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INTERNET SEDUCTION Many cybersurfing spouses can't say no to sites featuring sexual content

Looking back now, Susie realizes exactly what was happening. Why her husband was zoning out when he was with the children, why he seemed to get lost in television and why he spent way too much time on the computer.

"I thought we had marriage problems," said the mother of two. "I didn't realize what was going on, that he was thinking about what he did the night before, or how he can get away to do it again tonight. My husband wasn't there. He might have been with us, but he wasn't participating."

Susie, who spoke on condition of her last name being withheld, said her husband was being seduced -- repeatedly -- by the thousands and thousands of adult content Web sites on the Internet. He was engaging in cybersex, sometimes called the crack cocaine of sexual addiction.

By definition, cybersex represents any form of sexual expression accessed through the computer. In reality, it involves the discussion or the viewing of sexual acts that for many adults are the subject of fantasies. Adult-themed chat rooms are included, as are the 60,000 online pay sites that cater to all kinds of odd sexual interests.

For most people who practice cybersex, it is a harmless diversion, a rush of excitement that occurs under the veil of anonymity, which is precisely one of its attractions.

"It used to be people would go to the porn stores and look at a peep show," said Carol Conklin, a licensed clinical social worker. "That would be good for six or seven months, because they couldn't get up the nerve to be seen. Now, all they have to do is go to their computer and sit there at 4 in the morning.

"You have the three As: anonymity, affordability and accessibility," Conklin explained. "It's happening much more since the Internet has exploded. Over the last 10 years, since I've been specializing in this area, the number of people who seek counseling for this has doubled."

How pervasive has the cybersex industry become? Check out the following statistics:

* According to comScore Media Metrix, there were 63.4 million individuals who visited adult Web sites in December 2005, reaching 37.2 percent of the Internet audience.

* A report released last month by Family Safe Media found the Internet pornography industry generates $12 billion in annual revenue, larger than the combined annual revenues of ABC, NBC and CBS.

* According to comScore Media Metrix, Internet users spent an average of 14.6 minutes a day viewing adult content online.

>Don't be afraid to ask

Susie recently separated from her husband of 13 years, but she agreed to share her story to help others affected by this compulsion. Theirs is an extreme case as her husband's cybersex compulsion eventually led to prostitutes, strip clubs, massage parlors, sex clubs and swinger clubs.

"Our sex life certainly suffered," said Susie. "He didn't even notice when I lost weight or anything. His image of a perfect body is what he was seeing onscreen or in a strip club, and I wasn't that person. What was attractive is what he could pull up on a screen."

Susie, who is in her early 40s, wishes she had known about her husband's problems sooner.

"Late into the night, my husband would be on the computer," Susie said. "A lot of times I would walk in on him, he'd switch screens and I wasn't very computer-savvy, so I wouldn't even know to check the history."

That was her chance to question, Conklin said.

"The first time you see it, ask," said Conklin, who operates City Gate Counseling Center. "Don't assume the worst, but question. It may be something that has been done very innocently and won't be repeated again. Ask how long it's been going on, then check out his attitude."

Conklin said this also may be time for "the conversation" -- the talk that identifies his actions as offensive and inappropriate.

"If he seems slippery about it, if he yells and makes you feel bad, those are defense mechanisms and something is wrong," Conklin said. "Then you put the spyware on without telling him. Do not let him know. It will record every key stroke."

>Women partake, too

Not all cybersex is practiced by men, according to experts. Women, too, reach out for online stimulation, but it is more often in an adult chat room, where talk is not only cheap, but tends to sizzle toward the midnight hour.

"We've never had a medium like this," said Kimberly Young, director of the Center for Online and Internet Addiction. "Since I've started studying this in 1994, I've seen cybersex addiction growing as opposed to other forms of online addictions like gambling or eBay."

Young often works as a consultant in divorce cases. She is currently working on a Texas case where a woman's compulsive Internet use is at issue.

"Over the last three or four years, I've seen cybersex having a dramatic increase as a factor in divorces," said divorce attorney Peter J. Fiorella Jr. "Women are finding their husbands on the Internet at ungodly hours -- between 2 and 4 in the morning. Inevitably, it leads to a confrontation. The highest percentage of divorces in midterm marriages (10 to 15 years) are because of sexual activities outside the marriage."

Why is the Internet so seductive? How does it compel men and women to spend hours in cyber heaven, oblivious to almost everything around them? Where else are you able to endlessly chat with strangers?

"My husband lied for a long time," Susie said. "I still probably don't have all the truth, but I certainly know enough. He traveled all the time. He led dual lives virtually our entire marriage. When he travels, he's this person heavily involved in sexually acting out with women. He picks them up in bars, he finds them on the corner or he calls them to his room. It's a lot of betrayal and as painful as anything I've ever gone through in my life, including the deaths of family members."

Susie joined an online support group ( that she says grows by about three to five members a week. She tells of one woman in her group whose husband lost five jobs after getting caught visiting Internet sex sites at work.

"I can't find a face-to-face support group locally," Susie said. "I would love to have that. I just can't go into a room of friends and tell them my husband has been with 75 prostitutes over the years, that he's addicted to sex. It's taken me a long time to be able to say those words."



>Spotting a cybersex addict

Research suggests that cybersex addicts spend at least 11 or 12 hours a week on the Internet, but experts say often it's double or triple that. Here are some early warning signs from Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Online and Internet Addiction, that your partner may have an online sex habit.

* Change in sleep patterns: Suddenly, the partner begins coming to bed in the early morning hours and may leap out to head for the computer an hour or two later.

* Demand for privacy: Change of password or computer location could indicate a cybersex practitioner.

* Evidence of lying: Where have those credit card bills gone?

* Personality changes: Quiet and serious or cold and withdrawn, online high-jinks can change a kind and sensitive wife or husband.

* Loss of interest in sex: If online sexual relations continue, the cheating partner may be less enthusiastic, energetic and responsive to your lovemaking.

* Declining investment in a relationship: Busy Internet schedules allow little time/energy for familiar rituals like Saturday night DVDs.


>Recommended reading

The following e-booklets and books are available on

* "Breaking the Denial: Confronting a Loved One Addicted to the Internet," $5.95

* "Infidelity Online: An Effective Guide to Rebuild Your Relationship After a Cyberaffair," $5.95

* "Getting Web Sober: Help for Cybersex Addicts and Their Loved Ones," $5.95

* "Tangled in the Web: Understanding Cybersex from Fantasy to Addiction" by Kimberly S. Young, $11.95

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