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Sunday, March 28, 1999 Published at 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK


Online sex carries health risk

Many surfers admitted to visiting sex sites

Too much time spent surfing Internet sex sites can damage your mental health, a study has found.

It showed individuals who spend 11 hours or more a week visiting such sites are more prone to psychological difficulties such as sexual compulsivity.

It also noted differences between men and women in how they used the Internet for sex.

While women prefer to use sex chat rooms, men enjoy looking at pictures.

Web survey

The findings come as a result of a questionnaire posted on the MSNBC Web site. It was completed by 13,529 individuals.

[ image:  ]
Dr Alvin Cooper, who led the study, published his results in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

The study sought to determine who was using the Internet for sexual pursuits, where they were going, what they were doing there, and how it was affecting their lives.

He found that while most of those who visit sexually-oriented sites without any negative impact, the sites do pose risks for some people.

Those who spend 11 hours or more surfing sex sites show signs of psychological distress and admit that their behaviour interferes with some areas of their lives.

Time spent online for sexual pursuits may be an indicator of other problems that exist in users' lives, or may even create further dependence, according to the study's authors.

Online survey

The study was conducted over a seven-week period during March and April of last year. Its main findings were:

  • Men are the largest consumers of sexually-explicit material on the Internet - male respondents (86%) outnumbered female respondents (14%) by a ratio of six to one.
  • Women favour the use of chat rooms, which offer more interaction and the development of relationships (49% females to 23% males)
  • Men favour visual erotica (50% males to 23% females)
  • Most individuals (64%) were either married (47%) or in a committed relationship (17%)
  • Of the single individuals (36%), half were dating and half were not
The researchers found that time spent online for sexual pursuits was a strong predictor of both sexual compulsivity and distress.

They said that although online sexual compulsivity is a relatively rare condition, 8% of the survey respondents were found to be most at risk.

This compares to the estimated 5% of the general population who are affected by sexual compulsivity.

However, most of those surveyed (92%) spend under 11 hours a week in online sexual pursuits, and half spend less than one hour a week for online sexually-related activities.

Having a laugh

Most people appear to use sexual material on the Internet as a source of entertainment more than for sexual release and reported that online experiences were satisfying but not particularly arousing, the researchers said.

But honesty did suffer - 61% said they occasionally "pretended" about their age while on the Net.

Thirty-eight per cent admitted presenting themselves as a race different than their own.

And three out of four respondents said they were secretive about how much time they spend online for sexual pursuits, although 87% said they felt no guilt or shame about the time they spent online.

Dr Cooper, of the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Centre, said: "This study provides the first step in understanding the common use of the Internet and can help mental health professionals to develop guidelines to prevent, diagnose, intervene and treat sexual compulsivity and related disorders.

"In addition it may be useful in the identification of other issues that may be going on in users' lives for which they wish to escape by turning to their keyboards."

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