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The development of crime and deviance online has progressed with greater access to the Internet; however, the development of sexual deviance online has drawn mixed reviews on whether its advancement is a greater benefit or detriment to society. Sexual deviance is defined as activity or content related to sexual gratification that is regarded as atypical or deviant. Overall, the effects of the internet on online sexual deviance have widely advanced and those who participate in sexual deviance online may hold characteristic identities or behaviors.
As the internet became a more integral part of the lives of many individuals regarding entertainment, work, and communication, the expansion of sexual deviance online occurred as well. The internet has made an immense amount of opportunities for people to have anonymous access to sexually explicit images and videos online for low or no cost at all. Even with the presence of parental restrictions, that are not usually implemented, minors have quick and easy access to explicit content online as well. Greater accessibility to the internet also means greater likelihoods of individuals encountering atypical sexual content such as incest, BDSM, bestiality and child pornography. Risk factors leading to encounters with sexual deviance include communicating with others through social media, games and online communities. Online dating is another risk factor that has become popularized through customized websites and apps as well. Meanwhile, “many researchers contend that the Internet has caused a surge in the production and distribution of child pornography” while some propose that online communities may serve as a method for pedophiles to live out their fantasies without hurting anyone. The expansion and proliferation of sexual deviance online has benefitted many despite what some may think. For example, “people with traditionally stigmatized sexual identities can re-assert positive self-esteem by expressing their actualized psychosexual selves” in supportive and open environments; and relationships can foster with greater acceptance of a partner’s interests. Thus, the internet “is an unprecedented source of support for those with the most devalued sexual identities-a place where they can readily receive affirmation and reinforcement” (Durkin, Forsyth, and Quinn 2006). While some worries concerning the increase in sexual content include the normalization of alternative sexual activity, promiscuity, increase in infidelity and addictive usage, the greatest worry concerns the safety of young children and adolescents. Young teens and children online who do not know any better may interact with strangers who attempt to manipulate and take advantage of them. Because of so, it is often advised to refrain from dispersing personal information to those online, meeting up with the strangers, and sending explicit photos. However, most offenders of internet sex crimes “did not generally deceive victims about being older adults who were interested in sexual relationships” and “the majority of offenders did not use force or coercion to sexually abuse their victims”.
Sexual deviance can be defined in three categories: normal, pathological and sociological. Normal deviance is widespread and has low visibility, while any laws existing against the acts are usually not enforced. These behaviors, which include premarital sex, sodomy, and masturbation are often seen as anachronistic. According to statistics, many of these acts are ordinary, occurring in many relationships. Pathological sexual deviance are behaviors harshly enforced by the law such as rape, bestiality, incest, pedophilia and exhibitionism. Few people engage in pathological sexual deviance and the behaviors are largely considered damaging as well. Sociological sexual deviance involves behaviors that require social structures in order to proliferate and live on. Social structures are used to gather more members in order to teach them about the behavior and provide for them support. These behaviors may include homosexuality, prostitution, swinging and pornography. In all, the internet has created a thriving environment for a widespread variety of sexual deviances to grow and gather support.
The increasing amount of sexual content online not only serves to spawn greater sexual acts deemed as deviant but creates more support communities where individuals may safely exhibit their desires without hurting or offending others. Furthermore, “increased concern with sexually transmitted diseases and an increased range of sexual content has led some to experiment with new sexual activities, such as voyeurism by mutual consent or telephonic and chat room sex”. These developments are helpful in substituting actual contact to ensure physical safety while giving gratification. However, interacting with other individuals online who share similar desires may invoke latent desires that may not have been explored before. Despite the claims of pedophiles for example, who argue for their right to an online space, online interaction may “drive desire to new heights in some participants…and almost certainly encourages a worldview that sexualizes children”. The internet has allowed for many more acts of sexual deviance classified as normal deviance to become less stigmatized. Issues arise when pathological deviances deemed illegal and harmful become destigmatized because of internet influence. Additionally, internet pornography has been the prime suspect in increasing sex crimes and “the argument is that internet reduces the pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs of (violent and/or extreme) pornography, which many laboratory experiments suggest increases the propensity to commit sex crimes”. While the widespread exposure of sexual content online creates more efficient avenues of encountering deviant behaviors, the internet also serves as a space for individuals to find support for their personal interests.
Whereas children are often seen as the most vulnerable victims of sexual deviance, various identities and behaviors factor in to who tends to participate in sexual deviance online. The most often studied types of sexual deviance are usually sex crimes and cyberpornography. Other sexual deviance subtypes have a more limited amount of research and study done in comparison. In most sex crimes, the offenders are male and are not pedophiles as most of the victims are young adolescents. In sex crimes against minors, the offenders are oftentimes much older than the victim while the victims are usually female and between the ages of 13 and 15 years old. Most online sex crimes involve teenagers who are unable to consent to intercourse due to their age and who view their exchanges with adults as desirable relationships. Ultimately, “not all children are at risk of harm but…risk factors related to personality (sensation-seeking, low self-esteem, psychological difficulties, social (lack of parental support, peer norms) and digital environment” are contributing factors to be noted. In cyberpornography, which has “over 75 million people annually visiting porn web sites”, identities such as conservatism, marriage, religion, gender and deviant lifestyles affect the demographics of those who use cyberpornography. Males were more likely to use cyberporn as well as those who were less happily married, less involved in religion, more liberal, and more involved in deviant lifestyles such as extramarital affairs and paid sex. Drug use, income, and occupational status were not found to be indicators of cyberporn use. Meanwhile, “education has a significant indirect effect on cyberporn use through its association with knowledge of computer techniques” since greater computer knowledge enabled individuals to more easily share and find cyberporn without risks such as viruses. Ultimately, certain characteristics of an individual, including certain identities and behaviors, may be similarly found in those participating in sexual deviance. Though the large variance in sexual deviant activities online exist, modelled studies and data collection can create a more accurate profile of participants when observing various types of sexual deviant classifications.
From the passing of the Communications Decency Act in 1996 and the Children’s Internet Protection Act in 2001 by the US Congress, internet pornography has been the prime suspect in increasing sex crimes. Many other countries have also debated over controlling and monitoring internet traffic due to the large abundance of extreme sexual content online. Henceforth, while concerns about the corruption of individuals and society by online sexual deviance is justified, the extent of the actions taken to curb the content found online is still debatable. As of now, sexual deviance is more embedded into the current culture on the internet than ever before and more research is needed to explore the effects of sexual deviance on societal norms and behaviors altogether. While the evolution of sexual deviance online has rapidly expanded because of internet availability and access, there have been both negative and positive effects from the growth of online sexual deviance.
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