Background and aims Cybersex addiction is discussed controversially, while empirical evidence is widely missing. With respect to its mechanisms of development and maintenance Brand et al. (2011) assume that reinforcement due to cybersex should lead to the development of cue-reactivity and craving explaining recurrent cybersex use in the face of growing but neglected negative consequences. To support this hypothesis, two experimental studies were conducted. Methods In a cue-reactivity paradigm 100 pornographic cues were presented to participants and indicators of sexual arousal and craving were assessed. The first study aimed at identifying predictors of cybersex addiction in a freely recruited sample of 171 heterosexual males. The aim of the second study was to verify the findings of the first study by comparing healthy (n = 25) and problematic (n = 25) cybersex users. Results The results show that indicators of sexual arousal and craving to Internet pornographic cues predicted tendencies towards cybersex addiction in the first study. Moreover, it was shown that problematic cybersex users report greater sexual arousal and craving reactions resulting from pornographic cue presentation. In both studies, the number and subjective quality of real-life sexual contacts were not associated to cybersex addiction. Discussion The results support the gratification hypothesis, which assumes reinforcement, learning mechanisms, and craving to be relevant processes in the development and maintenance of cybersex addiction. Poor or unsatisfying sexual real-life contacts cannot sufficiently explain cybersex addiction. Conclusions Positive reinforcement in terms of gratification plays a major role in cybersex addiction.
Keywords: Internet addiction; craving; cybersex; pathological Internet use; sexual arousal.