Cyberprostitution is the process of engaging in sexual behaviors for money or other favors using the Internet and other technological devices. Cyberprostitution is of great concern because it appears to be increasing and because it poses privacy and security risks—especially for children and other vulnerable groups.
Cyberprostitution occurs in the virtual space, with the physical interaction involving masturbation and active communication within an individual’s private space. It is conducted using sex-related communications or activities, such as sexually explicit pictures and stories, sexually suggestive emails, or sexually arousing videos, which may be live or prerecorded. Although the communication or activities may be perceived as occurring anonymously from a private location, images could be live streamed and transferred to various websites throughout the World Wide Web. However, cyberprostitution can facilitate freedom and flexibility, as individuals can take on different personas, engage in sexual experimentation, or explore sexual fantasies.
Although it is believed that cyberprostitution is increasing, there are no official statistics or a standardized method for determining the extent. Estimates have been made by extrapolating from the general Internet usage, counting the number of sexually explicit websites and webpages, assessing the amount of time spent on sexually explicit sites, and determining the number of visits to these sites. However, none of these methods specifically identifies the number of individuals who are actually involved in payment for sexual favors. It has been estimated that 15% of the approximately 75 million Internet users in the United States will visit sexually explicit sites. Another report has suggested that between 15% and 30% of persons who use the Internet daily and visit sexually explicit sites are likely to become involved in sexually related activity. However, there is a real challenge in obtaining an accurate level of cyberprostitution because the content of personal communication through email and text messages, as well as interactions on social media sites, is not readily accessible for evaluation. With the dynamism involved in domains and locations, there is a great challenge in obtaining accurate records.
Cyberprostitution increases the risk of an individual’s security and privacy. An individual’s personal and private information could be disseminated extensively across the world in a very short period of time—although many Internet service providers and social media platforms attempt to monitor and regulate the transmission of sexually explicit materials. Because it is difficult to police individuals’ private behaviors, opponents point out that children and other vulnerable groups could be exposed to sexually explicit materials or be susceptible to exploitation.
Cyberprostitution is also of concern to psychologists and therapists because some individuals who are involved with cyberprostitution may eventually develop an addiction. The American Medical Association, for example, has expressed concern that increased involvement in cyberprostitution can contribute to cyber and sex addiction.
However, others argue that cyberprostitution facilitates the elimination of a middleman in the sex trade business, thus facilitating individual marketing and promotion. In some areas, such as Germany, prostitution is legal, and with cyberprostitution, those engaging in the sex trade can manage their affairs easily. Some websites, for instance, allow prostitutes to create their own profiles so that they can upload detailed information about themselves, the range of services they provide, and the attending charges. In addition, certain apps enable those who are seeking commercial sex to specify the characteristics and criteria of the sexual encounter they desire.
It is also argued that cyberprostitution can increase the safety and security of those engaging in it, because they can better secure payments. It also may reduce client violence, which is associated with other forms of prostitution. Moreover, with cyberprostitution, the likelihood of being targeted by police officers may also decline.
Because cyberprostitution is relatively new, strategies for addressing it include providing opportunities for open discussion on the subject and disseminating general information through online educational programs, workshops, and seminars. Those who may be experiencing challenges with cyberprostitution can be encouraged to seek professional help.
Fay V. Williams
See also Internet Pornography ; Sexting
Ashford, C. “Sex Work in Cyberspace: Who Pays the Price?” Information & Communications Technology Law, v.17/1 (2008).
Bonnie, R. “What Counts as Cybersex?” Village Voice (2007). (Accessed April 2010).
Han, C., et al. “The Analysis of Relationship Between Online Contact of Obscene Contents and Real Experience.” International Journal of Computer and Communication Engineering, v.3/4 (2014).
Ko, T. “Adolescent Deviant Leisure Activities on the Internet.” International Journal of Tourism Sciences, v.14/3 (2014).
Le, O. “Understanding Cyberspace Addictive Behavior With the Critical Social Theory.” Communications of the IIMA, v.5/4 (2015). http://scholarworks.lib.csusb.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1281&context=ciima (Accessed August 2017).
Molencamp, R. J. and L. M. Saffiotti. “The Cyber Sexual Addiction.” Human Development, v.22/1 (2001).