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Sex on the Net

Millions play out fantasies on the net, but at what cost?

Who Is Right? continued...

At greatest risk are full-blown addicts, categorized as those who spend an average of 38 hours a week seeking electronic stimulation. This addiction is estimated to afflict between 3 and 6% of the population and has been associated with loneliness, low self-esteem, and lack of sexual self-control, although no cause-and-effect relationship has been established.

Still, the poll found that 82% of sex site regulars maintain that surfing for smut does not interfere with their lives, and 87% admit never feeling guilty or ashamed.

What about for the remaining minority, for whom Internet sex is clearly a problem even if they don't admit it? For them, experts recommend specialized treatment designed to break established patterns of denial and isolation, with group therapy an essential component. "As with any addiction, the most important first step is admitting you have a problem," says Cooper. "One simple way to gauge that is by the amount of time you spend visiting sexually explicit sites. That kind of clear criteria helps challenge denial."

Where to Get Help

Ironically, the Web itself is crawling with sites designed to help compulsive users break their addictions. "It actually makes total sense to seek online help for an online problem," insists Cooper. "Because you can get help anonymously, freely, and simply, it lowers the barrier to getting treatment. People can learn about addiction even if they're ambivalent about whether or not they have a problem. They can go into chat rooms and find people having similar experiences. Then, when they're ready to take the next step, they can find therapists and resources online."

The San Jose Marital and Sexuality Centre and Online Sex Addicts are two sites that offer support, education, and relevant resources. Psychotherapy is not provided on either site, but each provides information about where to find it. The first site features articles, quizzes, and details of the MSNBC poll; OSA includes a low-cost course on sexual addiction, an online bookstore filled with "clean reads," and a pornography-free bulletin board where members can find the social support they previously sought in X-rated chat rooms.

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