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"It is an apt comparison in that (with cybersex) people crash and burn quicker now," agrees Dr. Helen Friedman, a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in sexual trauma and sexual compulsivity. The difference between accessing titillating images before and after the advent of the Internet, says Friedman, who attended the Atlanta conference, is "like night and day." She cites the twin lures of anonymity and convenience. "Think about it: No more having to risk being seen at the adult bookstore. No more buying magazines, and some of them are expensive. And whereas before someone might have thought twice about leaving the house at odd hours to go to a bookstore, now they can get what they want in the comfort of their own home. The problem is that, because people have it all the time, they get hooked quicker. It escalates the whole progression of compulsive behavior."
Friedman is quick to add that the computer, with its myriad doorways to prurience, does not cause sexual addiction. "Even all these sites will not create a sex addict. A person has to be already predisposed -- this is their way to anesthetize pain. And so for the person who already is sexually compulsive, it becomes a terrible problem. It promotes isolation. I've known people who can't get their work done because of it, or people whose spouses aren't available in the bedroom because they're up half the night online."
Friedman brought back some statistics from the Atlanta conference. There are an estimated 72,000 commercial porn sites, and 40 new ones emerge each day. An estimated 15 percent of Internet users have visited online sex chat rooms or porn sites. According to one study, nearly 9 percent of people who use the Internet for sex spend more than 11 hours a week surfing for erotic sites. Moreover, and of great interest to employers, 70 percent of all e-porn traffic occurs during the 9-to-5 workday. Finally, e-porn is a $1 billion-plus industry and the biggest moneymaker on the Internet.
This last information should come as no big surprise. The Internet -- already an addictive instrument to begin with -- is, for some, made virtually irresistible when porn is stirred into the mix. David Delmonico, an assistant professor of counseling at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University, sees the attraction as a triad of inter-related desires: "I see sex addiction being one part of it, cybersex addiction being another part and Internet addiction being a third part. I don't think they're necessarily mutually exclusive, although they can be. This one can be a sex addict and be on the Internet, this one a cybersex addict and be on the Internet, and still another can get into this trancelike state of surfing and be addicted to the Internet itself. These three components can work together and be additive in nature, and when that happens, it really makes the problem much more complex."
Ayres contends he was never at any point hooked on Internet pornography: "No, no, not at all. I can go days or weeks without actually looking at it. It's not even something that I think about all that much. Just sitting around, absolutely bored, thinking about something to do, and like, 'Oh, I can do this for five or 10 minutes,' and then I'll have to go do something else."
Delmonico estimates there are literally millions of curious individuals surfing the Net for sexual content. Some, such as one pal of Ayres', a fellow porn browser who wishes to remain anonymous, even write poetry about the experience. The poem Ayres likes is called "Satyriasis," which, he says, denotes "an unhealthy obsession with pornography," though the dictionary defines it as "a morbid lasciviousness in males": "A world of sickness at your fingers/glowing on a screen/More and more we want and writhe/with squeamish minds diseased."
These lines seem at odds with Ayres' contention that pornography is a healthy outlet for sexual gratification. "It facilitates the orgasmic experience," he says, sounding like a Masters and Johnson protégé. Well, what of the clubs on the East Side -- don't they facilitate the orgasmic experience? "The Internet is more explicit and more private," he says. Explicit indeed -- everything's available, from a woman fellating a horse to a man evacuating his bowels and then smearing the feces on his face. "Use your imagination; it's on there," says Ayres.
The experience with the credit cards and the irate mom has caused him to turn introspective, Ayres says. "I've had a kind of catharsis lately, admitting my faults and weaknesses. This is just another example. Basically, this whole thing's my fault -- though I still say there is a lot of fraud, a lot of traps, on the Internet."
Ayres says he has reconciled with his mom. "We're fine. She's desensitized. She loves me unconditionally. She got those bills taken off her charge -- I don't know how -- all except the biggest one, the one for $159. I'll pay her back."
Meanwhile, Terri Ayres was without a phone over the Mother's Day weekend. Although the credit-card company let her off the hook for the porn-related charges, Ma Bell said nix to waiving the charges for the call to Vanuatu. "I know it wasn't a 900 number, because I had those blocked," she says. "I decided I wasn't going to pay that bill, and when I couldn't reach an agreement with the phone company, they disconnected my phone."