Sex addicts find ready enabler in the Internet

Addiction to sex is much like other addictions, experts say. As many as 18 million people are sex addicts, according to estimates by the Mayo Clinic. While experts say the Internet isn't creating sex addicts, it's making the addiction more secretive and accessible.
BY SONYA COLBERG scolberg@opubco.com Published: July 3, 2011
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Ex-lawmaker Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen have lots of company. As many as 18 million people are considered sex addicts, with behaviors that have taken on new dimensions with the explosion of the Internet.

Almost 60 percent of online sexual compulsive behavior results exclusively from Internet use, according to Netaddiction.com.

And while the Internet can't be blamed for creating more sex addicts, Oklahoma City counselor Angie Ridings says it likely does contribute.

“I think it's certainly accelerated the problem. It's so easily accessible, a lot of it is free and children can find it. And if they run across something as a child, they are more likely to become addicted,” said Ridings.

Only about 3 percent of commercial porn sites on the Internet require adult verification, adding to the vulnerability of the 12- to 17-year-olds who make up the largest group of Internet porn viewers, studies show.

Brain chemistry

Regardless of the age of the participant, the images or the sexual messages shared through text messaging tend to charge up the brain chemistry, according to one theory.

“They are getting these constant little bursts of dopamine in their brain throughout the day. By not having the right brain chemistry, this is the way they are self-medicating,” said Stacey Dean, an Oklahoma City licensed professional counselor who treats sex addicts.

It's really no surprise that the ranks of self-medicators include hyper-focused celebrities who jump into the headlines every few weeks because of their sexual behavior.

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