Web of sex education
Gannett News Service
Sex on the Internet has a bad reputation. But Internet sex addiction expert Al Cooper, director of the San Jose (Calif.) Marital and Sexuality Centre, said the Web is also a helpful resource for valuable and discreet information about sex and sexual problems.
Cooper is one of the authors of the newly released "Sex and the Internet: A Guide for Clinicians" ($34.95, Taylor and Francis Group).
Cooper, who usually focuses on the sexual dangers of the Internet, said the book's team of sex education professionals were impressed with what they found on the Internet.
"I also think people generally have no idea of the many powerful benefits (of sex education on the Web) and are mainly aware of the many problems, which while also real, are not the whole story," Cooper said.
Mitchell and Cheryl Tepper use the Internet to share valuable sexual information. The Shelton, Conn., couple desperately wanted a baby, but realized conceiving a child would be difficult.
Mitchell was injured in a 1982 diving accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. But six years ago the couple conceived their son, Jeremy, thanks to a nerve stimulation and artificial insemination technique Mitchell learned about through medical literature and friends.
Now Mitchell, who has a doctorate in human sexuality education, is sharing the news on his Web site, www.sexualhealth.com. He claims the fertilization method and tips posted on the site help other disabled men become fathers and help disabled people lead fuller sex lives.
"Several people sent me pictures of their children," Tepper said of some disabled couples who used the technique. "That was the most material positive thing."
But education isn't limited to fertility counseling.
People too shy to visit a sex therapist go online to get professional sex counseling through e-mail and private chat rooms. An example is Dr. Gloria Brame at (gloria-brame.com/ therapy). Brame offers sex counseling via e-mail or chat room at prices starting at $65 for a 30-minute session.
"The No. 1 thing that seems to prevent people in need from seeking therapy is a fear of exposure and what others may think," said Brame, who runs her practice from her Atlanta home.
Info for everyone
Several Web sites offer sexual education geared for children, teenagers and young adults. These include www.sxetc.org, a Web site run by and for teens by Rutgers University's Network for Family Life Education in New Jersey.
Gay, bisexual and transgendered youth have discovered Internet Web sites such as Youth Guardian Services (youth-guard.org) where they can e-mail and chat with others grappling with issues such as harassment and feelings of isolation, according to officials at Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Washington, D.C.
But be careful. While there is a lot of good sex information in cyberspace, not all of it is correct. Users should be discriminating about which Web sites they visit and the online sex counselors they use. Parents should also thoroughly check sex education Web sites before letting their children view them.
Dr. Dennis Sugrue, past president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, said if anyone is seeking sexual counseling on the Web, be sure the professional is licensed in that state.
The profession is also concerned about whether sexual counseling can be done via online chat or e-mail because professionals often use patients' facial expressions and body language to diagnose problems and develop treatment, Sugrue said.
An in-person counseling session may be better, although popular technology such as Webcams that link counselors to patients by computer, could be promising, he added.
However, Brame said online sex counseling has its advantages. Sessions are easier to schedule and patients can contact her at odd hours. The Internet and the telephone also makes clients less inhibited she said.
"E-mail clients tend to be people who like to do a lot of independent thinking," she said. "Many of them find it therapeutic and extremely productive to write a tome of confessions to me."
Adult Web surfers should use and direct their children to credible sex education sites with accredited counselors and and professional organizations, experts said. An example: Planned Parenthood (www.plannedparenthood.org).
The data on the site should be appropriate to the age group and studies cited should be as up-to-date as possible, experts said. Web sites should also be user-friendly, clearly stating what they offer, according to Michael McGee at Planned Parenthood.
Parents: Sites with chat rooms or message boards should be monitored to prevent sexual predators from targeting young people.
And another tip that the Web site is OK is if it uses studies from well-known colleges.
"You can find the latest medical schools, the top-notch in the world, the latest studies (on the Web)," said Coralie Scherer, who works with Cooper at the center and also contributed to the book. "But there is a lot of crackpot stuff out there."
People seeking an online sex counselor should make sure the therapist is an accredited with an organization such as the American College of Sexologists and a degree in social work or psychiatry, Brame said.
And make sure your e-mail is private and the therapist, not another staffer, is answering chats, she said.
Teens need information
Despite all the credible sexual information now widely available in classrooms, books and on the Internet, many teenagers are still unsophisticated about sex, said Dr. Danene Sorace at Rutgers' sexetc.org.
Sorace reported that Web site questions indicate many girls wrongly believe you cannot get pregnant if you have sex while menstruating and many teens believe diseases cannot be transmitted through oral sex. The Rutgers Web site sets teens straight on such issues.
The Rutgers Web site started as a newsletter but went online in 1999. Boys and girls in grades 10 through 12 who are supervised by adult professional counselors and educators, staff the Web site. They write stories and field questions from other teenagers.
"We found that no matter how hard we wanted to get sex (education) in the classroom there were kids who wouldn't get it for a number of reasons," Sorace said. "Kids would be likely to listen to it if it came from another teen."