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Surfing for Sex Therapy

Can you find love advice online? Yes, if you could trust it.

WebMD Feature

April 10, 2000 (Reno, Nev.) -- Shari Dawson (not her real name) was having difficulty with physical intimacy and pain during sex, but was too embarrassed to bring it up with her doctor.

Instead, Dawson found a free Internet site where the doctor posted her question and, in his answer, suggested she get in-person therapy. "The Internet got me on the right path," she says. "I wasn't scared to talk about it anymore. I went to my doctor and found out I had a bladder infection. She also put me on a long-term therapy program with my partner to become more comfortable with physical intimacy."

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While the cast of television's "Sex and the City" discuss a myriad of sexual quandaries with ease, in real life, most people -- like Dawson -- will stammer through questions about such topics as pain during sex or masturbation. In fact, embarrassment can be the biggest obstacle between a sexual problem and help. That's where online sex experts can help, says Deborah Fox, MSW, a Washington, D.C., sex therapist with her own web site. "The Internet is useful for addressing sexual problems because people are able to ask questions that [otherwise] make them feel uncomfortable."

Online Roles and Limitations

Fox and other sex therapists offer their expertise online, providing educated responses to a variety of questions. They're quick to point out that this does not, however, qualify as therapy. At "Ask the Sex Doc," for example, William Fitzgerald, PhD, a sex therapist in Santa Clara, Calif., posts his answers to hundreds of questions, choosing the ones he feels are most universal.

Common questions easily answered online, according to Fitzgerald, include the effect of masturbation on sexual performance, the regaining of sex drive after the death of a spouse, and the way to approach a spouse about acting out a sexual fantasy. Some sites answer questions free of charge and post the answers for other users to see, while they may require a fee for answering questions privately.

Sandor Gardos, PhD, an online sex expert, also responds to questions on many sexual topics. But when a question is beyond the scope of what can be or should be answered online, Gardos is quick to suggest face-to-face professional help. He and other online sex therapists often recommend traditional therapy for issues that involve more complex problems, such as childhood sexual abuse. Fox adds that current technology simply doesn't allow for the equivalent of ongoing, in-person meetings necessary to resolve many sexual issues.

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