Story about sex on the net and who visits cybersex sites and becomes involved in online sexual pursuits. Plus cybersex addicts.
Contrary to their image as steamy dens of iniquity, cybersex sites appear to offer the vast majority of men and women an outlet in which they can safely fantasize, flirt and (virtually) get intimate. So suggests a survey of over 9,000 MSNBC.com readers that is being published next month in a journal of the American Psychological Association.
While the word cybersex often dredges up images of hard porn, most people utilize cybersex sites in a way that is recreational — not detrimental, says study author Alvin Cooper of the San Jose Marital Services and Sexuality Centre in San Jose, Calif.
Yet there is a small group of users — about 8 percent — who report spending 11 hours or more a week in online sexual pursuits, a sign of "destructive behavior," says Cooper, who is also an MSNBC "Sexploration" columnist.
But for the vast majority of users, particularly men, online love "is a form of entertainment — akin to reading Playboy or viewing Baywatch," says Cooper, who has been referred to as the Masters and Johnson of cybersex.
One unexpected finding was the large number of younger females who are turning to cybersex sites, he says. In contrast to their male counterparts, most of these women are skipping the titillating pictures of erotica sites in favor of interactive chat rooms.
The reason, he says, "is the 'triple A' of the Internet: access, affordability and anonymity. [Together, they are] allowing young adult women to be more comfortable experimenting with their sexuality online than almost anywhere else. They can engage in new relationships without fear."
There's no doubt that cybersex is big business. More than 9.6 million people — or 15 percent of all Web users — logged on to the 10 most popular cybersex sites in April, 1998, the month the survey was posted, according to a major web tracking firm.
CLICK AND TELL
The click-and-tell poll invited MSNBC users who had at least one cybersex encounter to answer 59 questions about what kind of sex sites they visited, how long they spent in such pursuits and what they got out of it.
The results are being published in the April issue of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, an APA journal. (MSNBC.com always notes that by their very nature, surveys posted on its Web site are nonscientific.)
Over 13,500 people completed the survey, which was posted on the site over a 7-week period during March and April of 1998. After discarding surveys which were incomplete or filled out by people under 18, a final sample of 9,177 respondents was evaluated.
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AMONG THE FINDINGS:
- Six times as many men engage in online sexual pursuits as women (86 percent vs. 14 percent).
- While women aged 18 to 34 made up only one-third of MSNBC visitors during April, nearly twice that many said they visited sex sites or chat rooms.
- Women favor sexual chat rooms (49 percent vs. 23 percent), while men prefer visual erotica online (50 percent vs. 23 percent).
- At least 13 percent of respondents access sexual sites at work.
- Most respondents, 61 percent, reported occasionally fibbing about their age when visiting sex sites. And over one-third "lied" about their race.
- Gender-bending was less pervasive, with only one in 20 saying they "switched sex" when visiting adult sites.
- Three out of four respondents said they kept secret from others how much time they spend online for sexual pursuits, although 87 percent reported that they did not feel guilty or ashamed about the time they spent on line.
- The majority (92 percent) said they spent under 11 hours a week visiting sex sites.
The large amount of time devoted to online sexual pursuits by the other 8 percent of respondents is what most troubles Cooper and other experts.
"Spending more than 10 hours a week visiting adult sites is a sign of compulsivity — in this case, an uncontrollable desire to go to sex sites," Cooper says. In comparison, about 5 percent of the general population suffers from sexual compulsivity.
"This paper presents data which may be of use in the treatment of persons who have 'overdosed' on the contents of adult Internet sites and whose lives have been adversely affected," says clinical psychologist J. G. Benedict, an associate editor of the APA journal who maintains a private practice in Denver.
While abstention or "an austere diet" of cybersex might be the best course of action for addicts, that might be as impossible as suggesting to a "peeping tom" that he just stop such behaviors, the experts agree. Rather, the cybersex addict needs to seek treatment from a qualified professional.