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People who seek out cyber sex have "alarmingly high" rates of depression, anxiety and stress and typically devote hours a day to the covert activity, a study shows.
Australian research is shedding new light on the types of people who frequent online sex, fetish and swinging sites, revealing they are overwhelmingly male, well educated, and aged anywhere from 18 to 80.
They spend an average of just over 12 hours on the sites each week -- mostly chatting, participating in cyber sex with webcams, downloading video and images, or sending erotic emails.
More than 65 percent of the 1325 American and Australian men surveyed said they had met someone off line that they had first encountered online.
Marcus Squirrell, a doctoral student at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, said the study, to be presented at a major psychology conference tomorrow, was the first to paint a full picture of cyber sex surfers.
Most concerning was the high rate of poor mental health among the sample group.
"We found that 27 percent of them were moderate to severely depressed on the standard depression scales," Squirrell said.
"Thirty percent had high levels of anxiety and 35 percent were moderately to severely stressed, which is of course extremely high." The more heavily they engaged in online sexual activity the higher their level of depression and anxiety was, he said.
Squirrell said it was possible these rates were high because the men were spending so much time online and not engaging with people socially.
"But there's also a chance that depressed people are spending time on these sites to help lift their mood or reduce stress." Professor Ann Knowles, who supervised the research, said the findings were clinically relevant because more Australians were seeking counselling for these types of problems.
"If we get a picture of who is over-using these sites then we're better equipped to identify and help them."