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For some people, the route to compulsive use of the Internet for sexual satisfaction is fast and short, said Dr. Projected to the country as a whole, this would mean that a minimum of 200,000 men and women have become cybersex addicts in the last few years, Dr. And, he added, because the respondents were self-selected and because denial of the symptoms of sexual compulsivity is commonplace, there are likely to be many more cybersex addicts than the survey indicated. Jennifer Schneider, a physician in Tucson, Ariz., who is associate editor of the journal, said in an interview that even when cybersex addicts and their partners sought treatment, they often concealed their real problem, and therapists often failed to ask questions that would disclose it. Cooper, who works at the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Center in Santa Clara, Calif., cybersex compulsives are just like drug addicts; they "use the Internet as an important part of their sexual acting out, much like a drug addict who has a 'drug of choice,' " and often with serious harm to their home lives and livelihood.

"This is a hidden public health hazard exploding, in part, because very few are recognizing it as such or taking it seriously," Dr. As a result, the diagnosis of cybersex addiction is often missed, Dr. Especially vulnerable to becoming hooked on Internet sex, he wrote, are "those users whose sexuality may have been suppressed and limited all their lives [who] suddenly find an infinite supply of sexual opportunities" on the Internet. Dana Putnam, a psychologist in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said other factors that could increase a person's vulnerability to cybersex compulsion were depression and other forms of emotional distress, relationship problems and a failure to get one's sexual needs met. Schneider among 94 family members affected by cybersex addiction revealed that the problem could arise even among those in loving marriages with ample sexual opportunities.

Many reported that what started as innocent, friendly exchanges progressed quickly to strong desires for sexual relationships, she said.

Twenty-six of the 86 study participants went on to meet the person whom they had been engaged in an online relationship with, and of these, all but two ended up having a real-life affair.

"Sex on the Net is just so seductive and it's so easy to stumble upon it," she said.