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Study Suggests Online Users Have Greater Risk Of Catching STDs

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RALEIGH — A new report shows people who seek and find sex using the Internet could be putting their health in danger.

Web sites and chat rooms have become the virtual bars and bathhouses of the new millennium. A growing number of people look for sex online. Success can end in contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

A Denver study in theJournal of the American Medical Associationsays Internet sex seekers are at a higher risk for catching sexually transmitted diseases.

One woman, who wanted to be identified as "Janet," says she surfs the Web a few times a week looking for sex.

"One of the good things about online is that you don't have to go through the whole little flirting, game-playing situation that you do in a bar or a club or whatever," Janet says.

Dr. Mary McFarlane of theCenters for Disease Controlsays that kind of behavior is very dangerous.

"People who have sex partners on the Internet tend to have more sex partners, more history of sexually transmitted diseases, more risky sex and use condoms only 50 percent of the time," McFarlane says.

Of 856 people in Denver who sought HIV testing, 10 percent found sex partners on the Internet. Lee Rosen, a Raleigh divorce attorney, says he has seen all kinds of cases involving Internet relationships.

"Sex through chat rooms, through e-mail, we have it in case after case after case," Rosen says.

Health officials are using the Internet to warn people about the dangers of online sex. "Janet" says the practice may become more relevant in a fast-paced world.

"It is hard to find people and meet people, and some of us aren't lucky enough to have found our life's partner yet," Janet says.

Rosen says the Triangle may be a center of Internet sex seekers because of the heavy use of computers and the Internet in the area. Information about affairs, stored on home computers, is being used more often as evidence in divorce cases.