Is Internet sex bad for your health?

Birds do it, bees do it, but only we do it online, and rather a lot...

The Internet is creating a new breed of sex addict according to the latest research from the US.

At a conference on sexual addiction in California last week, researchers claimed that 15 percent of Web surfers have visited sex chat rooms or porn sites, with almost 9 percent spending more than 11 hours per week surfing for sexually related material.

And while many still believe online porn is a male dominated pastime, researchers say otherwise: According to the researchers, an equal number of women are also getting in on the act, although females generally prefer sex chat to pictures.

Research conducted at Stanford and Duquesne universities in March found that at least 200,000 US Internet users are hooked on porn. The study -- led by Al Cooper, clinical director at the San Jose Marital and Sexuality centre -- concluded the number of addicts is a "hidden public health hazard".

Experts at the conference say addiction to Cybersex is a recognised medical condition and should be treated as seriously as alcohol or drug addiction. Head of Feminists Against Censorship, Avedon Carol, believes this could be a dangerous road to go down. "I don't like using medical terms for sex. Obsessions are things we are all vulnerable to. There has been a tendency over the last decade to turn everyone's passions into an illness," she says.

Carol is not convinced addiction to online sex is a permanent problem. "When you first get into Internet sex you may go through a period of being hypersexual but it is not going to last forever. People get tired of it."

Carol rejects the idea that cybersex is dangerous. "That is a foolish position," she says. "The idea that more and more people are doing it suggests it was dangerous in the first place. I don't think it is," she says. In fact Carol believes Internet sex can be liberating for a lot of people, especially women. "It is creating opportunity for women to have casual sex in a way we didn't have before," she says. "The Internet is making it possible for people to do the things they have always wanted to do. You can take a vacation from being respectable."

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