Web-site porn attracts women by the millions 10/31/03 Mark O'Keefe Newhouse News Service After putting her daughter to bed, Maggie, 42, routinely sat at her computer for hours, mesmerized by an online world of erotic stories and real- time sexual discussions. Beth, 33, usually clicked on the most visually graphic sites, disproving the theory that only men are enticed by pornography. "A lot of people don't realize this happens with women, too," says Beth, who, along with Maggie, asked that their last names not be revealed. The myth began long ago, perhaps because women were rarely seen walking into seedy adult bookstores. But in recent years, the accessibility, affordability and anonymity of the Internet have made pornography undeniably attractive to millions of women. While some women simply find it exciting, others have battled addictions and other problems. Nearly one in three visitors to adult Web sites is a woman, according to Nielsen ratings, the industry standard for measuring online audiences. Studying the Internet use of 40,000 panelists at home and work, Nielson estimates that 9.4 million women in the United States accessed such sites in September. Julie Neff, 29, of Mukwonago, Wis., sees nothing but benefits. Internet pornography "is pretty much an adjunct to my regular sex life," she said. She estimates she views it less than an hour a week, and is open about it with her boyfriend. "We e-mail each other saying, 'Ha- ha, look at this,' or, 'Hee-hee, look at that,' or, 'Ooh, that's good.' It's healthy. If you want to know the mechanics or the logistics of certain things, you can get education and inspiration to do stuff. Plus, I just find it prurient. I like it." Others think it can lead to problems. There is some evidence that Internet pornography is luring even women whose values oppose it. Some speculate a forbidden- fruit factor can make it tantalizing for religious women in particular. The editors of Today's Christian Woman, an evangelical magazine, had heard anecdotes of churchgoing women getting hooked on pornography, so they conducted a survey asking readers of their online newsletter if they had intentionally visited porn sites. Thirty-four percent said they had. While the frequency of female pornography "addiction" is difficult to measure, psychologists agree that some women, as well as men, do engage in destructively compulsive behavior fueled by the Internet. Maggie said she began exploring pornography to try to understand what it was that captivated her ex-husband. Soon, she was spending up to 30 hours a week surfing the Web for arousal. She realized she had a serious problem when "I couldn't wait for my daughter to go to sleep so I could get on the computer. The light went on that I preferred porn to spending time with my child." The interactivity of the Internet makes it especially appealing to some women, said Al Cooper, a staff psychologist at Stanford University and the author of "Sex and the Internet: A Guidebook for Clinicians." "We see women all the time who may not feel that attractive, but they get 20 guys going after them at a time in a chat room, e-mailing them instantly. That's affirming to a woman, and it's hard to match when your husband is in the next room drinking a beer, maybe asking you if you're going to exercise next week" because he thinks you're overweight, Cooper said. When a woman prefers cybersex to real sex or becomes secretive about her online pornography use, those are red flags, said Cooper, director of the San Jose Marital Services and Sexuality Centre in California. But he contends that online erotica can be helpful "if you share this with your partner because you need some variety, need a way to spice things up." While pornography may rouse a couple's interest for a while, "real women with real varicose veins and real body fat" lose in the end because they can't compete with the image of air-brushed porn queens, said Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough is Enough, an organization trying to make the Internet safer for families. "Pornography sells sex without relationships, sex without commitment, sex without consequences, sex without love, sex without children and sex for one's own gratification as opposed to the gratification of the other," said Rice Hughes, whose 1987 relationship with former Sen. Gary Hart, Democrat of Colorado, ended his presidential campaign.