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Saturday, 6 May, 2000, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Net sex addiction on the rise
chat room
Unsavoury material on the internet
More and more people are becoming addicted to sex on the internet, say psychologists.

At a conference on sexual addiction in California, experts said online sex addiction was creating a dangerous new compulsion affecting everyone from housewives to gay men and corporate executives.

They added that online sex addicts are divided equally between men and women, contrary to popular belief that an overwhelming majority of cybersex participants are male.

The internet is revolutionising sexuality

Al Cooper
Experts said women were attracted by the internet's anonymous and instant gratification. But they preferred the interaction in sex chat rooms to looking at pornographic pictures.

An estimated 15% of internet users have visited sex chat rooms or pornographic sites, according to the latest research.

And almost 9% of people who use the internet for sex spend more than 11 hours per week looking for erotic content.

Sexual revolution

"The internet is revolutionising sexuality," said Al Cooper, clinical director of a sexuality clinic in California.

He said cybersex was changing the definition of sexual compulsion "like crack cocaine changed the field of substance abuse".

The pain that this can tear through a relationship is deep and it's profound

Psychologist Kimberly Young
"Women still have to be afraid of violence, sexually transmitted diseases and people's attitudes," he said. "Whatever you want, whatever kind of sexual charge you're into, you can find it on the internet."

But psychologists warned that the internet's anonymity and the wide range of fetish and fantasy sites created "hypersexuality", defined as a compulsive need for cybersex that can choke the life out of marriages and partnerships.

"The pain that this can tear through a relationship is deep, and it's profound," said Kimberly Young, a psychologist at the Sierra Tucson clinic in Arizona. "And relapse is really just a click away."

Experts said the anonymity of the web provided an outlet sexual exploration for gay men, hesitant to date openly or too young to be sure of their sexuality.

But they warned that this desire often drove homosexuals to cybersex compulsion.

Speakers at the conference said cybersex addiction should be treated seriously and required therapy, the same as eating or personality disorders.

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