Special Report: Addicted to virtual love

The lure of internet chatrooms is proving irresistible to a growing number of surfers who are becoming addicted to a world of virtual sexual encounters, causing rifts between spouses and affecting their jobs.

American psychologist Dr Kimberly Young, who claims to have first identified the problem of online addiction, has devoted herself to the correction of the 'disorder'. As head of the Center for On-Line Addiction in Pittsburgh she has written a stack of self-help books on the subject, and tours the US giving seminars.

Spurred on to study internet addiction by a friend's experiences, Young has since had more personal experience of this problem, describing her "brief involvement with chat and a man I met online" in her book, Caught in the Net.

In her research, Dr Young found using a PC for cybersex was perceived as the ultimate safe-sex method of fulfilling sexual urges and exploring erotic fantasies without fear of catching sexually transmitted diseases.

Young terms these virtual online liaisons 'cyberaffairs', but says online addiction takes many forms. "Online sex is perhaps the most common form of addiction, however, we receive calls about a variety of online problems from day trading, gambling, eBay, to shopping. It really depends on a case by case basis."

Addiction affliction

Internet addiction is a problem which is growing as more of us get online, says Young, who concedes the Center's online addiction clinic at www.netaddicion.com exacerbates the problem to an extent. "We do both online and offline [counselling], and frankly, online seems more popular."

Dr Young thinks that the ease of access to online divorce services has encouraged 'quickie' divorces, especially among already addicted surfers. "According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, this is certainly the case." And in the UK, too, the path to getting legally un-spliced has been smoothed by online divorce sites such as Divorce-Online.co.uk and DesktopLawyer.co.uk.

Solicitor Roger Bamber of Mills & Reeve in Cambridge, says, "Statistics are not yet available on how many divorces have been filed through solicitors' sites, but the standalone [legal divorce] package accounted for six percent of divorces in this country."

In cyberspace, no one knows you're a dog The clear advantage of meeting people via the internet is the iron-clad assurance of anonymity and disguise - benefits which certainly seem to have worked for UK dating agency Dateline. In the four years since launching its site, online members now comprise a quarter of Dateline's clients.

Dateline's Pauline Lancaster puts the success of the site, launched almost four years ago, down to its convenience for busy people or the housebound, rather than the obsessive pursuit of cybersex by surfaholics.

"Our service is very accessible and affordable. Many people suffer phobias or disabilities so joining online and conversing with others is very helpful even if they don't want a long-term relationship.

"Internet join-ups are growing because the need to own a computer is in vogue - everyone wants to email, and it's easier than ever for people to get online," says Lancaster.

But Lancaster admits Dateline still cannot ensure that users won't meet married people via the service: "We could never personally screen all these people, so we have to trust them. If we do find out they're married we do revoke their membership."

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Emma Northam

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?