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Cybersex • Personal Health: First Step Is Recognizing the Signs of Internet Abuse (May 16, 2000) Related Articles • Health: Behavior • Health Columns • The New York Times on the Web: Science/Health Forum • Join a Discussion on Mental Health and Treatment ex is the hottest topic among adult users of the Internet, with studies showing that fully a third of all visits directed to sexually oriented Web sites, chat rooms and news groups. And it's very difficult to treat because the people affected don't want to give it up." Those most strongly hooked on Internet sex are likely to spend hours each day masturbating to pornographic images or having "mutual" online sex with someone contacted through a chat room.

For most people these forays into cybersex are relatively harmless recreational pursuits, but experts in the field say that the affordability, accessibility and anonymity of the Internet are fueling a brand new psychological disorder -- cybersex addiction -- that appears to be spreading with astonishing rapidity and bringing turmoil to the lives of those affected. Occasionally, they progress to off-line affairs with sex partners they meet online. Al Cooper of Stanford, who has conducted the largest and most detailed survey of online sex, calls the Net "the crack cocaine of sexual compulsivity." The survey, conducted online among 9,265 men and women who admitted surfing the Net for sexually oriented sites, indicated that at least 1 percent were already seriously hooked on online sex.

Consider the following statement from a 41-year-old married man (all citations are from to cheat—something that may even add spice to their offline relationship.

These people believe that if they do not even know the real name of their cybermate—and never actually see them—their affair cannot be regarded as from a moral point of view; it's no different from reading a novel or other form of entertainment.

In his stimulating paper, "Chatting Is Not Cheating," John Portmann defends online lust and characterizes about sex; he maintains that such talking is more similar to flirting than to having a sexual affair.

Schneider responded with a definition of addiction that would clearly apply to cybersex abusers: "Loss of control, continuation of the behavior despite significant adverse consequences and preoccupation or obsession with obtaining the drug or pursuing the behavior." Although behavioral addictions involve no external drugs, preliminary research has suggested that they cause changes in brain chemicals, like the release of endorphins, that help to perpetuate the behavior.Cybersex compulsives can become so involved with their online activities that they ignore their partners and children and risk their jobs. Cooper's survey, 20 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women reported they had used computers at work for some sexual pursuits.Many companies now monitor employees' online activities, and repeated visits to sexually oriented sites have cost people their jobs. Schneider, who has written extensively on sexual addiction, responds that the damage to a cybersex addict's life and family can be as devastating as that caused by compulsive gambling or addiction to alcohol or drugs.Among them was a 34-year-old woman married 14 years to a minister who she discovered was compulsively seeking sexual satisfaction by visiting pornographic sites on the Internet."How can I compete with hundreds of anonymous others who are now in our bed, in his head? "Our bed is crowded with countless faceless strangers, where once we were intimate." A 38-year-old woman married 18 years to a man who compulsively masturbates to images on the computer wrote that her husband had once had an extramarital affair and that "the online 'safe' cheating has just as dirty, filthy a feel to it as does the 'real-life' cheating." Although Dr.

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