|Cybersex Unplugged: Finding Sexual Health in an Electronic World|
Weston Edwards, David Delmonico,and Elizabeth Griffin
2011 CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 212 pages
ISBN-13:978-1453626450 $22.95 via Amazon (paperback)
|Review submitted by Tracy Tholin, Ms.Ed.|
Recently, discussion on the ATSA list serve centered around resources for therapists who are working with clients to manage their online sexual behaviors. Cybersex Unplugged was presented as one option. Reading as both a traditional chapter book, and as a workbook, the text incorporates written client assignments, while also injecting historical and cultural references, including common sense recommendations informed by the authors’ 50 years cumulative experience in the field. While early on the authors note that the workbook can be completed alone, and rapidly, if one so desires, it is most helpful when used in conjunction with a therapist and a support network, with pauses for self-reflection throughout.
Organizationally, the book is divided into four sections, an introduction, followed by three “stages.” In the introduction, the authors acknowledge that while several terms have been used to describe problematic online sexual behavior, they have chosen the term “cybersex compulsivity” to utilize throughout the text (p. 3). The introduction helps the reader explore the question of when online behavior becomes problematic, or compulsive. Juxtaposed against this, the authors present ten components of a sexual health model that both informs the contents of the workbook moving forward and reinforces the goal of becoming sexually healthy, both online and offline. The “conversational” tone of the workbook both lulls the reader and instills confidence moving forward into these heady topics (p. 8).
Stage 1: The Problem Identification Stage will look familiar to anyone who has been facilitating treatment. It includes several components found in traditional treatment programs including language about acting out cycles, high risk situations, thinking errors, feeling triggers, and behavioral analysis. There are several components worth highlighting in this section. First, the early introduction of an “immediate short term prevention plan” establishes safety guidelines for the client who is panicked about his or her behaviors, specifically dubbed “red zone behaviors,” or those that could lead to further serious problems, such as legal ones (p. 13). The Internet Sex Screening Test provides a good measure of “how problematic your sexual behavior might be” (p. 19). The “offline and online sexual history” assignment is comprehensive and structured, a useful tool during the assessment process (p. 27). Finally, threaded throughout this section and the entire book are helpful metaphors to illustrate important treatment concepts, such as: comparing gathering cookie-baking ingredients to “setups for the acting out cycle,” the wearing of green glasses in the musical Wicked to introduce the concept of “lenses” coloring our view of life, and the use of Shrek and his onion “layers” to discuss “layers of thoughts” leading toward the introduction of thinking errors (pp. 43-49).
At 118 pages, Stage 2: Primary Treatment: Related Topics appears hefty at first glance but addresses several important “underlying issues” propelling compulsive online sexual behavior (p. 75). The authors note that while not every topic applies for every client, they encourage reviewing and prioritizing those that do. Topics encapsulate both the broad and specific such as “culture and stereotypes,” “sexual identity and orientation,” “types and impact of abuse,” “body image,” and “fantasy and masturbation,” to name a few (p. 76). There is also an emphasis on positive sexuality with topics including “assertive communication,” “healthy sexual behaviors” “healing from past relationships” and “desire for intimacy (p.76).” Particularly noteworthy in this section is the inclusion of questions the client’s partner may ask themselves before the client discloses their problematic behavior. The underlying assumption is that the process will include partners and support people while moving toward healthy, balanced sexuality.
Stage 3: Setting the Next Step is the shortest section, integrating work done in the first two stages to develop a “continuing care plan” (p. 194). The reader is introduced to “SMART planning” to develop measurable goals (p. 195). Concentric circles provide a framework for identifying “acceptable,” “cautious,” and “unacceptable” behaviors on the internet (p. 204). In the conclusion, the authors emphasize both the ongoing nature of the work, the importance of reviewing the workbook routinely, and the importance of becoming an “expert” on oneself, thereby encouraging self-efficacy. They end on a positive, uplifting note, congratulating the client for doing the work.
Given the rapidly changing face of the internet, the tone of the workbook and the questions the authors ask clients to ponder remain relevant today. The links provided in the book are still active, except two. The link to a Wikipedia page detailing the history of masturbation is particularly illuminating for the casual reader.
More than one expert in the field, themselves workbook authors, have emphasized the importance of workbooks being one “tool” in a toolbox of interventions, encouraging selection of the pieces that are most relevant for clients. That is the case with this workbook. For newer clinicians it offers a guidebook for assessment and treatment of online sexual behavior problems. For seasoned professionals, it will complement practices you already have in place. Furthermore, the positive psychology framework with which the book was clearly written reduces shame and instills hope for those who are struggling with their online behaviors that healthy sexuality and intimacy can be achieved. Hence, this would make a worthy addition to your therapist toolbox.