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And some people, including two physicians, have landed in federal prison for two years because they downloaded child pornography when authorities were watching, Dr. Still, most who pursue cybersex consider it harmless and safe to do so. In her survey, 91 women and three men in committed relationships said they had experienced serious adverse consequences, including broken relationships, from their partners' cybersex addictions.

While social and safety concerns and fear of discovery may prevent someone from visiting an adult bookstore or prostitute, there are no such constraints when pornography and sexual partners can be called up at any time of the day or night on a computer screen in one's home or office, Dr. Partners commonly reported feeling betrayed, devalued, deceived, ignored and abandoned and unable to compete with a fantasy.

"Simply sitting down to work at the computer can start a sexual response that may facilitate online sexual activities," he wrote in the journal.

As with other addictions, tolerance to cybersex stimulation can develop, prompting the addict to take more and more risks to recapture the initial high, Dr. Online viewing that began as a harmless recreation can become an all-consuming activity and even lead to real sexual encounters with people met online.

Women, who tend to pursue relationships, are inclined to visit sexually oriented chat rooms rather than the pornographic Web sites that men prefer, Dr. As women become increasingly hooked on online sex, they are more likely to progress to off-line meetings, which can prove dangerous.