaints or demands for what she wants.

As for our dubious meeting, I had to chuckle about that, and I also had to think about it. Our online relationship was platonic but changed rapidly when we met. So I guess I am not any better than her other colleagues in that regard. But my intentions are certainly long term, if this hurdle is one we can overcome.

Again, thanks for your thoughts. I will consider them carefully.


p.s.: My comment about being scared of her had to do with something I had read at your web site about being wary of someone who places you above all else. The desire to do anything, in desperate tones, makes me wonder just how real the love is versus how strong the dependency not to disappoint or lose someone, especially someone that is more than willing to take care of her, if he chooses to be such a caretaker. I hope I am smarter than that. I would prefer someone beside me rather than under, over, or behind me. Have a good week.

Dear D:

You seem very thoughtful in a way that I respect. Please don’t think I disdain your relationship because it quickly became sexual. Sexual energy is a fine basis for generating a relationship, but it is double-edged. Your concern because your partner expresses total commitment (evenw hile seeing others), in the aftermath of her having led (and still leading?) a controlled life is a valid concern. Her feelings, and yours, can be genuinely strong, but this is not a guarantee of a healthy relationship (nor is it a guarantee of the opposite).

Best regards,

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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